Creating Curriculum: How the Division of Theatre Innovates Through Foundation Building
To meet the ever-evolving needs of students in the Division of Theatre, Stan Wojewodski and his faculty have instituted a novel teaching philosophy: Allow students the freedom to choose how – and what – they will build upon their foundational training.
When you spend a great deal of your life training people for a career in the
theatre, you are frequently asked: “What type of theatre are you training
your students for?” But here at Meadows, that answer is not as black-andwhite
as you might expect. A great deal of traditional theatre training in the
country was originally designed to prepare professionals for one type of
work, typically in repertory companies. The intended outcome of a university
program was that an actor would join a resident repertory company for five
or 10 or even more years at a time; as a result, actors were being trained to
serve the choice of play that was at the heart of that movement.
But media has morphed so quickly that the possibilities for trained professionals
have dramatically changed. Actors are not likely to join companies
for an extended period of time. Now they simultaneously have ready access
to film and television in ways they really didn’t before. The advent of the
Internet even makes it possible to write, produce and perform a web series
that has a chance of being successfully launched to a wide and broadly
So how do we re-examine the training questions? At SMU, our theatre
faculty resoundingly agree that we are training our students for the theatre
they will make, though we can’t know exactly what that may look like.
Therefore as a faculty, we continually return to and examine the first principles
of theatre training to see exactly what it is we have valued and why.
We question whether certain components should continue to be part of our
program. Perhaps most importantly, we regularly invite the participation
of a wide variety of guest artists to supplement, complement and challenge
our mission and values.
As a result of this inquiry, we hope to provide our students
with an exceptionally strong theatre foundation and
to avoid the narrow definition of what kind of “building”
should be set upon it. What these marvelously imaginative
and passionate young theatre workers will build will
be up to them as they respond to their specific communities
and to the culture at large. Therefore, through both
embodied practice and scholarly scrutiny, we provide
ample opportunity for the rigorous examination of classical,
modern and contemporary models of theatre-making.
To that end, the presence of visiting artists, whether
individuals, companies or teams, becomes central to
the core curriculum and areas of special interest taught
by our resident faculty. We work to expose students to
a wide array of actors, playwrights, directors, designers
and theatre-makers of all stripes who are in residence for
substantial periods of time.
Many of these visiting artists engage our students not
only in the classroom or in the studios, but in the community
as well. We have an eye out for those whose work
lends itself particularly to bringing groups together and
getting our students out and working with their colleagues
in the local theatre companies and cultural centers.
The other major component of training students for the
new theatre forms they will create is entrepreneurship.
We continue preparing them for auditions and meetings
with visiting agents, casting directors and other specialists
and provide many hours of rigorous theatre training.
It is, however, in the recently developed for-credit classes
in entrepreneurship that they learn how to be strategic,
how to attract capital, and how to position themselves in
various for-profit and not-for-profit markets. So that they
develop the power to create independently, we make the
major theatre spaces in both Meadows and the community
available to students for their productions and connect
them to significant funding via Meadows Exploration
Awards and Engaged Learning grants.
It is our hope that by building a strong set of foundational
skills, providing alternative models of theatre-making,
encouraging community engagement and developing entrepreneurial
ambition and skills, our students will have
direct access to a broad range of career possibilities immediately
upon graduation. We grow increasingly confident
that we are training them for the theatre they will be
inspired to create. With this direction, we are increasing
the spring of our board and launching them successfully
into new areas depending on their own interests.
-Stan Wojewodski, Jr.
Distinguished Professor of Directing and Chair,
Division of Theatre