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‘Priceless’ liberal arts experience takes McKinley ’73 around the world

March  15, 2011

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Philip McKinley '73 (Photo courtesy of The Dispatch and Rock island Argus)

Philip McKinley '73 describes himself as one who has lived out his dreams-owning a new production business, directing spectacular productions throughout Europe and Asia, directing Hugh Jackman in the TONY award-winning "The Boy From Oz" on Broadway and being the guy who has directed more editions of Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey circuses than any other living person.

McKinley had planned to direct David Mamet's comedy "Speed-the-Plow" this spring at the Curtainbox Theatre in Davenport, Iowa, but he recently was asked to take over as the director of the troubled $70-million Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

The path to his success, McKinley said, started with his decision as an Augustana student to declare five majors--education, speech and drama, music, English and art--and still manage to graduate in three years in speech and drama and later fulfill requirements for music and teaching.

Today, the acclaimed director is known for his gift to create memorable productions no matter the size, budget or actor involved, and he is quick to credit his experience at Augustana.

"I had an amazing group of teachers/mentors--Dennis Hitchcock, Dorothy Parkander, Dean (Betsey) Brodahl, Ann Boaden, Ruth Holmen, Don Morrison, Gary Hobbs and the Rev. Richard "Swanie" Swanson are just a few among the many who were incredibly supportive and allowed me to incorporate all these different disciplines into required courses," said McKinley. "Augustana provided me with a true liberal arts education and background, and there is no value you can put on it. It is priceless."

For Augustana students thinking about their own journeys, McKinley offers some advice: "Really consider how to develop your education as something that is individualized to you, something that will separate you from the crowd and give you an opportunity in the job market."

McKinley, a native of Avon, Ill., planned to return to his hometown to be near family, but while directing the play "Wit" at the Curtainbox Theatre in Davenport, Iowa, last summer, his real estate agent found McKinley a home in the Quad Cities that was meant to be his. "I knew this was the house as soon as I walked in the door," McKinley said. "I direct and produce multi-million dollar projects all over the world and coming back home is nice--it gives me a sense of normalcy."

-Kamy Beattie-

Contact Augustana Magazine editor Debbie Blaylock by email; by phone at (309) 794-8979; or by mail at Augustana College, 639 38th St., Rock Island, Ill., 61201.