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Student Blog: Studying Theatre at Cornell University - The 2022 Fall Semester Thus Far

Look no further to learn what it's like to pursue a BA in Theatre at an Ivy League school.

Student Blog: Studying Theatre at Cornell University - The 2022 Fall Semester Thus Far

For many, back to school is an exciting time as college students begin new classes, participate in various clubs and extracurriculars, and spend time on a new or familiar campus. When I stepped onto Cornell's campus in August, the enthusiasm for the new school year was visceral as thousands of students moved-in and prepared for the Fall semester. Despite my initial worries regarding beginning a new semester, I was soon enveloped by the energy of my peers and professors as I started classes.

Unlike aspiring actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and dramaturges who attend conservatory programs to receive a BFA degree, I am attending Cornell University to receive a BA degree from their Performing and Media Arts Department but with the same aspiration of hopefully attending an MFA program and / or working in the theatre industry. The coursework for a BA degree looks very different from a BFA degree in that I can take courses within and outside of my major, which provides the opportunity to explore various related academic areas while studying the theory and practice of theatre.

This semester I am enrolled in five core academic courses: "Literatures in English: From Old English to the New World," "Parody," "Perspectives on Spain," "The Greek Experience," and "Shakespeare." While these courses are different from the typical BFA theatre curriculum with classes such as acting, movement, and voice, they connect back to theatre. I can use these courses to dissect plays like Aeschylus' The Persians or Shakespeare's Henry V and delve deeply into the historical, literary, and political contexts that inspired various works of theatre. This cultural, historical, political, practical, and theoretical knowledge helps to better inform my acting choices when I work through a monologue or scene from a play and I hope will help when I create my own works in the future.

In addition to the aforementioned core academic courses, I am taking two music courses. As a member of the Cornell Chorale, one of Cornell's three elite choruses, I am enrolled in the associated class. As a co-requisite, I also joined the Choral Musicianship class, enhancing my music skills through studying music theory. Although not part of the theatre curriculum, these courses provide the opportunity to make new friends and sharpen my musical skills, which I can apply to my performance in musical theatre or in plays that use music to enhance the plot.

Like many large universities, Cornell has a wide-array of performing arts clubs and organizations. This semester I am acting in a production of Mary Zimmerman's play, "The Secret in the Wings," with the Cog Dog Theatre Troupe. Besides acting in "The Secret in the Wings," I joined the Cornell Literary Society and the Cornell Opera Society. Participation in these activities has enabled me to connect with students who have similar interests, see opera performances, rehearse and perform in recitals, analyze works of literature, and exchange creative writing samples.

For those who are interested in studying theatre in college but are unsure if a BFA program is right for them, a BA program at a liberal arts and sciences college or university could be a wonderful alternative. Though you will not delve as deeply into the practice and craft of theatre, you will be able to invest in a variety of your interests and passions through different groups and organizations, employing your newfound knowledge and skills to create work that is layered and fascinating. As for me, now that I am halfway through the Fall semester and I can see where the coursework, performances, and extracurricular activities are headed, I am even more excited about the upcoming weeks than I was at the beginning of the semester.


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From This Author - Student Blogger: Emily Pugh

Emily is a current sophomore studying Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University. 

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