Anyone who knows him has to laugh if you ask about him. The guy votes in pirate speak during faculty assembly for crying out loud, as in “ARRGG!” or “EYE!” Some call him eccentric, some call him a “pea-head.” Just don’t let your cell phone make noise during class with him because he will confiscate it.
Meet the infamous Harry McEnerny IV, theater professor at CSC.
McEnerny is known for his sense of humor, his peer-like relationships with students and practical jokes. When he goes to Academic Dean Joe Mark’s office, he enjoys toying with Mark’s secretary, Rita Geno.
“He’s a wild man,” said Geno in an exasperated tone. “He steals my clothes and puts them on!”
“I stole her phone cord once,” McEnerny said with a giddy smirk on his face. “That was the most fun. Then I went down the hall and called her.”
McEnerny has taught at CSC for 12 years and has served as chair of the Theater Department for six. Before he came to CSC, he taught at Randolph Macon College in Virginia.
Anyone who has taken a class with him knows he has a distinct teaching style. There are not many classes that begin with shoe removal, jumping jacks and coordination games. He asks students how they think they did before he specifically points out strengths and weaknesses in their performances, speaking to them with his hands and pointing with his pen.
“He doesn’t sugar-coat things,” said Heather Barnes, senior theater major.
In a recent Acting III class, McEnerny surprised students by telling them they had to perform their realism monologues inside a circle formed by their fellow classmates. Cries of protest rose from the ring, but McEnerny clearly had a purpose.
“It forces you into adjustment,” he explained in his distinct manner of speech – an abrupt outburst of words without spaces between, like-every-word-is-fighting-to-come-out-of-his-mouth-at-the-same-time.
McEnerny’s office is somewhat of the nexus of the Theater Department. Tucked away in a far corner of the basement in the Fine Arts Center, it’s full of life – and fruit flies — due to the amount of empty soda bottles and half eaten bags of chips.
Students use his office as a lounge. They hang out on the seventies-esque plaid couch or use his Macintosh (he keeps his important stuff password protected).
If you look around the office it almost seems like a jumbled funhouse of sorts. An empty M&M dispenser sits on the bookshelf, an electronic dancing doll given as a gift stands on a rickety looking narrow table, toothpicks poke out of the ceiling, a Spider Man kickball bounces around, and a Heineken umbrella leans against the filing cabinet – which houses some paperwork, 100 mini water guns, 50 laser pointers, and one big water gun.
“Oh, and a sumo wrestler,” he proudly added as he pulled the singing toy wrestler from the bottom of the drawer.
There are red and white florescent bulbs that light the small office. He tried out a few colors before sticking with the red bulbs.
“The yellows made my eyeballs burn,” he said. “The blue-you couldn’t see anything. The red softens the room, wouldn’t you agree?”
As silly as he is, though, he somehow balances the silliness with respect and academics. Barnes said everybody really respects him and wants to work hard for him.
“When he says all right enough, everybody stops and goes back to work,” Barnes explained. “We just want to please him. In student projects without Harry, the work ethic drops. People don’t show. It’s lower on their priority list.”
“He’s the reason I’m still here,” said Julian DeFelice, a senior majoring in theater. “He wants theater to be something more than just entertainment, something that can really affect you emotionally. He wants people to think.”
DeFelice said he can go to McEnerny for anything, even to talk about his girlfriend.
“He’s our friend and our teacher,” DeFelice said with a smile. “It’s not all fun and games; it’s just mostly fun and games.”
John White, a junior, also came to CSC specifically to work with McEnerny.
“I think he’s a great teacher . He has original views on education and he’s real,” White said. “He gives advice outside of class- anything on your mind. When it’s class time, it’s class time. When it’s not, he’s just a friend.” said White.
White described his professor as a supernova “because it’s chaotic. But out of the chaos comes order.”
Born in New Orleans during a hurricane, McEnerny came to CSC because he wanted to teach theater full-time. He was hired in part because he was a product of a small college himself, explained Academic Dean Joe Mark.
“He seemed to appreciate the benefits of a small college . He gets students to work hard and work together for the love of the craft,” Mark said.
When asked how he balances professionalism and friendships with students, McEnerny said “I don’t know.”
After a few minutes of rare silence he added “We all want the same thing. We like theater. We all want to be doing theater and do it well.”
His favorite aspect of teaching theater?
“Watching Matt Howk dance around with an animatronics doll. No. It’s the process of creating. The process of making that involves many, many people for a long time. It’s a collaborative effort. The process of creating theater can’t have individuals . Theater is temporal. It’s here in time-then it goes away,” Harry explained.
His least favorite part?
“Paperwork. I hate paperwork. Especially department chair stuff, red tape paperwork, bureaucratic-clap-trap paperwork.”
His body gave an exaggerated shudder between sentences.
“It’s totally necessary, it’s gotta happen, just not my favorite thing to do.”
McEnerny commutes from East Middlebury, where he lives with his wife, Monica, and their poodle, Corduroy.
“I got him used,” he said of his manicured dog. “He is a standard poodle. I feel compelled to say that-like I have to say that.”
Harry and Monica also have two sons, one a senior in college, the other a senior in high school. Both sons are involved in theater.
Along with being a full-time professor and chair of the Theater Department, McEnerny is also a Soundings instructor, advises 56 students, and directs two major plays a year.
“It really gets me when people think theater is extracurricular. Theater is hyper curricular,” he explained in a rare serious tone.
In the most recent production, Big Love, production meetings were held once a week and rehearsals were three hours a night, five nights a week. Most students do not receive credit for production involvement. It is a larger time commitment than any other club or sport at Castleton and requires more sacrifice then any other campus activity, he said.
“His strength shines as a director in big cast musicals,” said Roy Vestrich, a CSC professor who has worked with him. “He gets an audience going . pushes the envelope a little.”
So what’s in store for the future? How long will CSC be graced (or assaulted) by Harry McEnerny? He said he isn’t sure because he doesn’t know what the future has in store for him. But he did say that he would like to teach theater until he retires. When he leaves, all agree he will surely be missed. Super-senior Michelle Ross summed up the general consensus when she mused, “There’s nobody quite like Harry.