The show must go on
The capstone class for seniors majoring in musical theatre has an inflexible due date: opening night. That’s when the senior directors step back and watch as a student cast performs their musical. The senior directors choose the show, hold auditions and stage the production for their required class called Senior Musical. In March 2013, that musical was “Xanadu,” based on the campy 1980s film starring Olivia Newton-John with music by the Electric Light Orchestra.
“I think the biggest challenge I had with the process was working with such a huge team,” says Bryan Renaud, a musical theatre major who codirected the show. “When you’ve got the momentum and excitement of a rehearsal going, it’s hard to remember that every single person deserves his or her piece of the pie—the choreographer, vocal director, costumer—and everyone is absolutely vital to the process. My codirector and I worked extremely well together, but sometimes our ideas clashed with others. This became a magnificent educational experience for us that we could not have mimicked in any other way.”
The class is led by Brian Lynch, fine arts director at North Central College, a seasoned performer and director. “It is always an eye-opening experience for those enrolled in the Senior Musical class,” he says. “They must put together all they have learned about musical theatre and present it in this final project, a musical performance in the 1,057-seat Pfeiffer Hall.
The project cannot get an extension ... the audience is paying to be there opening night.”
Shared opportunities to develop skills
Psychology students in Counseling Psychology class learn how to assess patients and practice therapy techniques—but in the absence of real people with real counseling needs. So the psychology department teamed up with the theatre department to enlist theatre students who act out mental health problems in one-on-one counseling sessions with psychology students.
“My students gain the opportunity to practice their interviewing skills,” explains Leila Azarbad, assistant professor of psychology. “They also learn to watch for body language clues and practice listening to exactly what the client is saying.” During the mock clinical interviews, Azarbad videotapes her students so they can watch the video later, critique themselves and write a paper proposing improvements.
The theatre students from Contemporary Acting Styles use their improv skills to develop an emotional “back story” about a social problem or other type of stress.
The psychology students said they appreciated the challenges the theatre students presented, as they brought forth fictional family histories and other scenarios. “Dr. Azarbad prepared us in class with the order of questions to ask,” says Jacey Keeney, who wants to pursue child or sports psychology. “This experience verified for me that counseling is what I want to do and it’s hard to get those experiences.”
Role-playing games bring history to life
What would leaders of different religious groups have said at a conference in 1945 to approve self-government of India? And how would citizens of Athens debated principles of democracy in Athens in 403 B.C.?
Those themes are at the core of a new honors seminar that requires College Scholars to role-play key historical moments in the evolution of democracy. Titled Democracy and Identity: Reacting to Classical Athens and Modern India, the seminar’s curriculum is called Reacting to the Past, which originated at Barnard College. Students prepare their roles by reading original texts like Plato’s “Republic” and the writings of Gandhi. Dr. Michael de Brauw, assistant professor of classics, and Dr. Shereen Ilahi, assistant professor of history, collaborated to plan and teach the course.
One of the assignments involved assuming roles of participants at the Simla Conference of 1945, convened to consider the Wavell Plan for Indian self-government. “This makes you want to do more research into original sources,” says Ian Wright, who is double-majoring in global studies and studio art.
Adds English literature major Rob Wegley, “This class is more interactive than any other course I’ve taken."