The Furman Theatre
What can you do with a Theatre Arts major?
In order to address questions about the
practicality of a Theatre Arts major at a liberal arts institution, our
Chairman - Dr. Jay Oney crafted this response. It addresses the
concerns of many that all a Theatre Arts major is going to be able to
do is wait tables. The response is rather long because the
possibilities are great.
We think a degree in Theatre Arts from Furman prepares you for all kinds of careers.
If you plan to attend a liberal arts school like Furman, then
presumably you accept the liberal arts philosophy that a broad range of
general college studies combined with a major that requires you to
develop intellectually, emotionally, and physically will lead to a
productive life, whatever career path you eventually choose. As
one of Furman’s deans explains it, “A number of years ago MIT did a
study where they discovered that their graduates had high starting
salaries, but, over time, those graduates made less money and found
themselves working for liberal arts graduates who earned more.”
This led MIT to alter its curriculum.
Of course, we want our majors to pursue careers in the entertainment
industry, which offers many more career paths than just acting in a big
city while working in a restaurant. Think of all the onstage and
backstage opportunities in film, TV, and theatre. Yet many of our
students have forged careers outside the theatre, which is just fine
with us. Furman theatre majors learn skills that apply within the
entertainment field and to many other career paths. While they’re
here, they learn to collaborate, meet deadlines, supervise crews,
shoulder responsibility and delegate it. They work with their
hands, building and painting scenery, sewing costumes, finding props,
hanging lights, and constructing sound cues. They work with their
minds and senses as they design, rehearse, direct, and perform
important works of theatrical literature for discerning
audiences. They develop great communication skills in that
process, skills that are enhanced in our design courses where students
must conceive of creative solutions to the design needs of important
plays then explain them skillfully in front of their professors and
classmates. Furman’s summary phrase for its educational approach
is “engaged learning,” and Theatre Arts is one of the most engaged
majors on campus. It is very common to see faculty and students
working together on all kinds of projects from 9 AM to 11:00 PM Monday
thru Friday. Few other departments can claim that much
We involve our students in our advanced work, too. Furman
students have accompanied Theatre Arts faculty to USITT (United States
Institute for Theatre Technology), SCTA (South Carolina Theatre
Association), SETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference) meetings, and
Associated Colleges of the South theatre symposia. They have,
through the generosity of the Furman Advantage program, done advanced
study in scene painting, lighting, costume, and scene design, advanced
acting, devised theatre, developing computer archives of historic
images, and researching women playwrights in England between 1695 and
1710. Furman Advantage grants have also allowed our students to
serve as teaching assistants in courses in Lighting Design, Stagecraft,
Costume Crafts, and The Actor's Voice. Students who show special
promise in our design courses are frequently offered the chance, under
close faculty supervision, to design sets, lights, sound, or costumes
for our mainstage shows, an accomplishment and challenge that few
undergraduate theatre majors elsewhere are ever offered.
Our students also have work-study opportunities. We have paid
positions available for an administrative assistant and as many as 7
workers in the scene and costume shops, where our students learn many
marketable skills. During the summer we encourage our students,
often with the help of Furman Advantage funding, to pursue internships
and summer work in the theatre. Just in the past few years, in
addition to various paying summer theatre positions, Furman theatre
majors have interned with graphics design firms, the SC Children's
Theatre, the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, Centre Stage, SC, a
film production studio in Birmingham, AL, the Furman Bridges Program
for disadvantaged students, the Oxygen Network, and the Kennedy
Center's development office in Washington, DC. Over the years, as
you’ll see below, we’ve developed groups of graduates in New York,
Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These folks have been very
generous in meeting with new arrivals. I recall a particular
example when the producer/writer for Samantha Who? got extra work on
the show for one of our newly minted grads so she could earn her
television actor’s union card right away.
I chatted for half an hour with our Scene Designer, Rhett Bryson, this
afternoon about what our graduates are doing. Here is the list
that we came up with in that short time.
Among this year’s upcoming graduates, one is joining Teach for America
and plans to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study in
devised theatre in England the following year. Another plans to
be a professional actor and is returning to the theatre in Maine where
he built scenery and played small parts last summer; a third will use
her Art major to paint for a photography studio and her Theatre Major
to sew costumes for her local Florida theatre; the fourth is using her
Physics double major to enter graduate school in Physics at William
Here are some graduates from the recent past:
After earning an MFA in Design at UNC Greensboro, Will has become a
freelance costume/set designer based in New York where he assists
Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long on all his major projects.
After 3 years in the Peace Corps, Lexie is engaged to be married while
teaching high school theatre where she also supervises all technical
aspects of their productions.
After earning an MFA in Design from the North Carolina School of the
Arts, Murdock is currently a free-lance scene designer with ongoing
relationships with professional theatres in Arizona, Ohio, and
Birmingham, Alabama. His work won a prize at last year’s Prague
Quadrennial design exhibit.
After earning an MA in Vocal Performance from Converse College, DJ is
now engaged to be married and working as a certified wealth management
specialist with Wells Fargo.
Jacob has moved to Chicago where he has joined an improv troupe and is pursuing a graduate degree in video game design.
