Staff Spotlight: Scott Horstein

"Motivation is not something one ‘does to’ someone else — good motivational practice requires that we engage others in a common quest,” writes editor Michael Theall — a veteran professor, university administrator and social scientist — in the citation for “Motivation from Within: Approaches for Encouraging Faculty and Students to Excel” (June 1999).

Many experts in the field of academic motivation concur, maintaining that a realistic prognosis lies in the creation of environments where students can motivate themselves. Thus, it may be inferred that motivational speakers are actually inspirational speakers.

Scott Horstein, assistant professor of playwriting, dramaturgy and contemporary theatre, creates a nurturing environment where students absorb training, transcend obstacles and fulfill achievement. In just his fifth year of full-time 

teaching at Sonoma State, the Los Angeles native has already garnered a reputation for mentoring students and inspiring them to self-motivate. He has also affected the Sonoma State community-at-large in a positive manner.

“Scott Horstein is a delightful and supportive colleague and an integral part of the Theatre Arts & Dance department,” said Kristen Daley, associate professor and department chairperson. “He’s a problem solver, always offering up innovative and intelligent ideas and solutions. His ability to tap into the creative minds of undergraduate students and mentor their artistic voices is impressive and inspiring.”

Horstein earned his undergraduate degree at Michigan State University and his master of fine arts in dramaturgy at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He has been a professional dramaturg and director and taught as a part-time instructor for a number of years. 

“Dramaturges are advocates for plays,” writes Lily Janiak in her blog, The Split End. “They work with directors and playwrights to make the play be as true to itself as possible. They are experts in the world of a play. 

They look at what a script suggests about its world and, through research, flesh it out so that artists and audiences alike have a better contextual understanding of the play.”

He was the manager of play development for the Cornerstone Theater Company and the literary director at the Black Dahlia Theater while his freelance dramaturgy credits include the Denver Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Old Globe where he dramaturged for Arthur Miller on his penultimate play “Resurrection Blues.” 

He has directed at Native Voices, East West Players and the West Coast Ensemble, and taught at South Coast Repertory, American Academy of Dramatic Arts, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and UCSD.

“Scott has a unique ability to find something that someone is good at and challenge the individual,” said Jake Burke, a junior majoring in theatre arts with a theatre studies concentration. “He sees that talent and urges the student to go after it.” Burke has taken four classes taught by Horstein, including Playwriting and History of Theatre, and would like to write and direct films after he graduates.

Horstein teaches courses in dramaturgy, playwriting, theater history and dramatic literature.His theatrical roots grow deep. He participated in drama as a junior high and high school student, and gives credit to his family for exposing him to theatre at an early age.

“My grandparents took me to a lot of theatre in the Los Angeles area,” said Horstein, “and my grandmother kept notes about each play in a journal. In some ways, my writing of program notes and reviews of shows are a result of her influence.”

Horstein said a German playwright coined the term “dramaturgy” in the 18th century, but that it only gained popularity in the United States over the last 50 years.

The craft is also spelled “dramaturge” or “dramateur.”

“I mentor student dramateurs,” said Horstein. “It’s a journey of discovery and an interesting experience for students since many have never been in a position of leadership before. It’s empowering because it puts them in a position to advise or consult with faculty directors.”

Horstein’s approach to teaching and mentoring is grounded in empowerment. 

“Having students ‘get it’ is the whole reason why I teach,” he said. “Sometimes I find myself getting tingles or head rushes when I see students starting to think like an artist or a dramaturg, or like a person who is engaged with the world in a meaningful way.”

Senior Laura Millar, a theatre arts major with an acting emphasis, is one of his protégés. She has only taken one course with Horstein, but his mentoring of her interest in dramaturgy has been profound.

Her work on the 2013 Sonoma State production of “Ghost Sonata” earned her the top national award in the dramaturgy category at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. 

The awards ceremony took place April 14 – 19, 2014 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“That experience resulted from working with Scott,” said Millar, “and to think, I didn’t even know what dramaturgy was this time last year.” 

In recognition of her accomplishment, Millar was awarded membership in the Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of the Americas and a place at the Kennedy Center’s Summer Intensives as an assistant dramaturg.

Horstein was the dramaturg of the Copeland Creek Project (2013), an original play written by students with senior acting and theatre tech students.

“We had them write about the presence of Copeland Creek coming down Sonoma Mountain and flowing through campus to the sea,” said Horstein. “The idea is that it’s a creek of voices from the past, present and future.”

He also curates the annual Super Mega Molten Hot Lava New Play Festival near the end of each semester’s Playwriting class. Plays written by students are presented as live readings for an open audience.

“We do it garage style with loud music and encourage people to focus on the idea of process,” said Horstein. “They are first-time plays that have not seen the light of day. There are no props or costumes and the actors have had little rehearsal. It’s a celebration of the act of creation.”

Another notable project, Water Works, is a multi-disciplinary initiative started by Horstein and colleague Paul Draper, the director of the acting program in the Theatre Arts department. 

“Faculty from across campus, as well as expert guest lecturers, are devoting class sessions and entire courses to the exploration of inland water flow as a locus of political and social interaction, as well as a site of imagination and memory,” states the Water Works academic page (sonoma.edu/waterworks/academics/index.html).

Horstein believes Water Works encouraged people think about the resources we already have, and in some ways, that awareness mirrors his ability for inspiring students to reach within themselves and discover their hidden talents.

“He makes people want to be better people so they can do better work,” said Millar. “When he’s part of a project, all of the frustrations start to become unimportant, the project comes together, and everyone walks out of the room with a sense of accomplishment.”