“I didn’t think I’d be here 36 years later,” says Ruben Van Kempen on the path he’s taken since he graduated from UW in 1976 with degrees in drama and education.
Since then, most of his days—and plenty of his nights—have been spent as the Director of Theatre at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. Roosevelt boasts the most comprehensive drama curriculum in the Seattle Public Schools—offering classes in acting, directing, design, production and more—and Van Kempen’s program has earned a national reputation as a feeder to top university drama programs and a launching pad to careers on Broadway, international stages and the film and TV industries. This legacy recently earned Van Kempen a spot in the Educational Theatre Association’s National Hall of Fame.
The prestigious award is just another in a long line of honorifics which include: a 2011 induction into the Washington State Thespians Hall of Fame; winning the first annual Ruben Van Kempen Arts Educator Award from Intiman Theatre; and receiving the 2007 Gregory A. Falls Sustained Achievement Award, named for Van Kempen’s mentor at UW and the founder of Seattle’s ACT Theatre.
To Van Kempen, though, the awards and decorated alums are not the real measure of his efforts. Instead, he most prizes the ability to impart lessons on problem solving, teamwork and creativity.
“This experience has an impact on their lives,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what field they are in; they’re taking these skills into society and thriving. That, to me, is success.”