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Department of Theatre interim chair named

Associate professor and associate dean for research, Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell, Ph.D., comes to the role with a vast amount of well-earned support, respect and gratitude for her willingness to serve.

The University of Utah College of Fine Arts is pleased to announce Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell has been named as the interim chairperson for the Department of Theatre following the news that the current chair, Harris Smith, will be vacating the position for a new opportunity.

“We once again thank Harris for his excellent service over the past two years and wish him well on this next exciting step in his professional journey,” said John Scheib, dean of the College of Fine Arts and associate vice president for the arts at the U. “Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell brings to the position a wealth of administrative experience having served for many years on the CFA Executive Committee and Deans Cabinet in her role as associate dean for research and was even previously selected by Harris to serve as the associate chair for the department as well as his successor in the event of an emergency.”

Based on feedback College of Fine Arts leadership received over the past few weeks as well as reflections on Cheek-O’Donnell’s time as both an associate professor and associate dean, it is apparent that she comes to this role with a vast amount of well-earned support, respect and gratitude for her willingness to serve in this capacity. She will also continue her responsibilities as an associate dean for the time being.

Cheek-O’Donnell will be the first female chairperson in over 30 years after Marilyn Holt ended her term as chair in 1988.

“I am pleased to be able to serve the Department of Theatre during this particular historical moment,” Cheek-O’Donnell said. “Although we are facing unprecedented challenges, our community of creative problem-solvers is uniquely qualified to address them with grace and resilience.”

To learn more about the University of Utah Department of Theatre visit

About Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell

Cheek-O’Donnell is an associate professor in the Department of Theatre and associate dean for research in the College of Fine Arts at the U where she teaches new play development, dramaturgy, theatre history, theory, criticism and dramatic literature.

Cheek-O’Donnell’s current research focuses on the application of theatre techniques in non-traditional places, like health care settings and STEM education. She is the principal investigator, with Dr. Gretchen A. Case, on a randomized controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a rehearsal framework to improve the interpersonal communication skills of medical learners. This study is funded by a Research Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, Cheek-O’Donnell regularly collaborates with multidisciplinary teams at the Utah Center for Excellence in ELSI Research (UCEER) to leverage the arts—particularly theatre and storytelling—in the creation of health education and support materials for women and families. Previously, she worked with a multidisciplinary team led by Nalini Nadkarni and funded through the National Science Foundation to explore using theatre, narrative and ecological restoration as tools to shift the way people see themselves in relation to science, technology, engineering and math. Cheek-O’Donnell’s book “Theatre for Health” will be published by Emerald in 2021.

Before her turn to applied theatre, she served as a dramaturg on more than 20 professional productions in the United States. Cheek-O’Donnell earned a doctorate in theatre history and dramatic criticism from the University of Washington’s School of Drama in 2004, and received her undergraduate degree from Carleton College in Minnesota.