Student Talent Guides Theatre and Music Collaboration
One might think that the collaboration of the theatre and music departments would be commonplace, but it is actually more common for the two departments to see each other as competition. This is why Wayne Bowman, professor of theatre arts, and Susan Spataro, assistant professor of music, see their joint efforts as an example to their students. After all, the concept of an ensemble is nothing new to the performing arts department, as it is part of the foundation on which they build a well-rounded student. In the format created through the collaboration of Bowman and Spataro, students see the transition of the principle from the stage to life. They realize that memorizing lines and learning music are only part of the culture of learning.
Bowman and Spataro both agree that their passion for teaching at a liberal arts college is that they are not only turning out actors and musicians, but preparing diverse critical thinkers whose skills will be multifaceted and transferable to whatever career path they choose. With this in mind, they choose their performance pieces with purpose, accounting for their students’ educational needs, but also considering the entertainment value of the piece. Students are challenged with theatre productions and musical pieces that bolster their skill sets, but are also thought-provoking for the audience. Past productions, such as Greater Tuna, focused on real-world themes relevant in today’s society, despite having an initial performance date of 1981. Spataro uses a mix of classical and modern music to challenge her students. She also puts much of the responsibility of conceptualizing the performances on the students themselves. Students learn to work together, while learning that preparation for a performance is not limited to the notes on a page.
Students of the arts are often left to wonder what happens at the conclusion of their formal education. Additionally, the recovering economy lends itself to questioning whether or not there is a place for performing arts in the job market. Bowman and Spataro believe that a student of the performing arts is not limited to measuring success based on becoming an actor or musician. Bowman says, “This is a niche with no boundaries.” Students may go on to work in education, in the television or film industry, as writers, as marketing executives, or in the nonprofit sector. One of Bowman’s former students, Mike McColl ’93, a recent Executive in Residence, did not actually major in theatre, but is currently in high demand for voice-over work. McColl attributes his success in finding his passion for the entertainment industry to Professor Bowman. Recent theatre and music graduate Ashley Heywood ’13 is working with the Virginia Repertory Theatre and will have a role in the upcoming performance of Shrek. Theatre major Jade Jones is also working with the Virginia Repertory Theatre and will have a role in the production of The Color Purple.
Bowman and Spataro attribute the overall success of their programs to their stellar students, in whom they often see a reflection of themselves. Students who step up to challenges and are open-minded to the variety of destinations where the performing arts can take them will be successful in these programs. Bowman and Spataro continue to be inspired by their students and are working toward further expansion of their programs. Bowman hopes to add a dance course geared toward the musical theatre minor, while Spataro thinks the return of a music major someday to the Ferrum curriculum has limitless possibilities for future students.