California State University, Dominguez Hills, and the Department of Theatre and Dance have lost one of their leading men. Peter Rodney, professor of theatre arts, died on Saturday, April 14, after a long illness. He was 63.
Rodney was born on April 29, 1948, in New York, New York. A fan of stage and screen from an early age, he was bitten by the acting bug in high school, when he played Devil in “Damn Yankees.” He continued performing in theatre productions while at Queens College of The City University of New York, where he majored in speech therapy. The college did not offer a theatre degree at the time; however he was able to incorporate theatre into his studies, using it as a tool when tutoring children with speech impediments. Earning his bachelor’s degree 1971, he went on to receive his Master of Fine Arts in theatre in 1972 from the University of Connecticut, and then to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, where he earned his doctorate in history and theory of theatre in 1980.
While he continued to act in productions during his college days, in university and community theatre, Rodney chose to pursue teaching rather than acting as his career. He headed up the acting programs at Berea College in Ohio and Elmira College in New York, before taking a position as chair of the theatre department at Humboldt State University following completion of his dissertation.
In 1982, Rodney came to CSU Dominguez Hills to lead its theatre arts program. He served as chair until 1988 and again from 1992 to 2004. It was under his leadership in the 1980s that the program received its first accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. During his 30 years at CSU Dominguez Hills, he directed numerous productions and worked to ensure students had opportunities beyond the university to hone their craft, such as performing at the American College Theatre Festival. He is also credited with establishing the Dominguez Theatre Guild Scholarship program to provide financial assistance to theatre majors.
It was that commitment to students, as well as his genuine kindness, that he will be remembered for above all else.
In a post on the University’s Facebook page, many students left words of praise for his compassion towards his students. Mule Skinner, who took classes with him in the mid-1980s recalled a professor whose door was always open to his students and who was there with words of encouragement or simply to swap stories or listen to their problems.
“That is the legacy he left with his students of the early 1980s to the present,” Skinner said. “Maybe that’s why most of his students, like my husband [Robin D. Harrison (B.A., theatre, ’88)] became teachers, trying to return the favor to a well-loved instructor who will be deeply missed by all who knew him in and outside of the classroom.”
His colleagues felt the same way. Speaking for the department, current chair Bill DeLuca said, “Peter was simply the most lovable guy in our neighborhood here at Theatre Arts. He was always supportive and never turned his back on anyone. We will miss his positive spirit and infectious laughter.”
Rodney is survived by his wife of 35 years, Barbara, their daughter, Brooke, and his extended family of brothers- and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. They requested that donations be made in his name to the Dominguez Theatre Guild Scholarship. Contact department administrative coordinator Ella Gomez at (310) 243-3588