Bucknell has been giving students live theatre experience for more than 100 years.
By Theresa Gawlas Medoff '85, P'13 • Photo by Gordon Wenzel
"The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer" was a daring choice for a director's ﬁrst full-length production. The play deals with nothing less than the creation of the atom bomb and its attendant moral dilemmas through the lenses of mythology and personal, political, scientiﬁc and cultural history. Yet, Victoria Moyer '13 felt ready for the challenge. During her four years at Bucknell, she acted in a host of productions, directed a short cocktail play as well as a one-act showcase and acted as assistant director for a main-stage musical.
Gabriel Calleja '16 and Molly Davis '14 in The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer".
"It's really ingenious how the department has set up the progression for student directors to move from a 10-minute piece with two actors to a full-length production," says Moyer, who graduated with honors in theatre partially as a result of her independent study in directing.
The development of student actors likewise is nurtured over time. New students can delve in during their first semester with the Parents Weekend Showcase, which is reserved for first-year students, and then progress from short, student-directed pieces to faculty-directed main stage plays and musicals.
"Seeing how the students develop during their years here is rewarding," says Professor of Theatre Gary Grant. "They start out in their first year with the attitude, 'Hey, I'm in a show!' By their fourth year, they are much more focused on the whole creative process and making deep connections with their characters."
Bucknell students have been performing onstage since the late 19th century, when male students established the Shakespeare Club. The Cap and Dagger student organization traces its existence to 1906 and became a coed group in 1931. Comprehensive records of theatrical productions date back to 1916, when "A Doll's House" was performed.
Today the University's theatre faculty select productions with student input and an eye toward giving students experience in a variety of styles and genres. During a four-year cycle, productions include works by Shakespeare as well as musicals, dramas, comedies, period pieces and contemporary works. In recent years, faculty-led productions have included such diverse works as "Curtains", "The Bacchae", "Pride and Prejudice", and "Macbeth".
Guest artists are brought in regularly to work with students. This spring semester, guest artist Kali Quinn directed the devised work "Masks, Movements and Mayhem", in which the student actors collaborated to create the piece through rehearsals.
"The productions are our laboratory. They are where we put into practice the theory learned in the classroom," says Paula Davis, associate professor of theatre and chair of the department of theatre and dance. "Students are involved in theatre productions not only as actors, directors and stage managers, but also with costumes, scenery, sound, lighting and publicity."
"There's a really high level of student engagement," notes Professor of Theatre Elaine Williams. "We treat our students as young professionals. We set the bar high and students step up to that."
Students of any major can be involved in Bucknell productions, both onstage and backstage. Many engineering and science students work backstage or as technical assistants. Kaitlin Marsh '14 has a double major in classics and history. Yet, after stage-managing 10 shows, she is as well known around the theatre department as any major. "I've learned to be a cog in the machine to bring all the pieces together. Directors, designers, students, actors — we all work together," Marsh says. "My experience in theatre has taught me how to lead my peers effectively, which is a skill that can be used in any field."