Art of theatre reigns supreme

BY MAGGIE OLSON
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Theatre majors frequently need to defend their field of study to well-meaning friends and relatives who express concern about the potential for economic instability in that career or who view theatre as just “playing” or who don’t understand the value theatre has in our society.

Theatre is a form of entertainment, but that is only one piece of what theatre is. For millennia, humans have used theatre to tell stories, teach and make sense of our place in the world. Even the most farcical piece of escapism has something to teach us about humanity.

In the digital age, some of us interact with screens more often than with people. Smart phones and social media make it easy to “stay connected” without actually connecting to anyone.

The two most common forms of visual entertainment, film and television, are both art forms in their own right, but they communicate in a different way. Theatre puts the human element of performance art right in front of you. The characters experience euphoria, tragedy and everything in between, with no re-takes, no commercial breaks and no screen to serve as a buffer between the performers and the audience.

Though arts funding is getting cut across the nation, Fargo-Moorhead has a prosperous theatre scene, with many independent companies such as Bare Stage Theatre, the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre, Harwood Prairie Playhouse, Music Theatre Fargo-Moorhead, Theatre B and Tin Roof Theatre.

MSUM’s theatre has been a part of this thriving theatre community for over half a century. MSUM theatre’s tradition of excellence in education continues. Last month, the theatre department produced “The Laramie Project.” Nineteen cast members put in almost 1,500 man hours in rehearsal and performance alone.

This number does not include the time the artistic team spent in meetings collaborating with one another, building the set, hanging and focusing lights, balancing the sound design and creating props and costumes, or the time the actors spent outside of rehearsal working on their lines with each other.

Putting on a show is not a one-person job. Collaboration and teamwork are required. The above-mentioned tasks (and other theatre jobs too numerous to mention) teach students critical thinking, problem solving skills, resourcefulness, effective crisis management and how to handle a project budget. These are assets in any profession, and theatre provides an excellent education in all of them.

Up next for the theatre department is “Swashbuckled! A Piratical Adventure,” which features two casts performing 16 matinees for over 6,200 students and teachers from around the area.

This is good for MSUM, not just in terms of ticket sales, but in terms of public image and recruitment. Lest you think I’m over-exaggerating, I came to see one of MSUM’s children’s shows as a third-grader.

I was amazed and enchanted, and it turned me into a life-long patron of MSUM theatre. The strength of MSUM’s theatre department was a major factor in my decision to become a Dragon.

In my experience, MSUM’s theatre department has demonstrated excellent inter-disciplinary cooperation. I am an English major with a particular interest in dramatic literature. The theatre faculty and students alike have been extremely supportive of my studies, both in the classroom and outside of it.

This is not surprising, though, because theatre education engenders compassion. As theatre students experience the characters and worlds they create in each production, they gain a better perspective of the scope of human experience.

That is why theatre is important. You can’t have a liberal arts education without the arts, and theatre is an integral part of the arts. To me, the theatre department is an essential part of the life-blood of MSUM.

Students, your tickets to MSUM productions are free with your student ID. Next semester, the theatre department will produce “Almost, Maine,” which is a charming play about love, and a musical adaptation of Stephen King’s “Carrie.”

Come and see for yourself why MSUM theatre matters.

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