Professor of theater Dan LaRocque recognized for outstanding teaching

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Professor of theater Dan LaRocque never pictured himself in a classroom. However, after abandoning the stage in New York City, he found himself at Auburn University.

"It wasn't until actually going into the classroom," LaRocque said. "You see the students and this light comes on and it's very clear from that moment, this is what I wanted to do."

For more than 20 years, LaRocque has been a mentor for aspiring actors. This year, Auburn students and faculty have recognized LaRocque by awarding him the Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The award honors faculty who display commitment to student success through their teaching philosophy and mentorship in and out of the classroom.

"It's an incredible honor," LaRocque said. "To be recognized means the world and I am thrilled and humbled."

LaRocque's teaching philosophy encourages students to step out of their comfort zone and take risks every day to improve their skills as actors and people.

"It isn't just about teaching the craft, but great actors, really great actors, also learn over time how to become remarkable human beings," LaRocque said. 

His lessons in performing arts surpass those on a syllabus or demonstrated in an audition. LaRocque strives to shape aspiring actors into patient, positive and hard-working individuals. Incorporating raw emotions, like empathy into his lessons helps actors connect with their roles and builds camaraderie between the ensembles.

"They learn a lot about each other—their strengths their weaknesses, their hopes and dreams—they nurture and challenge and push each other so that they grow as actors and as people."

In a discipline where creativity is challenged and criticism is expected, LaRocque's positivity helps his students create and grow together. As they embark on their academic journey, he stays next to them learning along the way.

Even during his administrative period as associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts in 2011-2013 and as chair and artistic director of Auburn University Theatre from 2005-2009, LaRocque continued to teach. 

"It's the only thing that kept me sane," LaRocque said. "I learned a lot from it, but if I hadn't had the acting studio or rehearsal hall, I would have been a far less effective administrator and a very disgruntled human being."

After directing and performing in more than 40 Auburn University Theater productions, LaRocque admits, you can easily slip into bad habits. 

"The easy thing to do is repeat yourself. Acting is an ancient art form but the literature advances, the culture advances, our times advance and so there is so much about creating that has to do with staying current in so many of the new techniques."

Being able to connect with his students and interact with them on an academic and personal level is what keeps him current and in touch with his art form. 

"It's an opportunity too to keep my foot in the art form that I love so well and bring back what I can even at this advanced age to the next generation of students," said LaRocque.

For him, teaching is not just a syllabus and remembering screen plays, but rather shaping the younger generations into leaders.

"Well, it's not a job—it's a gift—the job is remembering every day what a gift it is to go into the acting studio and rehearsal hall," LaRocque said.

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