Golden Standard: C of I theatre professor delights on stage, enlightens in the classroom
Long before Joe Golden became the head of The College of Idaho’s Theatre and Speech Arts department, he was a nervous eighth grader auditioning for the role of the Artful Dodger in his school’s production of Oliver! Since that role, Golden has paid forward his love of theatre, both as an actor for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and as a popular theatre instructor.
“I just kept doing it, waiting for someone to tell me to stop,” Golden said of his career in the arts. “To say that ‘it’s been fun, but you can’t make a living at this.’ That never came. I didn’t have anything else I really wanted to do like theatre.”
Golden’s enthusiasm for acting never wavered. After receiving his M.F.A. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Golden began performing with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in 1992. Since then, he has shined in a number of plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas.
However, Golden is perhaps best known as one half of the Fool Squad, alongside his longtime collaborator Tom Willmorth. Together, the duo has produced the nightly “Greenshow” every ISF season for the past 22 years, taking playful aim at some of Idaho’s most notorious politicians and current events along the way.
“At some point, it became a badge of honor to become a subject for the Greenshow,” Golden said of the show’s many targets. One such subject, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, even awarded the duo the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts Education in 2009 in recognition of their extremely popular performances.
The Fool Squad recently announced that 2014 would be their final season as regular ISF performers. That came as sad news for many Treasure Valley theatre patrons, but Golden is proud of the work he and Willmorth did for more than two decades.
“We’ve made as many jokes about port-a-johns and Butch Otter and the big, bubbly, steamy crack on the side of the Grove Hotel that we could,” Golden said. “We feel fortunate and blessed to have done them for so long, and for the audiences to have loved them and supported us.”
One of the things Golden most enjoys about working with ISF is bringing the skills he has honed on-stage back to C of I as an instructor. Golden admits that becoming a teacher was an opportunity that “just fell out of the sky” in 1996, after he was approached by a group of determined theatre majors looking for a new professor to replace their recently vacated department chair.
“It was easy to fall in love with the place once I arrived here,” Golden said. “But it was a complete baptism by fire. Being the only person in the department, it was a one-man show, and I had to reinvent the wheel from day one.”
Under Golden, the theatre department has grown while gaining a reputation in the community for its strong output. Current senior theatre major Ellen Campbell, who acted alongside Golden during last spring’s production of A Lie of the Mind, is quick to praise him for his collaborative spirit and encouragement of experimentation.
“Being one of Joe's students has been a really rich experience for me,” she said. “I have an absolute blast in his classes, and some of my most memorable moments as an actor have happened there. No matter how crazy it is, he's always there to encourage me and push me even farther.”
Golden is humble about his own achievements, both with the ISF and the C of I. But even he recognizes that he’s in the right place.
“I was asked [after starting teaching] ‘Do you really want to spend three years of your life doing this?’ I said I didn’t think I’d be there that long, but here we are 18 years later. You have to wonder if you’re destined to be someplace for some reason, because that’s how it feels.”
By Clayton Gefre, C of I student reporter