Seeing students with a variety of backgrounds and majors collaborate creatively is a powerful experience. That's the beauty of a liberal arts environment.

Bryan Vandevender

"I encourage my students to think about theatre both creatively and academically," explains Professor Bryan Vandevender. "This artist/scholar approach makes the experience of theatre more meaningful. And it allows students to explore previously unexamined aspects of themselves."

Vandevender, who holds a doctorate in theatre from the University of Missouri, is a director, dramaturg and theatre historian. As a dramaturg, he works behind the scenes supporting a play's director, actors and designers. "This can mean doing historical research to ensure authenticity, providing feedback on rehearsals, curating pre- or postshow lectures or assuming a variety of other roles," he explains.

Vandevender brings his experience as a dramaturg to his course on script analysis, in which students analyze scripts from multiple perspectives, examining elements such as plot, character and spectacle, while considering historical challenges the playwright might have faced.

"The script is the blueprint for the production," says Vandevender, "but any script can generate hundreds of interpretations." He has his students work in teams to create hypothetical productions. Then Vandevender listens to their pitches and decides which productions he would back if he were a producer. "I look for approaches that are artistically adventurous and analytically sound," he says.

Vandevender's Rituals/Festivals/Institutions course examines global theatrical traditions beginning with the documented origins of dramatic performance and continuing through the European Renaissance.

"Theatre never happens in a vacuum," he explains. "It's influenced by the culture of its time. We take a look at performances from the past in the context of what was happening politically, religiously, socially and artistically." The course culminates with students recreating important productions from theatre history using research, contemporary materials and a fixed timeframe.

"The approach is very Project Runway," says Vandevender. "And seeing students with a variety of backgrounds and majors collaborate creatively is a powerful experience. That's the beauty of a liberal arts environment."

Posted Oct. 6, 2017