Award winning play director and Dartmouth theatre professor Carol Dunne didn’t always feel comfortable around the stage.
“The first time I did it, I was terrified,” Dunne recalled. “I felt like I didn’t know who I was or where I was. And yet, it was also incredibly exciting to be in this entirely different world that was being created. I was in middle school, and from that moment, I knew that I wanted to take whatever talents I had and put them into theater.”
I am no expert on the industry, and maybe it’s just an admiring dramatization on my part, but I like to think that many actors and actresses realize their calling in a moment similar to Dunne’s epiphany. Before last week, that was my only concept of theater elegant, dramatic and yet somewhat inaccessible to those on the outside. At Dartmouth, I had never even met a theater major and my closest connection to the department was a friend taking Acting 1 five terms ago.
So I wanted to learn. Max Samuels ’15, a double major in theater and Chinese, was the first to fill in the gaps for me. While you might think of students choosing Dartmouth because they want to be economists or engineers, Samuels made his college decision with every intention of pursuing acting.
“Coming to Dartmouth, I thought I wanted to act out of college, but I also wanted to get a liberal arts education and see where it took me,” he said. “I was drawn here because of the intimacy of the department and the care the faculty puts into it. The study abroad program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art is also really cool.”
Samuels has been in a production in each of his terms on campus so far. His internship at the New London Barn Playhouse this past summer allowed him to gain more experience with the art, further convincing him that his future lies in acting after graduation.
While the opportunities and resources for students like Samuels who want to perform are available to those who want them, the theater department is more diverse than just aspiring actors. It also caters to interests such as playwriting, directing, design, dance and theory, which sometimes have their own unexpected functions.
Amber Porter ’14 came to Dartmouth having no plans of taking the stage. Upon entering college, she knew she wanted to be a campaign manager and planned on pursuing government and math. She would have never attended the theater open house had her randomly assigned faculty advisor not been in the department and suggested that she come.
“It’s a really small department, which is what attracted me in the first place,” she said. “I went to the open house and learned about stage management, and I realized that it was all the same skills I wanted to use as a campaign manager, but in the theater department I would be able to get hands-on experience.”
Porter designed her own modified major that she calls “theater modified with Leadership” to better suit her interests in project management. She hopes to apply classes in theater, sociology, public policy and engineering to being a programming coordinator or producer after graduation.
Gabe Rodriguez ’13 is another example of a student whose plans have changed substantially over the course of his education. While he was involved with some aspects of theater in high school, Rodriguez came to Dartmouth as an intended physics and math double major. The turning point of his aspirations came after taking a class with set design professor Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili.
“I’d liked to create things the creativity is why I liked physics,” he explained. “But this was an exciting opportunity because I now was able to create these bubbles that were entire worlds.”
Rodriguez also hopes to stay in theater after graduation by pursuing directing and design. But even if his plans change down the line, he believes that the education he is receiving will remain relevant.
“Acting is something everyone does, regardless of if you think about it,” he said. “Design is also something that’s applicable in a lot of fields like industry, for example. Theater requires you to work with other people, which really prepares you for whatever you do.”
In terms of the College’s support for the theater department, students and professors generally feel that there are substantial resources and funding to put on excellent productions. Though Dunne said is very thankful for investments such as the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts, she pointed out that there is always room for improvement.
“I went to Princeton, and when I was in college, we did our plays in an old elementary school gym,” she recalled. “I will say though that Princeton is now building a hundred million dollar brand new arts complex. I’m crossing my fingers that this incredible center that we have at Dartmouth can grow and expand we definitely need more space.”
Students in the department also wish that their Dartmouth peers made more of an effort to see the productions they generate. While plays like Hairspray receive a lot of publicity, lesser known productions are usually not well-attended by students.
“I guess students might not really understand how much time we put into what we do,” Porter said. “I’m also a house manager for the Hop, and I see that 98 percent of the people who come are Hanover community members. It’s unfortunate that more don’t come because once we get out into the real world, the expense of culture will be so much more.”
That being said, Dartmouth students are notoriously busy, and it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of not taking advantage of everything the College offers us. But if the impulse to see a show or even to be in one strikes you, the opportunities are certainly there.
“We love students who have no intention of being theater majors to take a class and experience it,” Dunne said. “Even if it’s the remotest inclination, come see what it’s like to pretend to be someone else in another place and time it could ultimately be a wonderful entry to self-exploration.”