Only 2 years after graduating, Allie is the technical director for a professional theatre in Charleston.
Only Mariette, among our recent grads, is based in New York as an
actor. She tours a lot with a children’s theatre company to make
ends meet and has a very colorful list of part-time jobs she has done
One of our better actors from several years back, Jason is now a
carpenter at the New York Public Theatre. He also helped found a
small theatre company and has helped them stage their productions for
several years now.
After completing an MA in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare
Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, Bob received a PhD in Renaissance
Theatre from UNC Greensboro and currently teaches in the English
Department at Elon College
Kellie and Matt married shortly after graduating from Furman and now
are freelance actors in Atlanta. They have an ongoing
relationship with the Shakespeare Tavern Theatre, where we’ve enjoyed
the chance to watch them play Hamlet, Ophelia, Romeo, and Juliet.
Jeb married his college sweetheart just as she entered Princeton
Divinity School where she trained to become a hospital chaplain.
They are raising their first child, while he works as the information
technology troubleshooter for a Birmingham school district.
Amelia is the mother of 3 and works as a fundraiser for the Atlanta Symphony.
After completing an MA from University of Kentucky and a PhD from
University of Georgia, Kristin has recently married, is expecting her
first child, teaching theatre part-time at Furman and preparing a
biographical study of music theatre great, Betty Comden.
Kevin is just completing his MFA in Lighting Design at Virginia Tech.
Tiffany is an event planner in Knoxville Tennessee.
Murray designs custom offices, frequently for Nascar drivers, and is based in Charlotte.
Kirkland served in the military and later became a nurse.
Brian is tech director for Duke University’s big theatre that brings in lots of touring shows.
Kris and Bert are professors of English and Theatre respectively at Central Michigan and Campbell University
Michael, Katie, and Susan are clergy members, all Episcopalians I
believe, though Susan spent 20 years as a professional lighting
designer before following her spiritual calling, while Michael served
as Anthony Bourdain’s sous chef before following his.
Annie is a professional actress in Seattle who has toured the world in
productions of Beauty and the Beast and other big musicals.
Will is a professional actor in Philadelphia.
Ned is mid-way through his MFA in Lighting Design at Tulane.
Chris is an independent filmmaker who just had feature screened at Furman.
Ruxy is in her second year of the MFA in Physical Theatre at the Dell’Arte School in California.
Stephanie, one of last year’s grads, has just taken her first job touring a children’s theatre show in the northeast.
Chess has just completed the Library Science MA at the University of South Carolina where they employed him after he graduated.
Melissa worked for the regional Emmy winning news coverage at a local
Greenville TV station. She now supervises marketing for the
Aubrey, a personal favorite of mine, set off to join the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, decided that wasn’t for her, and became
Among graduates from the more distant past, Matt W. is the props master
at Spoleto Festival USA who also works for the National Opera in DC and
moonlights building special projects for the DC Cupcake show on The
Katherine was a production executive with TNT TV in Los Angeles but has since retired to care for her ailing husband.
Rusty got an MFA in Design from Yale, left a career as a regional
theatre set designer, and has become a film production designer.
Among his credits are Billy Crystal’s 61, the last 2 Austin Powers
movies, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Pink Panther 2, A Very
Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, and the Jane Austin Book Club.
Don has moved up from staff writer on Alf in the 1980s, to head writer
or executive producer on Caroline in the City, Ugly Betty, Samantha
Who?, Hart of Dixie, and the upcoming Smart One.
I’ve saved myself for last because I fit the restaurant worker profile
your father mentions. I got my BA in theatre from Furman in
1978. I received an MA from Penn State in Theatre History (plus 2
years of acting training) in 1980. Then I was the proverbial
waiter/actor until 1986. During those 6 years, I acted in
Milwaukee, western Michigan, Florida, Williamsburg and Norfolk,
Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky, and New York City with long stretches
of restaurant work in Norfolk and New York. I met great people in
all those theatres and cities and worked very hard on some good
productions. I recently attended a 25th year reunion of the
company from Norfolk, where, to mention only a couple examples, one
actor had recently retired from a long stint on As the World Turns, our
stage manager from the early 80s was about to stage manage the national
tour of August Osage County, and our company and house manager from
back then was the producer who accepted the Tony Award when Memphis won
best musical in 2010. About the time I turned 30, I decided to
return to graduate school for my PhD in Theatre History. The
production skills and habits of mind I developed at Furman all those
years ago (plus a timely letter of recommendation from one of my Furman
profs) helped me succeed at Ohio State. Before I completed my
dissertation, I taught English as a second language in Japan for a
year, and I was delighted when the part-time teaching post I took at
Furman when I returned to the states became full-time work in
1996. I act. I direct. I teach all aspects of theatre. I
chair the department now. I’ve led 2 study away trips to the UK
where I’ve seen great actors in over 80 plays. I confess that my
path hasn’t been the easiest. I certainly did not have my career
planned step-by-step beginning in 1978. I suggest though that it
has been a very rich journey so far, and I highly recommend similar
ones (or altogether different ones) to students who believe that the
theatre must play an important part in their lives.