Professors are People Too: Mark Zillges

“I don’t always expect to find some deep philosophical thing, even though I am deeply philosophical, but I have to be able to accept that this person and that are the way that they are. The beauty of that is if I’m not better than somebody else, and they’re not better than me, then we’re the same. And if we’re the same, we can live in harmony, because I can learn something from you, you can learn something from me.”

A man from Wisconsin

Mark Zillges is a professor at Regent University from Kimberly, Wisconsin with a love for potatoes and acting.

“Well, I’m a potato addict. I like potatoes, I don’t care what kind they are,” said Zillges. “Baked potatoes; love French fries; I like potato soup.”

Aside from potatoes, Zillges has a love for bigger cities.

“It was a small town next to a large town,” he said. “And I’m not a small-town guy, I guess.”

Zillges left his small hometown of Kimberly after high school, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Theater at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

I remember I did theater [in college]. On weekends [when] we did the plays, we never slept. You know, we’d do the show, then we’d have an after-show party and go to somebody’s house and dance and eat junk food, then it would go on to the early morning hours. I had a couple of friends who we’d walk down to the river and watch the sun go up. Then it was pointless to go to sleep after that!”

Zillges then attended Regent University, where he earned his MFA in Theater, which he now uses to teach Acting Shakespeare, Interpersonal Communication, Modern Drama, the Performance Studio, and Improv at Regent.

“Interesting thing about improvisation [class] is, having taken improv in my MFA program, most of the really, really funny stuff happened in rehearsals,” he said. “So, they never really got to the stage, because it’s always different. I worked with a lot of really, really talented, funny people doing that.”

He presently lives in Virginia Beach with his wife, who he met during his time at UWLC.

“My wife- I met her when I was an undergrad. I was a senior and I was directing a senior project, and she was one of the actresses in it,” said Zillges. “When she walked across the stage for auditions, I knew. First, I had to cast her… then we just started going out, I didn’t even ask her out. We just did.”

A dedicated actor

In addition to being a professor at Regent, Zillges is a professor for Old Dominion University and an actor with experience in many different productions.

“My first lead was We’re No Angels, and that was fun, well, ’cause it was my first lead,” he said. “After that, I liked American Buffalo. I played God here in the Mystery Plays, that was a blast. Then I did an original play that was written by a professor here called Brendon’s Journey; that was a two-character show, and each one of us played eight characters.”

Each time Zillges gets a role, he studies his character in order to give his best performance possible.

“I’ll read everything I can,” he said. “I’ll do a psychological profile of that person, because it’s my belief as a performer that you have to know everything there is possible to know about that specific person in order to do it correctly. It’s a lot more work than most people do, but it’s more fun that way.”

Some of his more in-depth research comes in when he plays a role with history, such as his role in The Diary of Anne Frank.

“I had always been a Holocaust historian, but then when I was in The Diary of Anne Frank, I had an excuse to read that much more,” he said. “I was concentrated on the other side of it, because I had always wondered, well how could a nation of people do that to somebody else? So, I was looking at that and was looking at the psychology of that. Then when doing The Diary of Anne Frank, I got to see the other side of what it was like as a people to go through that.”

A continual researcher

In addition to researching roles, Zillges frequently researches anything he wants to learn about.

“Most of the things I want to know more about, I just go ahead and learn about it,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about prayer, so I got into a group that did that. Then I attached myself to a group that goes out of their way to teach it.”

His love for acting and knowledge are some of the many things that defines Zillges, another being his philosophical mindset.

“It’s kind of weird, because if you had asked me [what my most prized possession is] four or five years ago, I would have had a whole list of things,” he said. “But you know once I got into this prayer stuff, things started to mean less and less. Most of the books that I have now can be on my phone, so that’s not an issue anymore. I had a near-death experience that sort of made me look at life and say, you know what, I can live without everything I have.”

A near-death experience that changed his life

One cause of this detachment to possessions is that the day after his fifty-fourth birthday, Zillges suffered from congestive heart failure.

“I was watching the silver solider, you know, Captain America, and we got through the whole movie, which is good, because I hate having to stop,” he said. “I stood up to leave and I couldn’t breathe. It got worse, and I said to the guy I was with You gotta get me home. It was weird, I could not get breath, but every once in a while fluid would come back into my mouth and it would be like salt water cause my lungs filled up with fluid.”

After arriving at the Emergency Room, Zillges had what he describes as an unreal experience.

“The Emergency Room was surreal at best, then it got to be real spiritual. You know I can’t breathe, there’s people all around me, and I am literally by myself,” he said. “I was fightin’, fightin’, fightin’, and I said Is that all there is? Then all the sudden, I’m in the same room and nobody else is in there, and I can breathe, and I just sense that the Lord was there.”

Zillges described his conversation with The Lord during his surreal experience.

“I said Wow this is it, isn’t it? and He [God] said, Well, if you want it to be. I said, What do you mean? And He said, Well, if you want, you can come with me. Otherwise, you know, you can stay here. There’s plenty to do,” Zillges narrated. “I was like, Gosh, I wonder what that would be like. He said, Just let yourself go a little bit. So, I did, and I was like, But you really want me to stay here, don’t ya? He said, Yeah. So, I said okay, then all the sudden I can breathe again.”

Five years later, Zillges still thinks about the incident and how it impacted him.

“Every once in a while, I say, Why didn’t I go?” Zillges said.

Shelly Slocum is a department head for the Daily Runner.