Masters of Theater Arts students script their own learning

Student performs the play "50 Words."
Christopher Williams / Castleton Spartan

Learning how to be a successful actor by the book would be great, but wouldn’t it be better to get experience by putting on shows in front of a real live audience?

The five students in Castleton’s Masters of Theater Arts program get the chance to do just that.

“Honing your skills in front of a real audience is far more valuable than only studio work,” said Harry McEnerny, chair of the theater department and creator of the master’s program.

When drafting the program, he said he looked at what the theater department did well already which he decided was production.

McEnerny explained that even as an undergrad, Castleton students can be involved in about 15 shows, which can really beef up a resume. This is an opportunity not all college programs can boast.

All of the students currently involved in the masters program received their undergraduate degree from Castleton as well, but there’s something different about this experience.

“It’s much more immersive — we’re doing everything,” said graduate student and Castleton class of 2014 grad Meghan Hakey.

Hakey’s classmate Staci Jedlick, Castleton class of 2013, studied acting and directing as an undergrad, but now has the chance to do whatever peaks her interest.

“I’ve gotten to do things I never imagined,” Jedlick said. “I’ve done stage managing, props and hair and makeup all in one semester.”

McEnerny emphasized the program is built around the student’s interest and that is how the shows are picked and shaped.

“If someone wants to do acting and directing, then we give enough acting and enough directing to make it worth while,” McEnerny said.

As part of the masters program, students are required to produce three performances. The first was “50 Words,” performed in August. The second will be “Next Fall,” performed later this month. The students also work on the undergraduate productions and take various classes throughout the 30 credit-hour program.

Graduate student and 2012 Castleton grad Julianne O’Connor will be directing the program’s upcoming show.

“Next Fall” is about two men, Adam and Luke, who are in a relationship. The story takes place in a New York City hospital where one of the men is in a coma. The five individuals in the waiting room have very different beliefs and views of the world and learn even if you have differences, you might need someone’s friendship and support regardless.

O’Connor’s hope for this show is to challenge not just the actors, but the audience as well.

“The audience might be uncomfortable at times,” O’Connor said. “The goal is to challenge the minds of everyone so they will come out with a bit more knowledge or a different view.”

The six-person cast will be performing on Dec. 11,12 and 14 at 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theater. There are no tickets, but seating is limited so interested individuals should arrive early.

McEnerny hopes to one day have a program of around a dozen students who form a company complete with actors, directors, technicians and artists.

As with all new endeavors, the program has encountered a few challenges, but he said it has been an incredibly valuable learning experience with successes that far overpower the challenges.


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