Too often, a bachelor’s degree in theatre is stereotyped as an easy, unnecessary degree. In his article in “The Atlantic,” Noah Berlatsky argues, “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that arts programs are not necessary. However, collegiate arts programs are necessary to society because they create open-minded, intellectual artists that are more open to discussion about societal problems.
As a theatre major, I believe that at California Lutheran University, the theatre arts degree is anything but easy. Students are never divided into the groups of actor, technician and designer. They are required to work in all aspects of theatre. And work they do.
Theatre Arts is the only degree program at Cal Lutheran, where students’ academic commitments and extracurricular activities are inextricably linked. Theatre students attend theatre classes during the day. Seven nights a week, they put classroom skills directly to work when they rehearse for full productions performed on campus.
These rehearsals can often last until midnight or later. All performance and class duties are also supplemented by homework, which is completed outside of class and rehearsal hours.
You tell me, how can theatre be an easy major when students are literally working from dusk until dawn to perfect their craft?
The pursuit of a theatre arts degree is not only an academic challenge, but also a physical one as well. For the world premiere production of “Under Fire: Stories of Combat Veterans,” 21 theatre students exercised in weekly Marine boot camps where they improved their physical and mental strength. Boot camp activities included a three-mile beach run with shoulder weight sleds, rifle drill simulations and daily military cadence runs around campus. In order to accurately portray military veterans, it is necessary for the cast to go to these physical extremes in order to be as truthful to actual veterans as possible. The physical work that the “Under Fire” cast endured proves that a theatre arts degree is not for the weak.
All too often, I am chastised by my non-theatre friends for talking about how busy I am because of theatre. They are of the impression that all theatre students do is “play around,” “dress up” and my personal favorite, “be funny.”
Contrary to popular campus opinion, I believe that theatre is truly an academic discipline. In addition to the hours spent in rehearsal and working on productions, all students are given research assignments. For “Under Fire,” every cast member researched the war in which his/her character was involved. The research process is mandatory for every student in every Cal Lutheran production.
This research requirement proves that a theatre degree requires just as much cerebral work as “academic” disciplines like the sciences as English or political science.
The research process teaches students history, relevance and most importantly, empathy. This empathy lesson goes far beyond the walls of Cal Lutheran.
“For Under Fire, I was watching film of military combat and I was shocked. These soldiers could be me, they could be my friends. They are real people. It is my job to ensure that they are not forgotten, ” Cal Lutheran sophomore Christian Lipps said.
Ever since its beginning in ancient Greece, theatre has been driven by intellectuals seeking social justice. A theatre arts degree is necessary because we still need that same pursuit of social justice in today’s world. Cal Lutheran theatre students take social justice extremely seriously.
“My purpose is to present an aspect of humanity to the audience, regardless of if it lies in my own realm of experience. This character’s story may not have happened to me personally, but for someone here tonight, someone who saw the show last week, or someone who will the see the show in 10 years, this story that I’m voicing is their reality,” theatre student Malissa Marlow said.
Marlowe’s quote has proven to be true many times this year within the Cal Lutheran Theatre Department. Every night, after “Under Fire,” military veterans in the audience share their reaction with the cast and crew. Reactions like “Thank you, I’ve never seen myself on stage before,” and “That was my experience” are constant.
In October, 16 theatre arts students teamed up with counseling services for a staged reading of “Hello Herman,” a play about the after effects of a school shooting. This event took place in response to the recent school shootings in Oregon and Texas. At the end of the event, a Cal Lutheran student who was a victim of a school shooting in Los Angeles in the 1990s came forward and thanked us for examining this issue. This student’s story epitomizes the power of a theatre arts degree. A piece produced by theatre students allowed the audience member to start a conversation about what may be his darkest experience and to find healing from it.
While most theatre students have never been in war, been shot at or waited for loved ones overseas, a theatre arts degree is ultimately important because it gives students the opportunity to channel the experiences of those that have. We work long hours to share these experiences with audiences both here at Cal Lutheran and throughout the world. Theatre degrees are ultimately necessary because they facilitate discussion about stories of human interest. Without the skills granted by a theatre degree, the discussion of these stories and the change it brings the real people behind the characters would never occur.
Special to the Echo
Published December 9th, 2015