Theater and Dance Offer New Performance Arts Major

Bowdoin’s newest major — the performance arts major — offers students the opportunity to intensively study dance, theater, or a combination of the two. Performance arts majors will have the opportunity to push themselves as artists, because every senior in this academic program has the option of making an original production at Bowdoin — a play, a musical, a dance, a multimedia performance.

The performance arts major is being offered through both the theater and dance departments, and students can choose to concentrate in dance, theater, or interdisciplinary performance. All student majors are required to undertake a senior-year project — a piece that they can produce solo or in collaboration with others.

The new major comes at a time when theater and dance faculty have “seen an explosion in student work,” produced for classes or by student performance groups, noted Professor of Theater and Dance Sarah Bay-Cheng. “I think what the performance arts major does is give a concentrated course of study that is cogent and legible…so students have a path, really multiple pathways, through it,” she said.

The performance arts major grounds the students in theory and history, practice and technique. It asks that students try out roles both onstage, as performers, and offstage, as set designers, lighting technicians, or directors. “A well-rounded study in dance and theater is always a mixture of history and theory — what happened before and why — and practical study, what are the techniques one can learn,” Bay-Cheng said. “And the third piece is…experimentation and play, to make original work.”

The theater and dance departments encourage performance arts students to take an interdisciplinary approach. “We’ll be offering, through this major to our students, the ability to collaborate between the specific disciplines of dance and theater and also across those disciplines — to think outside disciplinary boundaries to make original work,” Assistant Professor of Dance Aretha Aoki said. “And I hope it will serve them — I think it will — as artists in the world, and whatever endeavors they wish to pursue once they graduate.”

The faculty also asks students to pull in knowledge from their other classes — whether that is Italian history, Victorian literature, or calculus. “So they’re informed art makers, smart theater makers, smart dance makers, and smart synthesizers,” Professor of Theater Davis Robinson said. “The idea of being able to have a dedicated major that allows students to synthesize academic interests across the board, but also become really skilled theater-makers or dance-theater makers, is very exciting because you’re going to have senior thesis projects that are unique.”

Knowing that they could be working toward a senior honor’s project should galvanize younger students to start thinking about what they might focus on during their last year at Bowdoin. “The major, and the senior thesis project, ideally will have first-year students and sophomores thinking early about what they want to say, rather than us telling you, ‘Here’s what we want you to do’,” Robinson said. “You need to encourage that entrepreneurial spirit in students to make their own work, to make interesting work…something that is going to put them on the map as artists and help them develop their voice.”

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