Villanova Undergraduate Theater Struggles to Gain Visibility and Maintain Opportunity

By Jenn Bradley

Villanova students scream and cheer as the basketball team dribbles the ball down the court. In the midst of all the action on the court, students fail to realize that there are several different shows playing on different kinds of courts at Villanova University. These courts are called stages. Villanova is a school so focused on athletics and academics that it sometimes fails to appreciate the importance and presence of the performing arts.

While Villanova University has a strong graduate program for theatre, its undergraduate opportunities in theatre and music as a whole are lacking. “I think Villanova needs to have more arts offerings for undergraduates,” Emily Coombs, the director of public relations for Villanova Student Theater, says. “There are so many talented people here that there would definitely be an interest from the student body to take classes and pursue the arts.”

Currently, Villanova has 26 musical groups and three main outlets for undergraduate theatre. The three theatre groups include Villanova Student Theatre, Villanova Student Music Theatre, and stage crew. Villanova also offers a theater minor for undergraduates, but no major.

Recently, Villanova accepted an invitation to form a partnership with the Abbey Theatre of Ireland. This partnership will provide Villanova students with unique opportunities such as internships and classes abroad and will bring new productions to the stage of Vasey at Villanova. Additionally, the theatre department of Villanova holds four performances in Vasey hall each year. Thus, Villanova presents many opportunities for graduate studies of performing arts, but what about undergraduates? There are few classes in music and performing arts and many times disappointing turnouts for all music activities at Villanova.

For Christine Nass, the director of publicity for music activities, the problem can be attributed to a lack of visibility. “The University seems to have little publication of student activities in general, and if they do, we as music activities, are never in it,” Nass says.

The conflict with the lack of visibility and outlets for the performing arts does not seems to be a lack of passion or dedication of the participants, but rather the lack of funding and resources provided by the University.

Father David Cregan, the chair of the theatre department, has proposed a solution to this dilemma. Villanova has decided to establish an undergraduate theatre major. According to Julie Phan, VST stage manager and director of The Foreigner, the theater major will be developing within the next two years. Phan says that Villanova will then hold professional productions like those in Vasey for undergraduates as well. This decision will certainly boost the performing arts presence on campus by producing expertise in the area of theater, but it will also take away opportunities from non-theater majors in the future.

“We may have to restructure VST a little,” says Phan. “We may have to move toward dinner theater performances, for example, since many of the roles and opportunities in theatre will be filled and reserved for the theatre majors.”

Traditionally, undergraduate theatre and music activities in general at Villanova have been open to everyone. “In both theatre and music activities at Villanova we cater to amateurs, which we define as people who love what they do,” says Nass. “If you want to get involved we will find a place for you. We’ll even teach you how to play an instrument if we have to!”

Overall, the theatre department has made strides in trying to establish a presence for itself on campus. It is difficult, however, to foster expertise for a limited number of people while still offering opportunities for everyone who is passionate and wants to get involved with the arts at Villanova. The new theatre major hopes to promote more visibility for the arts at Villanova as a whole. Then, maybe the performing arts at Villanova will be put back under the spotlight, where it is meant to be.

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