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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Positive changes in Brandeis theater future

Published: September 5, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

As the theater season starts up again, students may notice some missing people in Spingold Theater. The graduate program in Theater Arts at Brandeis has not taken any new students for the 2014-2015 year. The Hoot spoke with Professor Adrianne Krstansky, the head of the Theater Arts Department, about the changes in the curriculum that are in the works during this pause in the program.

The Brandeis Theater Collective (BTC) produces and performs shows in collaboration with faculty, staff, students and guest artists. In the past, graduate students have often held lead roles and staffed a large part of the BTC performances. However, this will change this season, as undergraduate theater students are going to have much larger contributions to the department.

“We’re doing revisions to [the program], we’re reimagining it … so for the next at least two years all of our season productions will be done with undergraduates,” Krstansky stated.

Krstansky herself is directing the first show of the season, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” which will feature an all-undergraduate cast: Sarah Brodsky ’15, Samantha Browne-Walters ’15, Nicole Bunis ’16, Alex Davis ’15, Jacqueline Drozdow ’15, Aaron Fischer ’15, Zoë Golub-Sass ’16, Samantha Laney ’17 and Aliza Sotsky ’15.

“That’s probably going to change forever, and based on how we are going to re-imagine the MFA program, there will be a lot more integration of undergraduates into our productions, our classes and things like that,” Krstansky said.

Discussions within the department are just beginning, according to Krstansky. “We’re being very conscious of allowing ourselves enough space and time to really, specifically think about and be thoughtful about what this program should look like.”

One idea that is being tossed around is that of a more innovative program. “It’s not that we are going to leave what [the MFA program] was behind, but we are going to take elements of what was working and giving great basic tools for actors really solid training, and make that a component of a program that’s maybe more centered around a holistic sense of a theater artist,” Krstansky stated.

This “holistic sense” would mean accepting entering students who weren’t just actors, but perhaps enrolling students who are writers or designers. “It’s becoming less and less viable that you would only do one thing … we’re looking at a program that could really nurture that,” she said.

It’s not just the ideals of the program that may be revamped, however. With these changes will inevitably be changes in the financial resources and more. In the past, the MFA program has been tuition-free with a stipend. While this certainly still is a goal for the program when it returns, Krstansky said that it is impossible to tell at this point whether or not the program will continue that way, as the department is only just beginning to talk about where the program is going to go from here.

In talking about integrating the undergraduates into the classes and performances of the graduate students, Krstansky said that the idea of a five-year master’s program has come up, but there is much discussion still to be had.

“The thing that we are always trying to be really aware of and mindful of is that because it’s an arts program, it really takes a lifetime to become an artist,” she said. “Also the training and the classes and the opportunities have different meaning at different points in your life.”

Another benefit comes to seniors majoring in theater this year, as the senior thesis festival received a grant from the Steinburg Foundation to support new work and young artists. This money can go to bringing in guest artists to do workshops, talkbacks and more with students.

“We really feel like we have been given this great luxury of having a little bit of time to just look at all the options and not make decisions too fast,” Krstansky said.