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3Qs: Theatre lighting up campus

Scott Edmiston is the interim chair of the Department of Theatre and professor of the practice in the College of Arts, Media and Design. Photo by Skylar Shankman AMD’13.

“How do we prepare a new generation for the theatre of tomorrow?” This is a question that Scott Edmiston, professor of the practice and interim chair of the theatre department, and his colleagues are asking as the department continues to proceed through a re-imagining. Here, we asked Edmiston to share his vision for the department and discuss the impact of new co-op partnerships as well as the dramatic redesign of the Studio Theatre’s lobby.

What is your vision for the Department of Theatre and in what ways is the department currently experiencing a revitalization and re-imagining?

I find that people and institutions have energy around them sometimes. There is certainly energy around Northeastern University right now—a unique momentum and ambition that are palpable. That’s happening in our department as well. Theatre is an ancient art form predicated on a live, shared experience. We’re asking, “How do we prepare a new generation for the theatre of tomorrow?” It’s been challenging and exhilarating for the faculty to imagine the unique role it can play in the 21st century, an era of electronic communication. We’ve developed a new mission statement that embraces a greater international perspective, values of entrepreneurship, and defined professional components. We’re in the midst of curriculum revisions that will align us with next practices in the field. Seven new faculty members have joined us, our fall productions sold out, and spring course enrollment is up nearly 14 percent. The students feel this energy. We did a survey and 90 percent reported they are seeing “growth and improvements” in the department this year. We asked new majors to describe theatre at Northeastern and they responded by using these words: “Energetic. Spontaneous. Rising. Growing. Exciting. Vibrant. Thriving. Inspiring. Out-of-the-box.”

In December, the department announced the creation of more than 20 new co-op partnerships. In what ways will these partnerships expand and enhance students’ experiential learning opportunities?

There is a lot of mythology about working in the theatre—much of it comes from old Hollywood movies, celebrity pop culture, and Broadway legend. Most of it is focused on actors and the notion of fame. But in reality, the majority of theatres today are nonprofit businesses that function like a library or a museum to enrich the lives of their communities. Northeastern students are wonderfully multi-dimensional. They may enjoy acting but are also interested in playwriting, directing, or design. So these new co-op partners will engage students with a range of creative life paths that they might take. Some might want to work backstage at New York’s Lincoln Center. Some might want to do marketing for the Boston Ballet or theatre education with inner city children. Some might want to found a theatre company, create original work, or be a production designer for television. We’re offering a new experiential course this semester called “Boston Theatre Experience” that allows students to see what’s really happening in contemporary theatre and meet working theatre artists. The career of a theatre artist is actually one of the most beautiful and rewarding you can imagine. Our work is play.

This spring, the Studio Theatre lobby is undergoing a dramatic makeover. Can you describe this new design and how it will enhance the space and the studio’s impact?

Our department presents nearly 50 student performances a year in the Studio Theatre, which is located at the intersection of the Curry Student Center and Ell Hall. The quality of productions is very high, but many members of the community have had a hard time finding the theatre. My hope is that the Studio Theatre will become a center of activity and artistry for the whole campus community. The new lobby design is literally three dimensional. It has the feeling of an interactive arts installation with sculptural walls that light up and change color, connecting it to the artwork on view in the adjacent Gallery 360. The design was inspired by the idea of a lighted theatre marquee. Coincidentally, in April I’m directing Moss Hart’s classic comedy Light Up the Sky for the Lyric Stage Company. The title refers to a theatre marquee, and it’s a play about the exuberance and brilliance of theatre artists. We illuminate what it means to be human. The whole sky might be a bit ambitious, but I’m hoping this lobby—and all the dramatic expansion we’re experiencing right now—will light up the Northeastern campus.

The project is in progress and on schedule, and will be completed by March 16. What remains is the installation of the light-up walls and a video monitor, which will go in over Spring Break.

A rendering of the Studio Theatre lobby redesign.

A rendering of the Studio Theatre lobby redesign.

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