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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 diversified audience.

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

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