Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where are they now? Retired ISU prof. has returned to acting

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 8:15 AM CST

Lew Hackleman plays General MacKenzie, one of 10 guests in a home on Indian Island in Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre’s production of "Ten Little Indians." The Agatha Christie murder mystery is on stage now through Feb. 11. For more information, visit

Lew Hackleman is doing what he likes. His passion is theater and in 38 years, teaching at Indiana State University, he has nearly done it all.

"I taught everything except costuming," he said.

Lew, a slight, rather short man with gray hair was sitting in the green room, backstage at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis.

"This is a great cast," he said. "These people are so talented and it's just like family."

Lew is spending his retirement doing what he likes and what he likes is acting.

His former student, Eddie Curry, got him this gig, playing Gen. MacKenzie, a quite daft, retired army officer, who insists his dead wife "is here. I'm going to sit here until she comes to get me."

The play is Agatha Christie's murder mystery, "Ten Little Indians," also known as "And Then There Were None," a quite ominous name for a mystery set in the 1930s in which bodies are piled up like so much cord wood in the study of the mansion on an island off the coast of Massachusetts.

It is not type casting. His decades of dedication show in his performance.

He points out the following fellow actor Jeff Stockberger has in each performance. Lew is certainly not jealous, but he is obviously glad to be a part of the Beef & Boards family.

This is the first show he has been in since he retired from ISU two years ago. He hopes to pick up more acting jobs, just not too many. He is retired and he likes to spend time with his wife, Kathy, and the rest of his family. His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live in England and the couple spend as much time there as possible. Lew and Kathy continue to call Terre Haute home.

Is he ready to for other acting jobs?

"I'm available," he said. "This came up and Eddie offered me the role."

He remembers Eddie as one of his promising students.

"My favorite thing was 'Pump Boys and Dinettes'," he said. "I try to stay in touch with my students.

Eddie met Lew in the fall of 1985 when Eddie was a freshman at ISU. After one theater class under Lew’s tutelage, Eddie changed majors.

“He believed in me before I believed in myself,” Eddie said in a telephone interview Monday.

Lew was the main reason many students chose ISU, Eddie recalled. Each summer, Lew had an intensive two-week theater camp for high school students each year. In those two weeks, Lew was able to communicate his passion for theater and made believers of soon-to-be college students.

Fast forward to two years ago. Lew’s former student, Eddie Curry, had become a producer for Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre in 1994. Lew retired from teaching at ISU and decided to return to his first love: acting.

“We try to use age-appropriate actors at Beef & Boards,” Eddie said. “If a part calls for a 40-year-old, we try to find a 40-year-old actor.

“When we did ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ two years ago, I wanted Lew to play Grandpa, but he had planned a trip and wasn’t available.”

When the part of Gen. MacKenzie came up in “Ten Little Indians,” Lew was delighted to get the part and be reunited with his former student.

"It's a nice life," Lew concluded.