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Alumni Make Moving Tribute Video for ‘Graduating’ Artist-in-Residence Ken Cheeseman

A cast of former students participated in a heartfelt video to celebrate Senior Artist-in-Residence Kenneth Cheeseman, one of the most beloved Performing Arts teachers to walk through Emerson College’s doors. Cheeseman is retiring from teaching at Emerson after this semester.

He said he was surprised when he received the 17-minute long video featuring a score of former students.

“My appreciation for them and the contribution that each of them made to my life during the time in which they were my students is at least as great as the appreciation they expressed to me,” said Cheeseman. “I have nothing but gratitude for my time at Emerson College and for the extraordinary experiences I have had in the classroom and in every interaction with the students.”

Ken Cheeseman headshot

Pablo Milla ’18 decided to create the video after learning about Cheeseman’s retirement. Milla tapped his roommate, Roberto Williams ’18, who did the heavy lifting on editing. Joseph Freeman ’13, also a former student of Cheeseman’s, did the sound mixing and music for the video.

“Ken Cheeseman is just… one of those teachers, you know? — [he] had a profound effect on me, as an actor,” said Milla. “He is so effortlessly kind, creative, driven, invested in his students, and I would even go as far as to say so ethereal in his disposition that it’s like, ‘How can you not hold a prominent memory of this teacher?'”

Milla and Williams crowdsourced the Emerson Mafia Facebook page asking for tributes to make the video. They also messaged former classmates who were in Cheeseman’s classes, reached out to the professor’s colleagues, and also connected with Emerson LA Associate Director of Alumni Engagement Melinda Valente.

Two men in togas lift their hands together.
Ken Cheeseman, left, in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’

But if you ask Cheeseman, he’s not retiring.

“My time at Emerson has been as an Artist-in-Residence, a practitioner of an art (in my case acting) in residence at an institution sharing the experience of a life in that art,” said Cheeseman. “Artist in Residencies are three-year renewable contracts at Emerson. After 15 years, I felt it was time to make room for some new artists, new ways of thinking, new energy. I have chosen to not renew that contract which is not quite the same as ‘retirement”– more like my ‘graduation’.”

Cheeseman believes that acting and activism are far more related than we are aware.

“By making the video, recording their well wishes, expressing themselves they have taken action,” said Cheeseman. “More importantly, it was clear that each of them is continuing to make choices, have strong intentions, maintaining a connection to the Emerson community and the greater community of the world as they move through their lives.”

After graduating, Cheeseman said he plans on continuing to act, and put energy into activism in others through performance, practice, and study of the theatrical arts.

He also reflected on the learning opportunities afforded to Emersonians, and the impact they can provide.

“Emerson College should be an opportunity for people to practice a way of being in the world,” said Cheeseman. “One that ties actions to the greater responsibilities we all have as artists and human beings. As I watched each of their videos I could feel them maintaining the excellent spirit they had when in the classroom while practicing and learning the performing arts. They are the model of ‘good acting’.”

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