June 2016

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June 2016


Large School or Small, Creativity has a Welcome Home

David Navalinsky Education Commission

For anyone wondering who would teach at or why a student would attend a small school, the answer is simple: They are people who care very much about teaching, education, and theatre.

Recently I was able to visit 15 theatre departments at schools varying from having a small handful of majors to having more than 300. The one thing they all had in common was the community they created. They were all places where students could dance and sing loudly in common areas or sulk in their dusty shop clothes complaining about the noise.

Theatre departments give everyone a home; they give students in other disciplines a chance to work with their hands and create something tangible. A theatre department is a safe place where students and faculty are often on a first name basis and they learn collaboration and grow side-by-side.

Even in the larger departments I visited, class sizes in the production area remained small.  A lighting class might include 10 people at each school but the larger department will teach the course once a year and the small may only teach lighting once every four years. This meant that every classroom I entered still had a very personal touch.

I used to look at these smaller colleges hidden away in remote areas and wonder what they had to offer. Just like the larger schools, they offer a safe place for creative types but in a more intimate setting. It’s similar to going from a proscenium to a small black box.

In both instances, students who were not theatre majors gravitated to the theatre for that safe space, the hands-on creation, and the collaboration with their peers. Students need a theatre department on campus for this kind of training. Even the business majors claimed the theatre was the only place they really experienced collaboration. 

My visits to these departments opened my eyes to the commonalities we share regardless of department size.  When we look to evaluate the work of students or our colleagues, let us remember that regardless of whether they produce four shows per semester or four shows per year, have two faculty members or 20, the collaboration and safe environment to create and explore it the uniting value each brings.  And that is a great gift theatre gives to any institution.