Santa Clara University

Life Is A Stage

Michael Zampelli, at right, with students Joshua Crosson and Jennifer Bevard, studies the interactions between theater and society.
Michael Zampelli, at right, with students Joshua Crosson and Jennifer Bevard, studies the interactions between theater and society.
“There is nothing more interesting to me than interacting with other people,” says Michael Zampelli, S.J. “This is what human beings are about. It is where all the meaning comes from in my life.”


The meaningful life that Zampelli has built at Santa Clara University is one with constant opportunities for human interaction. As a respected theater historian with scholarly work published in top peer-reviewed journals, Zampelli explores the interactions between theater and society. As director of the Center for Performing Arts, he collaborates with faculty members, students, and staff from across the University on dozens of courses, events, and creative productions each year. And as a faculty-in-residence at the Loyola Residential Learning Community, where he lives with students in a residence hall, participates in weekly liturgies, helps to organize events, and serves as a trusted mentor, Zampelli makes lasting connections with students that are not bound by classroom or project.


Theater history, says Zampelli, “is about seeing the ways in which performance interacts, in really quite formative ways, with cultures.” He says he relishes the chance to share his passions for his scholarly work with his students. “I have the opportunity to show them…that theater…intersects with a lot of other disciplines: history, religious studies, philosophy, and literary theory,” he says.


Zampelli’s varied background has prepared him to make connections across disciplines. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Georgetown University; a master’s degree in humanities from Fordham University; a master’s of divinity degree in theology and a master’s degree in sacred theology with a focus on aesthetics and ritual, both from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (a member of the Graduate Theological Union); and a Ph.D. in drama from Tufts University. His wide-ranging scholarly work includes a combination of theatrical criticism and history, articles, book reviews, and book chapters, as well as numerous theatrical productions. Among his notable projects was the stage direction for the modern premiere of Patientis Christi Memoria (1685), an opera originally written for the Jesuit College in Vienna by Johann Bernhardt Staudt. This production was the second of two Baroque Jesuit operas he directed in conjunction with an invitation-only international academic conference, “The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts II, 1540-1773,”  which was hosted at Boston College. The production was staged twice, filmed, and will be released on DVD in a volume published by the University of Toronto Press.


Over the last 10 years, Zampelli has received several research fellowships, including two Graduate Research Fellowships from Tufts University, a Thomas Terry University Research Grant from SCU, and a Jesuit Institute Research Fellowship from Boston College. He received tenure at SCU in 2004.


Through the Faculty-Student Research Assistant Program, Zampelli has two student research assistants, juniors Josh Crosson and Jenn Bevard, who are working with him on a project exploring spirituality and performance. “I have found their energy … to be very animating,” says Zampelli. “They have lit a little fire under me with their own enthusiasm for the stuff they are reading and finding.”


Zampelli says his connections with students go much deeper, however. “As much as I feel a responsibility to the world of ideas, to the profession of the theater, to the performing arts, I feel a real, major connection with students and a responsibility to be there to help them become more fully human, help them to discover who they are,” he explains. “I think that is really tied up with my sense of vocation and who I am as a Jesuit.”


“I know myself well enough to know that the students, in very many ways, give me life,” he adds, beaming. “Their journeys enliven my own.”