Theatre professor Mark Hunter dies

November 7th, 2011

Mark Hunter, associate professor of theatre, died on Sunday, Nov. 6. There will be a memorial service on campus on Monday, Nov. 14 starting at 11:10 a.m. in Kimmel Theatre. The service will be live streamed on the web here.

Mark Hunter

In a campuswide message announcing the death, Cornell Dean Joe Dieker wrote: “Mark was a valued community member who has taught at Cornell since 2002. He will be greatly missed. Counseling is available for students, faculty and staff dealing with this loss. Students can contact the Counseling Center, and support for students, faculty, and staff is also available from the Chaplain’s Office.”

Hunter’s family submitted this obituary:

Mark Hunter, Associate Professor of the Department of Theatre and Communications Studies at Cornell College, died suddenly and peacefully at age 61 in his Iowa City home on Sunday, November 6, 2011.  The cause was heart failure.

 Born in Manhattan (New York) on October 25, 1950, Mark Hunter was the first of two children born to Diane and Jack Roth.

 He is survived by his loving wife of 41 years, Claire Joseph. He is also survived by his daughter, Galen Joseph-Hunter, her husband Tom Roe and their daughter Echo; his son Eli Joseph-Hunter, his partner Briana Davis and their daughter Celia June; and his father, Jack Roth and Jack’s wife Myrna.

 Professor Hunter dedicated his life to the theatre and his family.

 At the age of eight, he began an acting career in New York City; represented by the William Morris Agency. His child acting credits include Broadway, Off Broadway, television, and voice-over work. He played the role of “Little Yonkers” in the Broadway-run of “Gypsy” starring Ethel Merman, and the role of “Tom” in the Broadway-production of “Camelot” starring Julie Andrews.

 Prof. Hunter received his JD from Syracuse University College of Law in 1978; he was a practicing attorney until 1981, when he returned to his love of the theatre and launched an ambitious new company called Playmakers Theatre in Tampa, Florida. He served as Producing Artistic Director of Playmakers until 1990.

 In 1992 Prof. Hunter relocated to Iowa City with his wife and son to pursue his Masters Degree in Directing at the University of Iowa. Following, he received his PhD in Theatre History and Criticism from the University of Texas at Austin. Much to the delight of both Prof. Hunter and his wife, they were able to return to Iowa City when Prof. Hunter joined the faculty of Cornell College in 2002.

 As a result of his tireless appetite for creative output, he directed hundreds of productions including his stage adaptation of Lee Smith’s award-winning novel “Fair and Tender Ladies” (re-titled “Ivy Rowe” on stage), which received an Off Broadway production and was presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He also directed the New York premiere of “A Greater Good,” written by Keith Huff, Prof. Hunter’s long-time friend and colleague.

On the introductory page of his 2005 dissertation “Theatrical Wonder,” Prof. Hunter wrote about the phenomenon of theatrical reception: “There are times, sitting with others in a darkened theatre, when my powers of perception, my very senses are heightened, and I feel myself expanding with a sense of possibility, a sudden alertness to that which is, to that which will – or might – be.”

 A memorial service will be held on Monday, November 21, 2011, 7 p.m., at Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St, Iowa City, IA 52245, where Prof. Hunter served as a frequent director and collaborator.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Crisis Center, 1121 Gilbert Court, Iowa City, IA 52240 ( and/or The Riverside Theatre (

42 Responses to “Theatre professor Mark Hunter dies”

  1. Marcus Fleig says:

    Oh wow! My prayers and best wishes to his family and everyone who he has inspired and helped.He will be greatly missed! I only had one class with him, but it is one of the most memerable from my time as a student at Cornell. Rest in peace Mark.

  2. Barb Benz says:

    My Son is a Theatre Major at Cornell and currently enrolled in Mark’s class. He is devistated by this loss as are the rest of the kids in the Theatre Department. My prayers and best wishes to his family. Rest in peace Mark.

  3. Sue Astley says:

    What a tremendous loss. My thoughts are with his family, his students (who love him like family), colleagues in Theatre, and of course all of us at Cornell who will greatly miss Mark’s wisdom and wit.

  4. Maria Neis says:

    Mark was my advisor during my time at Cornell (2003-2007). When I decided to do theatre only as a side interest instead of a major or minor, I chose to keep Mark as my advisor, even though I could have chosen a number of other wonderful and absolutely qualified other faculty. My older sister and I were the first generation of my family to go to college, and at times, especially during my freshman year, that felt a little intimidating. But Mark never acted like it should. Yes, he was my academic advisor, but Mark was also the person I talked to whenever things got overwhelming in school or life. He was always level-headed, but challenged me to grow in a lot of ways; he didn’t just impart wisdom, but asked me questions so I could find answers for myself. He was a great listener, a wonderful professor, an excellent director, and someone I feel very priviliged to have known. Thank you, Mark, for your influence on my life. You are missed.

