Medoff’s play, “Children of a Lesser God,” returns to Broadway this spring

By Minerva Baumann ’13

When Mark Medoff arrived in Las Cruces in 1966 to teach at New Mexico State University, at age 26 and fresh from Stanford University, he didn’t think he’d stay longer than a year.

“I’ve just started my 51st year at NMSU and in Las Cruces,” Medoff says. “As a young English instructor, I broke out in sweats before each of my classes every day for the first few months: part excitement that I was responsible for facilitating the education of several hundred students a year and part terror that one of those 18-year-olds or returning Vietnam vets would realize I was a poseur who really didn’t know much about anything.”

Writer Denise Chavez remembers the Tony Award-winning playwright, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and award-winning director as a young professor who allowed students to dream.

“My first class with him was a Modern American Literature course in the late 1960s,” Chavez says. “I wasn’t a very good student, but I loved reading, and that is what we did in the class.

This course was a great awakening and a wake-up call. Mark was already then a very good teacher.”

Medoff says he learned much about teaching from a fellow professor. “Professor Tom Erhard, one of my earliest mentors at NMSU, a veteran teacher and playwright, answered the question of a novice teacher this way: ‘The best classroom situation is the one where the teacher teaches the students and the students teach the teacher.’”

A Distinguished Achievement Professor at NMSU, Medoff has written more than 30 plays, many of which premiered in Las Cruces. He’s garnered numerous awards for his work, including a Tony Award for his play “Children of a Lesser God,” which will star Joshua Jackson in a Broadway revival next spring.

“When I spent a week this summer at rehearsals for the revival of ‘Children,’ I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good play.’ It’s humbling, rewarding, and a little bit hilarious that this particular creature that was birthed in Las Cruces at NMSU is doing well out in the ‘big world.’”

After 12 years in NMSU’s English Department in the College of Arts and Sciences, Medoff headed the Department of Theatre Arts for nine years. He also co-founded with Bruce Streett the American Southwest Theatre Company in 1984 and helped form the Creative Media Institute at NMSU in 2005, where he continues to teach as a senior fellow.

Amy Lanasa, CMI department head, was also his student and calls Medoff a non-traditional teacher. “He teaches without teaching, and inspires his students to have a stake in each other’s work,” says Lanasa. “He is a great, empathetic listener, which makes him a wonderful teacher of writing, where, inevitably, students need a listening ear as they struggle through the work. I have learned and continue to learn a lot from him.”

Earlier this year, “The Heart Outright,” a film Medoff wrote as a sequel to his play “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” premiered in Las Cruces. The film was shot in Las Cruces with a student crew guided by Medoff’s son-in-law, CMI assistant professor Ross Marks, and produced by CMI graduate Dave Witt. The film has been screened at film festivals and had been sold for distribution.

In 1974, Medoff received NMSU’s highest faculty honor, the Westhafer Award.

In 1980, he was honored with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, which is New Mexico’s most prestigious lifetime artistic honor. In 2005, he received the Kennedy Center Medallion for Excellence in Education and Artistic Achievement, an award given periodically to a practicing artist who is also a career teacher.

“I still love going to the classroom,” Medoff says. “At this time in my life, I feel I actually know a few things worth passing on to my students. The thing I love most about going to class harkens back 51 years to professors Tom Erhard, John Hadsell and Felipe Ortego, who showed me over and over the power of compassion, of collaboration, of strength in the face of lunacy. I can’t teach students to write, to direct, to act, but I can create an atmosphere in which they can teach themselves.”

Scene from “The Heart Outright” in which screen writer Mark Medoff (left), who also acts in the film, argues with actor Brad Makarowski (right), who plays the role of Stephen “Red” Ryder, while Jessica Medoff, who plays the role of Angel Childress, watches the two men.


Workshop for the Mark Medoff play “Time and Chance” in New York City in the summer of 2017. From back left, Abigail Wahl, actor; Medoff, writer-director; Bob Steinberg, set designer/dramaturg; Emma Grimsley, actor; and Jessica Medoff, assistant director. From front left, Morgana Shaw, actor; Alicia Thompson, stage manager; Lena Georgas, actor; and Henry Bunchman, Medoff’s grandson.