When the college hired an actress as professor 16 years ago, they should have expected that the result would be a resilient and vibrant theatre department. After an academic review at the end of spring 2015 due to “limited enrollment” and retirement of Professor Deborah Kirby, the program was revitalized.
Back in May 2015, Professor Camille Hallstrom, the actress and pioneering Theatre Professor in the college, proposed a new configuration of the program soon after the review.
Without Kirby on the team due to health conditions, the department had to thin and tweak classes.
Dean of Academic Programs Paul Morton soon approached Hallstrom with the news that “We could make a major out of this.” Changes were made: Hallstrom now works for the program full time again, and the college hired two new adjuncts, Amy Sue Upton and Claire Slavovsky, in addition to screenwriter Zena Dell Lowe.
The academic review that started late fall of 2015 kept the department from accepting new majors for a semester. In an email to the student body, Jeff Hall announced that there was a possibility that the major would be trimmed down into a minor or to a concentration in the English Department.
“It would have worked, we have done it before,” Hallstrom said. But the details worked out, and the major was never exterminated.
“It’s not like they’re waiting for a chance to shut us down,” Hallstrom said about the administration, surprised by the promptness of the members to approve of solutions and keep the program. Among others involved in the process of review and reinstating of the major are Jeff Hall, Vice President of Academic Affair, and Bill Tate, Dean of Arts and Letters.
Theatre Technical Director and Adjunct Amy Sue Upton said that students worked hard to keep the department dynamic last fall, even though students were “extremely disappointed and have a hard time understanding the major going under review.”
Bethany Bing, a senior Theatre major, expressed frustrations that the community has seemed to take the major lightly. “Many think that theatre should exist as extracurricular activity and don’t consider how it could be honed as a skill,” Bing said, further contending that theatre majors aren’t just “wacky art kids.”
While having a “limited enrollment,” as stated to be on of the reasons for past academic review, the major serves more than its students. The department has 16 majors and minors, but hired work studies that aren’t in the program. At least 50% of the cast of upcoming shows are not theatre majors and minors.
The shows, making up for almost all the expenses of the department, attracted current and prospective students. Some previewers have expressed interest in involvement even without applying for the major.
Although resources for the department are meager, student enthusiasm has made up for it. Bing said that she loved working with minimal resources. “It teaches me to make art work with a lot of little stuff,” she said.
Committed students revived the Drama Association last fall, producing the fully student-led Waiting for Godot while the department was under review.
It looks like the major is here to stay and only growing. “We’ve really grown a lot,” Bing said, referring to the new recruits and various workshops the department intend to offer, “In the beginning, there was (only) Hallstrom.”
“Clearly God wasn’t willing to let this program go away,” Hallstrom said, after witnessing the department survived peaks and valleys.