  5. Sara Hill Cole says:

    What sad and shocking news – and what a painful loss for both of Mark’s families – his own family and his Cornell family.
    Prayers for both families.

  6. Cory Johnson says:

    While I had only met Mark a couple of times, I have had the great pleasure of working with his tremendous students in this past Cornell/Riverside production. It is very clear that he was a gifted educator and an inspirational mentor. He has left behind, amoung many other things, a legacy of wonderful theatre people who are also wonderful people. What an incredible impact he had! The students’ heartfelt response to his passing is a great testament to him as person and an artist.

    I wish I could’ve known him better.

  7. Mike Pfeilsticker says:

    I took Western Theater just to get required upper-level class outside of my major. There were only five or six students in the class. He made it very challenging and extremely interesting to a student of any major or interest. I was lucky to have by chance been in that class with him at the helm. What a great professor.
    My deepest sypathy goes out to his current students, friends, and family.

  8. Bill Adams says:

    Mark – you are an amazing talent, and I will always be grateful for having met you while at Cornell. Thank you for opening your heart and home to Cornell students.

  9. Clara Czerwionka says:

    Mark Hunter was not only an advisor during my time at Cornell. He was my friend, mentor, and a father figure. Mark helped me with some very difficult life choices along the way. He accepted me for who I am and met me where I was at. He was a sounding board when I couldn’t go to anyone else. He was non-judgmental and always gave me advice that allowed me to come to my own determinations. Mark did not stop being my advisor when I left Cornell College in 2007, I called him just a month ago to ask his advice on which direction to go in my graduate school practicum. His office hours were unending and he made each student feel as though they were the most important person in the program. His presence at Cornell will be missed as well as his presence in my life. I would like to offer my support for his services at any capacity.

    CLara Czerwionka

  10. Chris Carlson says:

    Mark was a superb faculty member. He was wonderful teacher, adviser and mentor and a key member of Cornell’s dynamic and innovative Theatre Department. He was also a champion of academic and artistic freedom. His death is a tremendous loss, foremost of course to his family and to Cornell, but also to the broader community and society which needs people with Mark’s imagination and courage.

  11. Karla M. Steffens-Moran says:

    It was with great shock and sadness that I learned of Mark’s sudden passing earlier this morning. Stunned. He was always such an advocate for any and all theatre adventures and undertakings…a champion of the artistic community…sad sad day. Karla

  12. Sarah Leavenworth says:

    My thoughts are with Mark Hunter’s family and the many people he touched so deeply over the years. I think that for many of as former Cornell students, we will remember the joyful moments we spent watching our fellow classmates on stage, bringing Mark’s vision and love for the arts to life.

  13. Sarah Altmann says:

    I took Play Analysis with Mark my freshman year at Cornell. I remember him as a wonderful professor, who challenged us within the class in many ways and truly made theatre come alive for all of us non-majors in his class. I learned a lot from him, and my prayers go out to all who cared about him.

  14. Kaia Monroe Rarick says:

    Mark was a dear friend and colleague of mine during my two years as a faculty member in the theatre department. He taught me a great deal. I will remember him and his generous spirit fondly.

  15. Lauren Kott says:

    Mark Hunter was a singular figure in support of my decision to teach high school drama. It us because of one long afternoon conversation that I took the job I still have six years later. Mark was a great advisor, and an inspirational director and professor. Heaven has gained another angel.

  16. Marie Feehan says:

    Mark was an extraordinary professor and mentor to so many students, both in and out of the classroom. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  17. Ron Clark says:

    Mark was the consummate artist. Starting as a professional actor at age 8, he was a great member of the theatre community.
    Always questioning and never stopping for the easy answer. Riverside Theater was lucky to have him associated with us. He directed nearly 30 productions for us and we had scheduled another for this spring.
    The world of theatre is poorer today from his death.

  18. Kristin Horton says:

    While I didn’t know Mark well personally, I did know him as a passionate, fiercely intellectual, and creative artist. I saw many of his productions both at Riverside and Cornell – Big Love was my favorite – so full of life that show – bursting at the seams. There is a production photo of the play with the young men in the cast leaping up off the ground, captured in midair. That’s how I will remember his artistic spirit – taking flight. It was clear from his incredible dedication and devotion to his students that he inspired so much and always brought out the best in everyone he encounter.

