By Brendan Luke
What is the state of the arts at the University of Dallas? In this all-too-brief article series, I will first seek to define how three departments — music, drama and art — strive to educate the students at UD who are pursuing the study of art. I will also examine the movements and styles within the artistic culture at UD, and explore how the dramatic, musical and mixed-media productions at UD influence the school’s culture. In this first installment, I will take a closer look at UD’s drama department.
The drama department includes an academic side and an extracurricular side. The academic side focuses on intensive study of drama literature and acting theory, and provides students with a concentration or a bachelor of arts degree. The bachelor of arts degree allows students to pursue the study of lighting, costume, prop and sound design, as well as dramatic literature in order to learn the history and theory of drama and integrate the liberal arts into their approach to the performing arts. A bachelor of fine arts degree, on the other hand, generally focuses on more pre-professional training. Ideally, the program provides an opportunity for a wide variety of students who either want to pursue a career in drama or want to include its study in their education. The extracurricular side, known as University Theater, oversees and presents the dramatic productions seen on campus every semester — the Mainstage, senior studios and “After Hours” productions, although the After Hours productions are initiated and entirely put on by students.
Senior Jerick Johnson, who will be directing “The Imaginary Cuckold” by the French playwright Molière as his senior capstone project this semester, emphasized the role of the professors in working on his project. He will be working with associate drama professor Kyle Lemieux, who generally assists seniors in the spring while assistant drama professor Stefan Novinski assists seniors in the fall semester. Professors Will Turbyne and Susan Cox help seniors in both semesters specifically in the areas of set and light design and costume design, respectively. Johnson expressed a love for the department’s “After Hours” program, which allows students to pursue their dramatic interests on their own initiative outside of the required coursework. He also commented on the opportunities available to all students, even freshmen.
“If Kyle and Stefan see real potential, they’ll totally put you in a role they think you’re ready for,” Johnson said.
In general, UD’s drama curriculum is rigorous. The Theater Lit classes address drama from the Greeks to the Restoration era and up to the modern drama. The second Theater Lit class focuses on the development of the modern drama, from 1880 to 1960.
“The shift in the modern…It’s pretty amazing, from 1880 to 1950,” Novinski said. “What’s happened to drama, it’s shocking. And that’s why we spend so much time on what is roughly not even a hundred years.”
“Often, the good is very clear in modern drama — [the characters] just lack the grace to choose it,” said Novinski, emphasizing the focus on the psyche, the lack of royal or noble characters and the “paralysis of action” he finds in the modern drama.
Regarding history and origin, the department takes much of its influence from the groundwork set by Pat and Judy Kelly, the founders of the department who studied at the Royal Court Theatre in the United Kingdom and established UD’s drama curriculum as it is today.
“We’re the heirs to that which comes before,” Novinski said, referring to Lemieux and himself.
“It’s always been a drama department, not a theater-and-dance department that most schools have,” Novinski said, emphasizing that the Royal Court Theatre still serves as one of the department’s greatest influences.
The selection process for the Mainstage is also rigorous.
“It has to be a truly excellent play,” Lemieux said. “It has to be challenging —philosophically challenging, artistically challenging, spiritually challenging, psychologically challenging.” He added that he believes that drama is not worth producing if it does not challenge everyone involved.
Works like Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” Charles L. Mee’s “Big Love” and, this semester, Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” are among the drama department’s recent productions. The department has a history of taking on plays that address themes of intense human suffering, love, violence and truth in social and political contexts, and indeed appears to frequently set new challenges for itself. As an educational department, it strives to prepare its students for whatever career they want to pursue, and focuses on the education of the person.
“We are successful because we have the ability to look at the structure of the play, and because of the Core we have the ability to understand the human, in ways maybe people might not be prepared for,” Novinski said.
In a similar way, Johnson emphasized the community and the cohesiveness among the departments’ members, and how they contribute to the works they study through performance.
“I feel as a department we’ve done plays that really dig into the core of humanity — not just within UD, but in the world.”