We spent some time speaking with the Theatre Arts Department Chair, Chris Kauffman, to get the inside scoop on the theatre classes and programs offered at Gettysburg College. Chris and fellow faculty operate out of Brua Hall in the Stevens Theatre and other classroom spaces.
Image via Gettysburg College
In an interview with Kauffman:
Could you give me an overview of the Theatre Arts Department?
Well, we have three full time faculty and staff who cover elements of studio, including theatre history and dramatic literature. We’re a relatively small but dedicated group of faculty and aim to educate well-rounded students in theatre as well as to provide opportunities to do everything theatre offers. From there, students can choose a specialization or concentration which culminates in their Senior Capstone.
What are some of those concentrations?
It’s not official, but if you take enough courses, then you sort of have an unofficial concentration— sort of a self-designated concentration. And that is kind of evident in the Capstone project you choose. So you can choose to be performance-based which would be actor or director, or you can choose a design concentration which includes set design and costume design and lightning design, or a concentration in playwriting or dramatic literature and theatre history.
Are you preparing students for roles in theatre and future careers or could they apply their theatre background to any profession?
It’s both, really. So, we’re preparing those who want to go on to pursue a professional career in theatre the best way we can but we’re also allowing for students who have other disciplines or other majors to take advantage of the experience of theatre and how that might inform them. So we’ve had people who are theatre majors go on to be lawyers, teachers, work in non-profit sector, but then we’ve also had people who go on to be producers, actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and technicians.
Would you say there’s a lot of crossover between students who are interested in theatre and other disciplines?
There is a lot of crossover, and I think that’s a result of being at a liberal arts college, where people want to make connections between disciplines or just follow many pursuits. And we’re a BA program so we’re not a conservatory program that has a really demanding schedule where we’re just doing acting and voice and speech and movement. We as faculty prefer to teach in this kind of environment because we think that educating a whole student throughout an entire college really makes for better artists as well.
What kinds of majors and minors are available through the theatre department?
It’s just a Theatre Arts major or minor and then for those who don’t want to major or minor, all the courses are still open for them as well. The plays put on by the theatre are also available and anyone can audition on campus despite their majors or minors.
What kinds of theatre opportunities outside of classes are there?
We have three main stage productions a year in addition to a musical every other year. We do classical plays, we do contemporary plays, comedies, dramas, and then we do several student directed productions per year as well, mostly through their directing class, I would say. And then there’s the independent student projects— SMUT [Student Musical Theatre]— outside of the theatre department, although we provide the space.
Do the Owl and Nightingale Players have productions as well?
They don’t do full productions, but they have an independent festival. So they put out their own work in our black box. And then they do a thing called Black Box Blitz, which is something close to a 24-hour theatre festival.
Do you ever have people that participate in the productions and decide to pursue a major in Theatre Arts?
Absolutely. People are allowed to double major on campus, which is helpful. And yeah, sure kids get involved in plays and get excited about it. For a lot of people, this is their first experience with theatre. They are sort of doing theatre on a serious level, where you realize that people actually do this for a living, or a profession and can think about it deeply. Cause in high school, maybe they’ve done some musicals or they’ve done some light plays and middle school but never really studied it. That’s something we really encourage, for people to try out for things even though they’ve never done it before and to learn or to take an acting class. I just think it can be such a valuable part of anyone’s education.
Would you recommend that any student take an acting or theatre class at this school— just to try it?
Absolutely. We are trying to figure out ways to note the benefits for non-theatre majors. And one of the ways we started talking about it was the idea of emotional intelligence, which is cultivated in performance classes, and all classes actually, but particularly Acting and Directing classes. So, the idea of self-awareness, self-regulation, non-verbal communication, and the idea of being in a high pressure, public performance situation, with all the eyes on you, and being able to relax in that kind environment and being able to actually kind of enjoy yourself. And also the idea of not being afraid to fail, and not being afraid to take risks— it can make you more confident walking through the world.
Visit the department’s GettDigital collection, a collaboration with Special Collections at Musselman Library to explore past productions.