  19. bari newport says:

    very sad news. mark, you are missed.

  20. Megan McKamy says:

    If anyone were to sit with us and contemplate both the magnitude and the humdrum reality of death, it would surely be Mark. He might even shrug his shoulders I think. Or maybe he would cry for us. In any case, he would do what he always has; encourage us to reflect on whether or not something is significant. His passing is indeed significant, despite whether he would or would not comprehend just how. It’s raining here, and I have to wonder whether Mark would have anything to say about it, on such an enormously gloomy occasion. It will take quite some time for the sun to shine again.

  21. Joshua James says:

    So very sad at this loss … wrote about my memories of Mark here:

  22. Jean Donham says:

    What a loss for Cornell and theatre in the region. I recall working with Mark when he served on the Faculty Library Advisory Committee at Cornell. He was such a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and dedicated colleague, passionate teacher and talented artist.

  23. Paul Sannerud says:

    Mark was a director for whom I would drop everything to work with. His ever fertile mind, generous spirit and deft touch with a script was always a joy in any working situation. He was the consumate collaborator. I will always treasure the memories of the shows we worked on together. I was blessed to be able to work with him so often.
    My condolences and prayers to Claire and his family and to his huge extended family at Cornell. Requiescat in pace, my friend.

  24. Nan Hanway says:

    So very sad to hear about Mark’s death – he was such a wonderful man, and a great director. All my love to Claire, Gaylen, and Eli.

  25. Hillary Gardner says:

    Mark, you never shilly-shallied about anything, not even your passing. I send you thanks for your encouragement and inspiration. You always insisted on doing what you love with those you love. I am searching for solace in verse, something that might make you laugh. “I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.”

  26. Kimberly King-Burns says:

    I am shocked and saddened to read this morning’s news, and my heart goes out to Claire, Galen and Eli on the loss of their father and friend: the theatre community lost a singular voice today.

  27. Sandra DeLuca says:

    There is an empty space in the future of our arts community because of Mark’s absence. But I believe that his contributions to the arts and to all of us in the arts are more than enough to fill any space. I am so grateful for having known you, Mark! Think of how many of us around the globe are better for having your imprint on us as mentor, collaborator, and friend. So we carry you with us. Much love and thoughts go out to Claire and the kids.

  28. Ralph Hall says:

    If there are any theatre stages in the afterlife I’m sure you’ll be directing a show on one, probably a play that will create some controversy up there in heaven. That’s a good thing. Even heaven needs creative spirits to challenge the status quo, and you’re just the man for the job. You’ll be missed here. Love ya big guy.

  29. Josh Howard says:

    Marc, you believed I was capable of more and I still learn from you today. Thank you for the spark you lit, thank you for the calm you permitted, thank you for helping me to stop, listen, and laugh. Much love and support to the whole family.

  30. Margaret Eginton says:

    When Lindsay Tournquist, Mark’s former student, and now mine, called me on Sunday night to share with me this awful news– I was in shock. After all, we were just working together, it seems…. I thought about all the work that Mark did in grad school, how much fun we had working together, and all the work he did in Iowa City with Riverside, and all of the work I know he did at Cornell, through knowing and teaching Lindsay, who is both talented and free. I am so sorry, and send all of his students, and Clare, his children Gaylen and Eli, and his extended family and friends,thoughts of peace. He was a true man of the theatre, a true mensch.

  31. Miriam Engle says:

    My sophomore year I started to write my BSS degree. As part of that I had to choose a new adviser and professors that would not only be knowledgeable but also want to help me succeed in my pursuit. Mark was a natural choice, not only because I was writing a BSS in Musical Theater but because he genuinely cared. He was always there to help me though when I was ready to give up. He suggested classes that he thought would help and made sure that I was on the right track. Many of my theater classes he taught, including one of my favorites, Musical Theater. He made that class so personal. I remember sitting in class hearing the stories about his time on Broadway. A few years ago when I decided not to go the Broadway route I got a hold of Mark to talk things out with him. He reminded me that I needed to look within myself to know if it was right for me to change my path. He reminded me that there was a time in his life that he took a different road as well. With all his support and encouragement I made a decision to not completely change my path but to try the Film Industry instead. There has not been a day I have not been thankful for his advice. The world is a little darker without him in it.

