Dan Carter has spent the past 22 years looking his mortality in the face.
And as far as views go, it’s not half bad — a wall of windows that face out onto the northern end of Penn State’s campus, providing ample opportunity to observe the migrating patterns of the harried college student in his or her natural habitat.
Carter was 46 when he became the director of the Penn State School of Theatre and even then had an inkling that there are probably only so many vistas that a man gets to accumulate in his life.
More than two decades later, regret has yet to make even a cameo appearance as he approaches the swan song of his administrative career.
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“I can’t imagine where I would rather have been,” Carter said.
Yes, he’s in an undeniably nice spot and for the longest time Carter was in no hurry to leave. His life post-workforce was something best considered in drips and drabs, whenever he read something about the current employment landscape or contemplated the merits of a voluntary retirement package that would eventually be allowed to go by the wayside.
The cumulative effect was the difference between a free fall and a controlled descent, where in either case the final destination was more or less inevitable.
“Once you start thinking seriously about it, you’ve already got one foot out the door,” Carter said.
In December, a story on the Penn State’s news site made it official — Carter will retire from his post at the end of June, clearing the way for colleague William Doan to take the hot seat on July 1.
His affiliation with Penn State will continue on in a diminished capacity that should, in theory, allow he and his wife to spend more time at a log cabin they purchased with an eastern panorama of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
That image alone suggests a certain finality to the proceedings, or at the very least Carter’s confidence that his torch will be dropped into soft hands. He strongly advocated for his replacement to be an internal candidate and has spent the past few months helping to acclimate his replacement.
In Doan, he sees savvy, compassion and understanding.
“Everyone knows him here and respects him and likes him,” Carter said.
Talk of his own contributions over the past 22 years is always couched in the language of a facilitator. Carter hires the right people, accepts the right pupils — and then gets out of their way.
It’s earnest and honest without being completely true. It was his idea to send theater students abroad to London, Italy and South Africa. Ditto an initiative that commissions plays for soon-to-be graduates to use as a professional steppingstone.
He likes these things because they are practical, possessed of a weight and tangibility atypical of the future — and in an industry where the end product is America’s youth, that’s really what it’s all about, right?
“It’s my job to think about where we’re headed in the next three years, five years,” Carter said.
There’s a collection of Broadway posters hanging toward the front of the Theatre Building — “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and more — all living a second life as an alumni calling card.
Carter likes it here, this spot that celebrates the past, yes, but perhaps has more utility as a launching pad, a point of departure for the next generation of thespians and technicians.
Legacies, after all, will always require new blood.
At this point it feels redundant, but the modestly immodest display really is yet another nice view, one that Carter probably won’t abandon altogether. There are still 18 posters somewhere in storage and he would really like to get them up on the wall at some point — possibly after July 1.
Intermingled here and there will be that eastern mountain vantage point and a few personal projects struggling to make due without all the pomp and circumstance.
“It’s always interesting to walk into a room where I’m not the director of the School of Theatre and make my way without the fact that I’m ostensibly in charge,” Carter said.
Maybe a man does get an unlimited number of vistas, but it must come as some relief not to have to look into the face of mortality, the past or even the future.
Sometimes it must be nice just to look east.
Check the Centre Daily Times on Monday for more information on incoming School of Theatre Director William Doan.