Theater for All

By Eaton, Kristen | Stage Directions, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Theater for All


Eaton, Kristen, Stage Directions


At this New England institution, theater training is an all-embracing experience.

"Everybody wants to be a star," says Jeff Modereger, chair of the University of Vermont's department of theater. But even though students often enter Modereger's program as actors, many are drawn to the technical side of theater. "They finally find a niche where they're not only good, but it's something they've not even thought about," he says.

UVM's theater department provides intensive preprofessional training, while encouraging students to explore the breadth of subjects available through a liberal arts curriculum, both interdepartmentally and theatrically.

After students are accepted into the theater department, the faculty watches closely to determine their strengths, then helps each student build on them. The department faculty includes a resident scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer, a dramaturge and two resident directors, resulting in a 16:1 student-teacher ratio. Tuition for the program is $4,544 for in-state students and $11,364 for out-of-staters.

The school's nearly 50 majors, along with an equal number of minors, essentially allows theater majors to design their own curriculum. About half a dozen UVM non-theater majors concentrate in theater, and other majors also benefit from the school's theater program. Art majors, for example, often take costume or scenic design classes to supplement their craft. A class titled Introduction to Theatre is specifically designed for non-departmental students. However, it often produces converts, since about five students from the class declare themselves as theater majors each semester.

UVM's theater department encourages students to try new fields and test their own abilities within the realm of theater. "I think it's important to allow them to experiment, spread their wings and fly," Modereger says. "And one of the policies we have-maybe not a spoken policy but definitely one that is understood-is that our job is not to do all the work for them, but allow them the opportunity to succeed and the right to fail, and make sure they understand how to evaluate the many levels of success."

A theater major at UVM can choose among three tracks: performance, history and criticism, or design/production. "The idea of our program is, you don't have to be good at everything, but you have to be able to communicate with everybody," Modereger says.

Likewise, the theater department is egalitarian regarding its awards and scholarships. Of four awards presented each year, one is targeted toward a theatrical scholar, another toward a performer and a third toward a particularly "well-rounded" student. Finally, the William M. Schenk Award for Technical Excellence recognizes an outstanding student in an area of design or production. Named after a former professor and resident lighting designer, it comes with a financial bonus of about $500.

Theater majors here are expected to learn through hands-on participation. Modereger says, "All of the fundamentals of scenery, costumes and lighting classes are directly associated with the production." UVM puts on three major productions each year, plus a holiday show. This year's offerings include Jean Anouilh's Antigone, Neil Simon's Rumors and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. …

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