  32. Scot West says:

    I had the opportunity to work with MarK Hunter
    four times over the last six years and I am
    deeply grateful for each experience, especially his
    Arthur Miller productions at Riverside.
    What a strange feeling to know that the restlessly
    intelligent engine behind some of my most profound and
    wildy unpredictable theatrical experiences will no
    longer be a few rows back in the house sitting
    there quizzically in his baseball cap.
    Who could possibly fill a cap that bright,
    that weird, that wonderful?

  33. Joe Baker says:

    In May 2002, Professor Mark Hunter cast me in the inagural performance at Cornell’s brand new Kimmel Theater. Over the following months, he (as well as the finest cast of actors that I have ever worked with) put together what I can only describe as the defining performance -and show- of my acting career. ‘Polaroid Stories’, ‘Narcissus’ and Mark have all had a lasting impression on me. He, as my director, worked with me to give the role intense duality – both 100% Vulenrable and also Fully Emplowered. Allowing me to feel at-once Completely Alive and Scared to Death. Thank you, Mark. Rest Peacefully.

  34. I had the chance to work with Mark a number of times, he cast me in his first production at Cornell, the last performance in the old theatre space, “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” which was an honor, as I wasn’t (and am still not) much of an actor. But it was his (and solinger’s) faith in my managerial skills the next year that changed my life forever. Acting as stage manager for Polaroid Stories, one of the most ambitious shows produced during my tenor at Cornell, was one of the most formative experiences of my life. (Not to mention-Mark didn’t try to get on base, he was a slugger, he swung for the fences, and Polaroid Stories was Mark’s Game 6-he being David Freese). The skills Mark taught me in cat herding, have been applicable throughout my life in my professional career and will stick with me forever.

  35. jeffrey mccune says:

    Every now and then you encounter a soul that MAKES YOU MOVE! This was Mark Hunter, as I sat in his class at Cornell College 12 yrs ago. Mark Hunter taught me as much about theatre and directing conventions, as he illustrated the wealth of what a professor can bring to the classroom. The little light he shared with me inspired me to continue to be a professor-performer-writer. I am forever grateful for the imprint he left on the world of theatre and my lifeworld. Until later, my friend.

    Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr., PhD 99′

  36. Diane Kempen says:

    What sad news…please know that his family is in all our prayers!!

  37. Kayla Prestel says:

    ‎Mark Hunter, my advisor, mentor, collaborator, and friend. You saw the potential in each student as a treasure to seek out and bring forth for everyone to share. You were open to every idea, opportunity, and question: they were simply new adventures. You have left an irreplaceable hole, not only on campus but in our hearts. Thank you for touching my life and inspiring me to grow in ways I could never imagine.

  38. […] It was with great sadness that I heard the news that Theatre professor Mark Hunter has passed away. […]

  39. Kathi Griffin says:

    Along with a consummate artist, we was also a wonderful teacher and mentor. Fairly new to theater, I worked with him at UI on a couple of productions from first conversations to closing night. Over the years I have missed him – still will. Love to Claire, Eli, Galen and all who mourn his loss.

  40. Bob Slater '60 says:

    Mark was a force in establishing a relationship with the Creede Repertory Theatre (CO). A number of Cornell College students interned at the theatre in what can best be described as a mutually beneficial relationship. He genuinely cared for students and their professional and intellectual growth. Mark also directed a play at the theatre. Memorably, I think of a shared evening sitting on our deck enjoying the beauty of the mountains and discussing his life (fully lived) and the growth and strength of the theatre department at Cornell. There is much to be proud of for what he accomplished along with his colleagues at Cornell. We will all miss him. What he started will continue. The spirit of his effort remains.

  41. Mark directed Urinetown for the Creede Repertory Theatre in 2007. It was an outstanding production and one of the biggest hits in our history. Mark also introduced us to a number of his most exceptional students – Charlie Thurston, Cate O’Brien, Ellen Kirk, Parker Reynolds and Maggie Schlundt. These Cornellians each made significant contributions to CRT – enriching and improving the quality of our work and of our lives. Mark had a gift for identifying and supporting remarkable people. I think also of the exceptional artists and colleagues he had at Riverside. Mark was such a lovely man and he will be sorely missed.

  42. April Brown '04 says:

    Some of my most positive theatrical memories from college include Mark Hunter. He was an amazing director and mentor. When he cast me in Polaroid Stories, he pushed me to reach my full potential on stage and gave me confidence in my own abilities. He treated everyone he worked with like a peer, student and faculty alike. An amazing man, my thoughts and prayers go with the family.