Senior studio’s struggles and achievements

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Senior drama majors Dolores Mihaliak and Bernadette Roden. Photo courtesy of Patrick Vitale.

Senior Studios are advertised once every semester at the University of Dallas, and for most people on campus, the intensity of these projects remains under the radar. Senior Studios are an immersive and challenging two-year process culminating in the production of a one-act play directed by a senior drama major student to complete their degree.

Although it is their senior capstone project, drama majors begin choosing their studio in the fall of their junior year in Theater Literature I, which covers ancient Greek to 18th century plays. 

The senior studio project first developed in the 1960s at UD, and evolved into its current form over many years, Associate Professor of Drama Kyle Lemieux said. He believes that the drama major includes not only academic, but also practical value for the majors. 

“Drama majors are really well prepared to enter [a] collaborative workplace environment because theater is ultimately a collaborative art,” Lemieux said.

According to senior drama major Dolores Mihaliak, junior drama majors often spend their Saturdays reading plays at the Southern Methodist University library to decide which play to produce as their studio.

“It’s the most remarkable thing because you will hear it in every person’s voice when they have found their studio…you will hear that spark,” Mihaliak said. 

In the spring of their junior year, drama majors read modern 19th and 20th century plays in Theater Literature II and write a 20-page thesis about the one-act play they have selected. By the time they graduate, drama majors will have read over 100 plays. 

Some of their restrictions include the people, resources and time involved — the play must be under 60 minutes, have a cast of 10 actors or less and maintain a $100 production budget. 

“It is a very, very small budget, but it teaches you to use your resources that you have on hand,” senior drama major Bernadette Roden said. “It brings about an environment of creative problem-solving.” 

While costumes and other resources are provided through UD, props and set pieces are often purchased from thrift stores, borrowed or created using the budget. The seniors are also in charge of casting actors and recruiting six backstage and five front stage volunteers, including stage managers, run crew members, and several other roles. Each one of these jobs is integral to running a successful and smooth show, which is the ultimate goal for both the drama teachers and students.

Lemieux and Associate Professor of Drama Susan Cox co-teach the Production class for seniors in the fall. 

“The most challenging part is helping the directors realize their vision,” Cox said. “Anytime you’re working with people who are doing something for the first time, the success is really rewarding.”

The senior studios for the fall semester will be Tom Stoppard’s “Doggs Hamlet,” directed by Mihaliak, and David Ives’ “Seven Menus,” directed by Roden. In the spring, seniors Anna Nguyen, Katrine Christensen and Paul Bond will be directing their selected plays.

Roden and Mihaliak explained that through this project they have come to appreciate every aspect of the production process and everyone involved. Mihaliak emphasized that working with people in theater is “remarkable” and “delightful.” 

Mihaliak offered encouragement to those considering or pursuing the drama major, saying “theater is the art form that is closest to God. If you participate in drama you are close to God’s creation through the spoken word.” 

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