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SMC theatre majors prepare for comprehensives, spring theatre festival

| Tuesday, November 13, 2018

At Saint Mary’s, the senior theatre majors are always busy. Seniors Stephanie Johnson and Regan Hattersley have already started preparing for their senior comprehensives and the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) that is open to all theatre majors, minors and those interested in the arts.

A comprehensive is an hour-long play Saint Mary’s senior theatre majors put on every year. The students cast and direct their plays, as well as design the set and costumes.

Johnson noted the extensive time commitments theatre majors have to undertake, as she said she has to manage her time between performing in shows, working backstage and juggling her school work.

“Not only do theatre majors work hard in the classroom, but we work hard outside of the classroom as well,” she said. “Being in three productions at one time while having a full schedule of classes have perfected my time management skills.”

Hattersley said in an email that seniors spend fall semester choosing and analyzing a play.

“In the spring we use all of this writing and research to produce our play,” she said. “We have to cast people, hold rehearsals, build a set and generally do everything else that goes into a performance. Then at the end of it all, March 3 for me, we sit back and watch all of our work come together for a one-night performance of our show.”

Hattersley said helping a senior with her play, whether by acting in it or working backstage for it, is a “great chance to give back and participate” in the Saint Mary’s sisterhood.

“Should you ever need help in any situation, we live in a community where help is reciprocated across the board,” she said. “So put some good karma out there and look out for audition notices early next semester.”

Even if you are just an audience member, theatre can be an immersive experience, Hattersley said.

“The magic of theatre as an art form is that it is an experience like no other,” she said. “As an audience member, you get to enter the lives of the characters and the world of the play in a one-time-only experience. Theatre is an almost limitless art form. It opens doors that allow for discussion of difficult topics. When you sit in the theatre, you, as the audience, get to be a part of something special.”

For theatre majors, the senior comprehensive process helps students critically evaluate and collaborate, Johnson said.

“Not only must a student exercise her ability to critically evaluate a piece of theatrical work, but [she] also has to effectively collaborate with her peers in creating the piece, as theatre is an art form which can not be effectively accomplished alone — unless one is doing a one-woman show,” Johnson said.

If a student has never acted before but has always wanted to, Johnson said the senior comprehensives are a great way to to gain experience.

“Working with your friends as they develop their passions is fun,” she said. “It is a learning experience and an opportunity to make new friendships.”

Junior Rebecca Strom, who has a theatre minor, said she acted in a senior comprehensive show her freshman year, an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” She also stage managed for a senior comprehensive show her sophomore year, an adaptation of “Women Playing Hamlet.”

“I only have experience acting in one comprehensive,” she said. “But, I like it more than the main stage shows because I like the student collaboration. These shows are low-pressure ways of getting into theatre. With stage managing, I learned a lot more because I was learning alongside the student in charge of her comp. I saw what she had to prepare and the work that really goes into these shows.”

Those who are interested in theatre can also attend the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), which is a regional event that allows students to attend workshops and see shows other schools have worked on during the year. Madison College in Wisconsin will host this year’s festival from Jan. 8-13, and Johnson said she will be preparing for the trip by finding lodging and making sure everyone can participate in the festival each day it runs.

Johnson said students can attend regardless of whether or not they are theatre majors.

“ACTF is a national theatre festival,” she said. “It helps theatre enthusiasts grow in their specific interests while introducing them to new people.”

Both Strom and Johnson have been nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship in past years. In order to qualify for this scholarship, students must attend ACTF and perform a two-minute scene and a one-minute monologue for a panel of judges.

Strom said ACTF is a great opportunity to network and support other theatre students at nearby colleges.

“The festival is a good experience and a great way to see what other schools are doing in their theatre programs,” she said.

Johnson said students do not have to be theatre majors to appreciate theatre. Participating in theatre in college can help students “gain new skills and make new friendships,” she said. Watching live theatre can be an “exercise in empathy,” she added.

“Theatre is about human stories,” Johnson said. “Watching live theatre is watching the stories of the struggles we all face.”

About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

Contact Gina