Stage and Screen Arts sees growth, gains valuable experience
Senior Kyia Britts has almost always felt at home either on stage or behind the curtains. She has been involved in theater since she was 8 years old, and she chose to attend UW-River Falls to major in Theater Arts to continue her passion.
Britts, like the other 55 current Stage and Screen Arts majors, chose the UWRF Arts department for their post-secondary education for a number of reasons – namely the size of the university.
“Even though our department is small, it is so worth it,” she said. “You can put your hands on every single part of theater and you get to experience it in a much different light than you would at a big university. Here someone might come in as an actor, but they might be stage managing by the end of their second year.”
The Arts department is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, which has 460 students enrolled. One of the central majors in Arts is the Stage and Screen Arts program. From producing plays to designing sets and lighting, students gain valuable experience.
The experiences that the Stage and Screen Arts department offers varies from everything on stage to shooting and editing videos.
This experience allowed Britt to find her ultimate passion, she said. “I came in initially looking to act and have found my absolute passion in lighting. I never would have had that chance had I gone to a big university.”
The size of the university allowed Britt to get close to her professors, she added. “I can text them and ask them questions if I’m working on a project late. They’re always there for me.”
As a large portion of universities across the country have started cutting funding to art departments, UWRF’s appears to be thriving.
When the largest freshman class since 2009 came to the campus this fall, the Stage and Screen Arts program benefited. According to Robin Murray, chair of Stage and Screen Arts, the program added 18 new majors – a 33% increase over the previous year.
Murray said that the department is graduating between six and eight majors annually. Graduates find work in a variety of industries based on their experience. Some go on to jobs in marketing or communications, video production for non-profits or even working in Los Angeles.
College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Tricia Davis said that she is very pleased with the developments and growth of the Stage and Screen Arts department.
“My goal for them is to keep doing what they are doing. My goal is to hopefully keep the growth in the student body which helps give us support getting more faculty members,” she said. “I love the art department, I love the theater department. Music. I think those are what make an arts and sciences program liberal arts.”
The Stage and Screen Arts Department also serves as a tool to reach out to the community. This is accomplished through offering a variety of productions open to the public.
“Having someone come up at the end of the show or even be in tears at the end of the show is really moving,” Britts said. “For them to sit there and say, ‘This will stick with me for the rest of my life,’ we’ve had people say that. We’ve had people say that they’ve been going through similar circumstances and they couldn’t believe that we were able to portray it so vividly.”
The current show, “Silent Sky,” enters its final weekend on Friday and Saturday. Directed by Murray, the show celebrates the late Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Leavitt used pulsating stars to calculate how far Earth was from distant galaxies, while she was working at Harvard College in the 20th century.
Britts agrees that the department is about more than just getting a degree; it’s about gaining valuable life skills.
“There are a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds who are involved here,” she said. “Whether they are majors or not – we all have that understanding of we might not agree with you, but we’re going to listen, because everyone’s opinion is valid.”
Britts said that learning to be able to collaborate and work with a lot of different people is important. This is especially important as mixed reactions to the UW System policy that expels or suspends students for disrupting events on campus.
Britts summed up the department: “We’re here to entertain, but there’s more to it than just putting on a show.”