The Play’s the Thing
URI Theatre Department’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree program readies students for careers in theatre—and just about anything else, says Department Chair David T. Howard.
“This isn’t star school,” Howard says. “We’re creating a constellation.”
The University of Rhode Island’s Theatre BFA allows students to explore in depth what it is to be a director, an actor, a stage or production manager, a dramaturge, a costume, lighting, sound, or set designer, or any number of other roles involved in a production. In fact, URI Theatre students gain experience in each of those roles over the course of their four years, says David T. Howard, department chair. “In a strange way, we’re always hoping that a new student hasn’t determined who they are yet,” he says, “so that they’re willing to see the possibilities of what they can get out of the program.”
While the possibilities are myriad, faculty, and students say there are certain guarantees.
You’ll work hard. Really hard.
Because it’s hard work making magic.
For Emily Turtle ’19, acting and directing major, having the title role in the 2018 spring musical Mary Poppins required, among other things, flying with nonchalance — not something that comes naturally.
“It was daunting. You hear Mary Poppins and you think iconic, Julie Andrews,” says Turtle. “My professor at the time focused a lot on how we have a core within us as actors and how that core then expands out in our entire being to our limbs and our minds and our hearts and as long as we stay connected to that core, then we can be any character, be anybody we want to be.”
It’s an apt metaphor for the overarching goal of the Theatre Department: to groom students for whatever they might pursue upon finishing their education at URI. “Students looking into schools for acting should definitely consider URI. It’s a more specified program because of the BFA conservatory nature of the school,” Turtle says. “You really get a very concentrated education. Each professor really cares about the craft and cares about how you respond to the craft.”
You’ll gain experience in all aspects of a production
Brooks Shatraw ’19, acting and directing, has not only worked on productions within the department but also debuted his original work “Real Talk: Four Short Plays” at a local community theater.
“Many students end up concentrating in multiple tracks because they are able to study acting, directing, stage management, design, tech, history, and other special subjects. Students become well-rounded artists and people,” says Shatraw. “We also become experienced and versatile in actual production work, so that, when we graduate, our resume has already started to be formed. From your first semester, you have already begun to work; you’re learning and growing as soon as you step in the door.”
You’ll learn. You’ll entertain. And you’ll provoke.
Magenta Kolakowski ’20, acting and design, says the opportunity to work with professors who are also working actors and directors has had a profound effect. “Here we become fully formed performers,” she says. “You aren’t just an actor or just a designer. And you have a unique chance to receive a Bachelors of Fine Arts, a conservatory education at a state school.
“Theatre at URI is so grounded in making a statement that our shows go along with the honors colloquium the University holds every year,” says Kolakowski. “That might mean a show with an-all female cast, like The Wolves. Our 2017 season featured only female directors. We pride ourselves on diversity. Come join us and make art.”
You’ll be as involved as you wish to be
The BFA also affords students the time to find and define their particular career path, says Lorraine Guerra ’20, acting and communications. “It’s a great program to help students discover what part of theatre they love the most. We offer many different opportunities for students to get involved and test out what part of theatre speaks to them,” Guerra says.
“I think what theatre students at URI might experience differently from students at other universities is the opportunity to be involved in almost every production if they truly wanted to.”
You’ll be in charge of your experience
Jake Clark ’19, acting and directing, intended to be an engineer. Then he walked into the Fine Arts Center. “And something I noticed about the theatre students was that they were already working on a production, and there was no supervision, really,” says Clark. “It was run by students entirely. And I was like, this autonomy is something that I would love to be able to do or be able to learn how to execute, which I think is really special about this degree.”
You’ll find your people
Brandon Lovejoy ’19, stage management, will head to Yale School of Drama in the fall of 2019. URI prepared him well for this next step in his education, Lovejoy says. “URI exceeded my expectations. I looked at the passion and dedication students had to the art and practice of theatre and knew that’s where I wanted to be,” he says. “I was sold from the first moment. You become life long collaborators and a support system for each other. You become a family.”
You’ll find work after graduation
One of lecturer Rachel Walshe’s favorite conversations with her students happens right before Thanksgiving every year and is directed at those students who came in undeclared and are going home to tell their parents they’ve decided to study theatre.
“I am acutely aware that there are well-meaning parents out there who want to know that their child is getting an education that is applicable to the real world. Businesses are not just looking for folks who can run numbers really well. They’re looking for passionate innovators,” Walshe says. “Passionate innovators are cultivated in arts programs. Students trained in an arts program are learning the value of impassioned expression and advocacy and, yes, hard skills they can use elsewhere.
“Our students have a level and depth of investment in the process and the product. And by product I literally mean the play or what they’re working on,” Walshe says. “They take a leadership role in every aspect of its execution.”
And you’ll have your moment. Everyone will.
Yeah, this isn’t star school. This isn’t one of those programs created just to turn out actors, says Professor Howard. “We’re trying to make sure every student gets an experience that all their work has built to. We want every student to succeed and we’re going to try everything we can to help them succeed.”