New collaborations between the Theatre and Music Departments

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by Caitlin Shannon, Student Life & Arts Editor

On Tuesday night, Drew’s theatre majors were safely tucked away in the Kean Black Box Theatre having their monthly majors meeting when all of a sudden Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” began blasting out of the speakers. Stunned, they all looked around nervously and watched as the Drew’s music majors busted through the theatre doors, flanked by their fearless leaders.

Okay, so it didn’t happen quite like that. But, if you’ve heard anything about the history of tension between music and theatre students then that’s maybe what you would have imagined at the thought of a combined music and theatre majors meeting. This past Tuesday, the Music and Theatre departments combined forces for a joint meeting to announce efforts for new collaborations between what are perhaps the two most compatible departments on campus.  

In the past, there have been recurring conflicts between the rehearsal schedules of the vocal ensembles of the Music Department and the production week schedules of the Theatre Department. Wednesdays are opening night in the Theatre Department for the countless shows that they put on throughout the semester in the Directing Lab, the Kean Black Box Theater and the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater. Wednesday is also the sole weekly rehearsal of Choral Union, Drew’s large mixed voice choir.

In addition, there has been conflict between required events for the two majors. Both Theatre Practice, a class required of theater students participating in main stage or Director’s Workshops, and Music at Noon Concerts, concerts throughout the semester that music majors and minors are required to either perform in or attend, are Fridays at noon.  

At the meeting, the professors from both departments, led by Associate Professor of Music Jason Bishop and Professor of Theatre Arts and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Chris Ceraso, shared the solutions that the departments came up with together to help students make the most out of both disciplines. Whether you want to double major, major in one and minor in the other or simply be involved extracurricularly in the two departments, it will now be infinitely easier.  

Professor Bishop announced a new structure and rehearsal schedule for the vocal music ensembles at Drew, a change inspired not only by the want to facilitate relations between theatre and music but for the good of the vocal studies program as a whole. Starting in the fall, Choral Union will be replaced by Alta Voce, a new treble choir open to anyone of any gender identity who sings either soprano or alto, which will rehearse on Monday nights.

This is not only in response to the problem of Wednesday nights but the struggles the Choral Union has recently faced in adequately peopling a large mixed choir at a predominantly female liberal arts institution in an area where multiple other large community choirs exist. Chorale, Drew’s mixed voice chamber choir, will remain with only a slightly altered rehearsal schedule. Drew’s Chamber Orchestra will now rehearse on Thursdays, instead of Mondays.  

Prof. Chris Ceraso then shared a new allowance of excused absences from both Theatre Practice and Music at Noon that will alleviate stress for double majors or major/minors. The new schedule will allow for students to fulfill the requirements of both departments.  

Such changes will not only allow for more students to mix two of the most compatible disciplines on campus, but allow for a outpouring of new collaborative work between the two departments. Thanks to the great work done by the two departments, you’re sure to see more music students up on the stage along side their theatre colleagues for shows, such as Heathers: The Musical which will go up in the fall.

In addition, Prof. Bishop and Kimani Fowlin, Director of the Dance Program, announced a new collaboration between the music and dance departments, a production of Gian Carlo Mentti’s The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, a madrigal fable for chorus, dancers, and chamber ensemble set for the fall.

This is an exciting development to many music and theatre students who have either attempted to or always wanted to participate in both departments. Students realize and appreciate the work that both departments put into reconciling the conflicts and making positive changes for everyone involved. Bianca Rapp (’18) commented, “As part of the Choral Leadership Board, I got to participate and witness how hard the departments worked to try and make it better for the students trying to pursue both theater and music.”

Mikaela Simon (’19), a theatre major, pointed out the positive impact that it will have on current and future students, “Since we don’t have a musical theatre department here, it becomes that much more of a positive partnership for current students, and also interested high schoolers or transfers that will now be more likely to participate in both programs.” Talia Smith (’19) also commented on the positive impact saying, “As a tour guide I see a lot of prospective students who would like to double major in Theater and Music so this step will make it a much more realistic possibility!”

Even first years, such as Nina Campli (’20), had noticed the strange silence between the two departments, but are now hopeful for the future. Campli said, “I think that the communication between both departments has greatly improved which is a huge deal because a lot times things in one department overlap with the things in the other.”

Despite these changes, students still see room for improvement. Theater major and costume designer Hailey Benson (s’19) commented, “I think it’s definitely an improvement but I still feel like it’s not perfect. During the meeting it felt a lot like the music department is more changing their schedule to fit around ours [the theatre department] and not so much vice versa.”

Surely many music and theatre majors share Simon’s feelings when she said, “Music and theatre can do so much together, and I look forward to the art that will be created out of these changes.”

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