A vast assortment of opportunities and experiences is available to theatre majors at Furman. They are able to practice and learn theatre arts first hand by playing a role in a campus production, designing the lighting, costumes or scenery for a play, directing a one-act or full-length production, or studying the history and literature of modern and classic theatre.
One of the Furman theatre department's primary goals is to produce graduates who excel in all areas of theatre art. At Furman, theatre students are never strictly actors or technicians. Instead, they work as actors, stage managers, designers, dramaturgs, crew members, house managers or publicists with a thorough understanding of the many parts that combine to form the theatrical experience.
Ginni Terry, a Furman graduate who spent six months with a national touring company of A Chorus Line before completing her college career, says that in the Furman theatre program, ``You're always encouraged to challenge yourself and to tap your own creativity, not just in performing, but in all areas. You emerge very well-rounded, so if you're serious about a career as an actor, it makes you a better performer, and if you're interested more in the technical side, it makes you that much better because you understand how everything in the theatre works together.''
The department's relatively small size is also an advantage for Furman theatre students. At larger schools, students interested in the theatre often have to wait for a chance while major production responsibilities go to upper-level or graduate students; in contrast, Furman students may play major roles or take on significant backstage positions in a production as soon as they step on campus. Furthermore, they receive extensive individual attention and guidance from faculty members who work with them not just on a teacher-pupil basis, but as colleagues practicing a collaborative art form.
The curriculum of the Theatre Arts Department is designed to train students to be generalists in the theatre. Besides the basic introductory course, theatre majors at Furman complete classes in digital technology for the theatre, acting, stagecraft, scenic, lighting and costume design, costume crafts, directing, theatre history and a senior synthesis course where every major completes a significant artistic or academic project. All majors are required to participate in the production work of the department and are expected to take a non-credit course "Theatre Practicum" at least six times during their time at Furman.
Each year, Furman produces three major plays chosen primarily for their value in educating and training students. The department, mindful of its contribution to the university's educational mission, attempts to present plays that represent a wide range of periods and styles so that, over any four-year span, students may enjoy the benefits not only of participating in different types of productions, but of seeing them as well. The consistently high quality of the productions is evident from attendance figures; virtually all shows are sold out before their runs begin.
The diversity of the Furman program is apparent from some of the department's recent productions. They include Moliere's witty satire The Imaginary Invalid; Playhouse Creatures , a recent Off-Broadway success by April Deangelis ; Tom Stoppard's hilarious comedy, The Real Inspector Hound; Fortinbras, Lee Blessing's continuation of the Hamlet saga; Constance Congdon's apocalyptic look at contemporary society, Tales of the Lost Formicans; All in the Timing , six timely short plays by David Ives; The Night of the Iguana, the searing drama by Tennessee Williams; a new translation by two of Furman's Classics professors of Sophocles' Antigone; and Beth Henley's Pulitzer Prize winning, Crimes of the Heart.
Preparation time for each major production averages four to six weeks. For these plays, the department often invites theatre artists to conduct residencies or to critique the show.
The department sponsors other activities in addition to the major productions. The Studio Series gives students the flexibility to present experimental works, assembled pieces, one-person shows, student-directed plays, original scripts or other non-traditional productions. Also, the student improvisational troupe "Improv-Able Cause" performs monthly for student and public audiences.
Furman's small, intimate theatre, with its thrust stage and seating capacity of 110, offers a special dramatic experience for actors and audience alike. The Playhouse is a remarkably versatile setting for many different types of productions, and its cozy atmosphere helps establish a close bond between theatregoers and performers.
The Playhouse itself consists of much more than the theatre. It is also home for a small computer lab, a well-equipped scene shop, a costume shop, wardrobe storage, makeup and dressing rooms, and a green room. The Studio Theatre seats around 75 for student productions or serves as a rehearsal area or classroom.
Because the Furman theatre program provides such a complete foundation, its graduates are well prepared to go on to graduate school, to pre-professional training, or to a variety of careers. Besides the arts, Furman theatre majors have gone on to work in business, sales, teaching and communications, to name a few areas. Recent graduates of the Furman program have earned the Master of Fine Arts degree in scenic, lighting and costume design from such schools as Alabama, Southern Methodist, Virginia and Yale. One alumnus is executive producer and chief writer for a primetime sitcom; and others have pursued acting careers in repertory theatre - and even on Broadway!. One graduate is now a production designer for majot motion pictures in Hollywood.
There are also some unseen benefits to a major in theatre arts. One of the major advantages of a college theatre program is that it doesn't depend on box office income for its existence and, therefore, can be more adventurous in the choices it makes. Dr. Doug Cummins, member of the Furman Theatre Arts Department, says "We're not dependent on Broadway hits or the old tried and true for our seasons. We can select plays for their intrinsic quality or because we believe our students can be especially challenged." Also, as Rhett Bryson of the theatre arts department says, ``There's nothing more practical than a theatre major. You learn to manage time, material resources and human resources, deal with finances, implement a plan, analyze it before and after it is in effect, and meet a schedule and deadlines. These are skills that can easily be put to use in the job market.''
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