The Daily Illini

Theatre program offers students incomparable professional experience

Students sitting outside of the Studio Theater in the Krannert Center located at 500 S Goodwin Ave in Urbana.

Students sitting outside of the Studio Theater in the Krannert Center located at 500 S Goodwin Ave in Urbana.

Constance Sarantos

Constance Sarantos

Students sitting outside of the Studio Theater in the Krannert Center located at 500 S Goodwin Ave in Urbana.

By Dominic Rose, Staff writer

At the University, only 40 undergraduate students make the theater program each year.

According to Kirsten Pullen, professor and head of the theatre department, students are admitted on a rolling basis beginning in late January and concluding in February. 

“Students submit their portfolios for review to join Level 21 — our Design, Tech and Management program; audition for acting and interview for Theatre Studies starting in September and running through February,” Pullen said.

Robert Anderson, associate professor in the theatre department, said that acting students prepare two monologues, typically one comedic piece and one dramatic piece, followed by an interview.

They can audition at the University, at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, which takes place every January at the University and Illinois State University, or at the National Unified Auditions in Chicago.

In addition, Anderson recruits in January and February in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Students who applied for the 2018-2019 school year received acceptances on Feb. 12 and have until March 15 to accept the offer.

Although students might think that majoring in theater is not much work, Anderson said students need to know more than just how to put on a show; they need to have a deep understanding and dedication to human relationships, psychology and different time periods, digging into themselves more personally.

“We also teach them how to do stage combat, voice-over techniques and how to act in front of a camera,” Anderson said. “They really get prepared to go into the profession.”

Lisa Dixon, associate professor in theatre, said the amount of work that students with a theater major do on a weekly basis is more than a student’s average workload. As a result, freshmen who are majoring in theatre are not allowed to act in shows.

“Time management is often an issue, and often their grades suffer because they overcommit themselves,” Dixon said. “Mainstage shows rehearse an average of 24 hours per week after a full day of work and classes are over.”

Dixon said even though it is hard work, students leave the University knowing themselves more deeply and recognizing their place in the world. They have a greater self-confidence and a broader knowledge of politics, culture and music, equipping them to be contributing, positive citizens of the world.

While most of the work takes place in class, Pullen said many students take their love of theatre outside of the classroom, working in the Armory Free Theater, in town and with student theater groups.

Anderson said students with theatre degrees usually pursue careers in TV, radio, broadcasting, Broadway and film. In addition, many students become lawyers, veterinarians and college professors, using the communication skills they have obtained in the real world.

However, not all students take the same approach. Dixon said when it comes to company jobs, those with a theatre degree have an advantage over individuals with other degrees.

“Many corporations, businesses, etc. like hiring people with theatre degrees because they find them articulate, well-rounded and connected to and aware of the world and their place in it,” Dixon said.

While many theatre students wish to pursue a career in entertainment, Anderson said the arts are marginalized at the University. Although people love to see plays and watch TV and movies, they are generally not supportive of artists.

Pullen talks to parents of theatre students, and their main concern is that their kids are happy and healthy while in school and gainfully employed afterward, similar to parents of kids in majors such as math, philosophy, psychology or engineering. She believes it is important to always have a backup plan, regardless of what major a student pursues.

“We all need to be flexible and open to change,” Pullen said. “We all need to be able to risk failure and try again.”

Even though theater students do not know what will happen after they graduate, they decide to pursue theater because they choose to do what they love. It is important for theater students to tell the stories of humanity, Dixon said.

Students who are interested in learning more about the theatre department are encouraged to visit the University’s theater website here.

For students who wish to apply for the theater program, Pullen offers some helpful advice.

“Be sure you want to spend the next four years working on your theatrical skills and the next 50 putting them in action because if that’s what you want, we’ll get you there,”

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