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New Face: Norma Saldivar

This new department chair says the move to UNLV allows her to continue her commitment to developing new generations of theater devotees.

People  |  Jan 29, 2018  |  By Jennifer Vaughan
Norma Saldivar talking to students

Norma Saldivar, executive director of Nevada Conservatory Theatre and theatre department chair (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)  

This academic year, the College of Fine Arts welcomed a new chair of theatre and executive director of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, Norma Saldivar. Hailing from the Midwest, Saldivar gave up the snowy winters to walk on the wintry mild side at UNLV. Her love of live theater, the fine art of storytelling, and the escape of science fiction are just a few things that make her tick — but it's sparking the flame in a new generation of theater-goers that is her passion.

Why UNLV?

UNLV is a terrific opportunity for me to continue my service in the arts. I have made it a personal mission to contribute in whatever way I can to impact the future of theater arts. Helping to facilitate the introduction and advanced study of theater and associate performance arts is vitally important to me. They enrich, heal, and inspire. I want students of theater to know the power of the art to transform. UNLV shares those values and my colleagues in theatre work toward that mission every day. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to support.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

No two places are the same. In fact, usually we can identify more differences than similarities. But I love seeing the pure joy of the students. They are hungry to learn and enthusiastic about preparing themselves to be leaders and innovators in the field. I can add that I am inspired by the level of diversity in our student body. As a first generation American, I am so thrilled to see students of such diverse cultures throwing themselves at the craft and going after every genre of work. The students I have met are driven, compassionate, and fearless to try anything. They have welcomed me and I'm grateful.

Where did you grow up and what was that like? What do you miss about it?

I grew up outside of Chicago in a town called Chicago Heights that was part of what was called in those days the "Steel Belt.” It was a terrific place to grow up with lots of great opportunities to participate in the arts and sports. Summers were full of music camp and tennis games and lots of time with the family. My family is what I miss most about those times and that place.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Storytelling. I was a voracious reader as a child and young adult. I read everything and would relish escaping into the many stories. I was a child of television and film — loved, loved, loved television and film. What I loved most was the storytelling and the way they would tell story. Theater was a natural progression, participating in school pageants. But it wasn't until I discovered the playwright's work that I really grew enthralled. What a wonderful experience to work with a group of people to tell a story. The enthusiasm, commitment, and the community were the thing that cemented the entire relationship with theater.

What is the biggest challenge in your field?

Bringing people to live theater has always been a challenge — the challenge. Sparking the flame in new generations that theater is vital enough for them to commit a couple of hours is a challenge that we'll never completely resolve, but we have to keep readdressing. Theater as an art form requires constant nurturing and cultivating audiences. When presenting, it’s vital to leverage the moments in which we find ourselves living to connect with the audience. There are so many excuses one can find for not going to a performance. We have to be creative and consistent with the work to create new audiences while continuing to nurture the loyal patrons. This is an especially complex, but exhilarating dance.

Finish this sentence, "If I couldn't work in my current field, I would like to...”

I would be a lawyer — probably doing family law. Or a political scientist — that was my first love and what I went to school for.

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why it is significant.

The picture of my goddaughter Maria. I adore her. This picture is a bit old and of her at a time when we spent what seemed like every summer together. I miss her very much. She's in Germany on a gap year before going to college. She's terrific and I am in awe of her.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

That I am a complete nerd about science fiction. I love science fiction so much I can watch films or TV shows again and again and again.