To Jean Shea ’19, nothing quite compares to the excitement of opening night.
“The adrenaline rush you get when performing is absolutely unreal,” she said. “As a senior in college, opening night is special because it’s sentimental, but also because I’ve taken on a leadership role. I make sure that my cast and crew are ready and encourage their progress every step of the way.”
The Stonehill College Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) Department recently restructured its offerings to better connect students such as Shea with the kinds of opportunities that will allow them to excel after graduation.
With the incorporation of a new curriculum, new courses, a liberal arts core, and more musicals and performance opportunities, the performing arts major will provide students with a well-rounded education that allows them to tailor the experience to best pursue their passions.
“It’s a design-your-own experience,” said Adam Lampton, VPA chair. The department will now offer a major in performing arts with concentrations in dance, music and theater as well as a cross-disciplinary option.
Lampton says the curriculum is designed to place students in a position to enter a creative economy upon graduation and set them apart by providing them with a strong foundation in the liberal arts.
“The willingness of the teachers, and the department as a whole, to tailor the experience to meet a student’s goals is what sets us apart,” said Lampton.
Liberal arts at the core of new performing arts major
With the performing arts major, each student will take liberal arts courses that not only make them versatile but also inspire creativity. Students will take a core class as well as more academic-focused courses that cover topics such as writing for the discipline, administration, theory, and stage production, among others.
“The arts are folded within the liberal arts so the program is designed to fit within the School of Arts & Sciences,” said Lampton. “You get the well-rounded education that people associate with Stonehill.”
For Matt Greene, theater program director, it is important students experience all aspects of the business — both onstage and off — to learn what’s required to run a show.
“We encourage students to not only take theater classes but to also broaden their horizons and take art, photography, film and history classes,” said Greene, who prior to coming to Stonehill was a cast member of the renowned Blue Man Group. “You need to develop an unquenchable curiosity for the world and for what drives people. It strengthens your art because you’ll have more life-experience to draw from.”
Adds Valerie Robertson, dance program director, “Being a performance major isn’t only about being a performer. At Stonehill, you learn more about the actual performing as well as the whole realm of dance.”
Students quickly recognize the value of this philosophy.
“My academic work intertwines with my work on stage,” said Shea, a native of Brockton, Massachusetts, majoring in arts administration with a concentration in theater arts. “I have fun pursuing what I’m passionate about both academically — because our professors have worked in the field and are extremely knowledgeable — and in my performance, because our professors let you express yourself and inspire you to try new things.”
New course offerings enable student potential to soar
Among the changes to the performing arts major is the addition of new courses and offerings that the College hopes will enhance the growth of our students.
“I’m putting a greater focus back into musical theater,” said Greene, who notes that many students come from a musical theater background in high school and audiences enjoy musicals. Last fall, the Stonehill Theatre Company staged a production of Little Shop of Horrors. The theater program has also started offering a class called Movement for the Actor, an interdisciplinary course combining aspects of both theater and dance.
Over the past few years, the dance program has also added offerings, including advanced modern classes, tap classes and a dance history course. In addition, The Stonehill College Dance Company, a pre-professional, audition-based group on campus, will start performing at off campus locations, preparing students to become part of a professional company.
“We started to interwork more jazz and upbeat dances into the Dance Company. It adds more variety,” said Courtney Leblanc ’18, of Milford, Massachusetts, a double major in communication and visual & performing arts who served as The Stonehill College Dance Company manager last year. She’s now a group rooms coordinator at DestiWorld.
Greene says he too is challenging his students to expand their repertoire.
“I challenged students last spring with Talk Radio,” he said, referring to the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play that tells the story of a controversial radio host the night before his show is nationally syndicated. “Theater reminds us that we’re not fragile and we’re not perfect. It’s the place where we play out the ideas we have in our heads, in order to take the insights and knowledge we’ve gleaned back into our lives.”
Visual & Performing Arts Department dedicated to meeting student, community needs
At each step, the changes are designed to serve the desires of the students.
“Students keep asking for more,” said Robertson. “I want to hear from students about what I can do to make dance at Stonehill better for them.”
These changes are making alumni such as Leblanc envious of the evolving opportunities.
“I was a visual & performing arts major because I wanted to dance,” she said. The more advanced options ensure that the new dance concentration will better suit students who have danced all their lives.
Professors in the department say they plan to continue to work to meet the needs of our students and the community.
“I’m looking forward to developing an atmosphere that the students, Stonehill community and Easton are excited about,” said Greene. “We have an opportunity and a great setup here to make big changes and help feed the community.”