University in America part 1.

American Universities are a completely different breed from the European ones. For starters; my major in the Netherlands acts as a complete separate entity from the rest of the university as it fits in its own faculty. Here at Hofstra the Drama department works closely together with the Dance department and both are very neatly integrated in the school network. For example, instead of performing projects only for parents and friends and having the process be the end-product, Drama showcases at Hofstra are full-on plays and they are performed for whole weeks so the entire school community can see them. There is also way more cross-pollination between the different courses because the majors have more freedom in choosing courses outside their majors. I’ve seen multiple students who besides their courses in Drama are also taking Mathematics and French because they can. Of course in the Netherlands you can choose courses outside of your major as well, and sometimes you are told to do so, but those courses tend to be very specific and absolutely not entry-level.

When I had to sign up for my preliminary courses I started to look for the courses which description best fit what I want to do after I graduate. What will be useful in my future? Since Drama at Hofstra is way more orientated towards the actual work field I was excited to choose the following 5 courses: Play Production, Play Directing, Play writing, Intro to Theater Arts and American Musical Theater. Within the first week I found out that I would be able to take even more courses and I would be able to take the credit from those extra courses with me to Amsterdam. So I started to shift some things around. I also found out that some of the courses were different from what I imagined them being, I even dropped a course! In the following paragraphs I will describe the multiple practical courses I am taking, and also why I dropped a course.

Play Production

the book used in
‘Play Production’

Play Production was a very interesting course, the description told me it would teach me how all the different elements of the production process come together. Now I must admit I was a bit naive and thought that meant I would learn how to produce a play but as soon as classes started I learned it mostly meant we would be learning how to physically build a production. Eventually we would be learning how the machines in the sceneshop worked and we would help build the set of the fall main-stage production of ‘Legally Blonde’. The teachers were very nice and they seemed as if they would be able to teach me a lot from experience but the fact that the course was 4-credits didn’t really help me since it is an irregular credit amount compared to my other courses. The amount of classes combined with the lab-feature also messed with my schedule. Eventually I decided I had to drop it in favor of ‘Stage Management’ a course that seemed way more useful to me.

Play Writing

statue next to Roosevelt Hall where Play Writing is taught.

Playwriting is an introductory course where we learn the basics of playwriting. We write multiple short plays to eventually write one two-act, or two one-act plays. Over the course of the semester the professor teaches us how to write compelling characters, to create an interesting conflict and how to keep the audience engaged. We analyze plays based on their structure and then use that analysis in our writing. For this course I have already written a 10-minute play called ‘Family Dinner,’ and our next play is due next week. The course is very limited to the basics but it does inspire me to write more and to keep writing, and I love doing it.

Play Directing

the Spiegel Theater where ‘Play Directing’ and ‘Intro to Theater Arts’ are taught.

This was honestly the course I was most excited about and thus far it does not disappoint. Once again this course is being taught by someone who has earned his stripes in the work field. Instead of giving us a theoretical basis first, we jumped right in. This seems to be a staple of American education. You learn more by doing the thing than by looking at it. We started by analyzing key directorial choices in a Hitchcock movie but have since gone on to directing our own short scenes and analyzing them. Our professor gives us tools along the way but mostly uses his own experience and ways to teach us. Sort of a ‘do as I do, not as I say’ situation as he adjusts our scenes with the help of the rest of the class.

Intro to Theater Arts

Intro to Theater Arts is a course that is related to the first course I had to take in Amsterdam ‘Dramaturgie,’ the difference being that it is less academically inclined and focusses more on the actual event of theater than on theater as a whole. With Intro to Theater Arts we are seeing 5 major theater productions in New York city, as well as all 5 mainstage productions that are happening on campus this year. Last week we saw ‘Mean Girls’ on Broadway and more will soon follow. Part of this course is to ease you into the jargon of theater, I myself take the course mostly to explore American theater. Because American theater audiences are less accustomed to minimalism and post-dramatic theater, as opposed to Dutch audiences that will one night go to a play by Ivo van Hove that is very abstractly staged and the next night see something way more realistic.

In the next blog I will talk about the courses I am taking that are more academically inclined. Courses like ‘American Musical Theater’ and ‘Dangerous Ideas’. They often cover broader subject and are therefore not very suitable for a more practical approach, but they aren’t necessarily less interesting!