News Story

Theatre arts program lights up Tahlequah

Office of Communications & Marketing | Northeastern State University
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- Each academic year during a handful of weekends, the lights flicker on outside the Northeastern State University Playhouse in downtown Tahlequah, inviting local enthusiasts of live theatre to attend a production of the NSU Theatre Company.
The playhouse serves as home to the NSUTC, which combines an academic program with extracurricular activities.
"The classes and program activities go hand in hand," said Dr. Robyn Pursley, assistant professor of theatre. "A lot of what our students do is engage in hands-on practical application of the ideas and content covered in theatre classes." 
To prepare for an NSUTC production, students and faculty attend classes most of the day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and evening rehearsals six or seven days a week.
Theatre students and faculty work together from 1-5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through each semester at production work-calls. Sets are built, costumes constructed, lights hung and props created for all NSUTC shows.
Once a production concludes, the set is deconstructed and work begins immediately on the next production.
Pursley said students must be disciplined, but the results are worth the efforts.
"I was a theatre major as an undergradute at NSU," she said. "It was constant but we loved it. It does take a special kind of student to successfully navigate a major in theatre. It takes clear dedication and loyalty to the program."
Students can earn a bachelor's degree or minor in theatre as an area of academic study. The program activities often connect to courses, though auditions for productions are open to the entire campus. 
"Typically, we do not turn away anyone interested in taking part in our productions, though we do prefer participating students to be enrolled in theatre courses," Pursley said.
She said the arts, particularly theatre arts, can complement other degree programs by teaching communication, collaboration, creativity and work ethic. 
"I speak to students who are interested in arts and theatre, but they want to pursue a career in another field," Pursley said. "But, as a minor or second major, our program can prepare a student for careers outside acting or directing. Theatre arts skills are useful in teaching, arts management, design, public relations, fashion and carpentry, just to name a few."
The NSU theatre program is renowned for excellent training of students in all facets of technical theatre – where many graduates get their all-important first jobs. 
"Our graduates are regularly hired as designers, stage managers and backstage technicians," she said. "Our students benefit greatly from the hands-on experience we provide. It shows employers that our graduates have an array of skills and are ready to work. A first job backstage can lead to an acting job on stage."
The NSU Department of Theatre is also within an era of change, and students and faculty are already reaping the benefits.
An initial adjustment was completed in 2012, when the theatre program was centrally sited at the NSU Playhouse on the northeast corner of Muskogee Avenue and Downing Street. Faculty offices and classes are at the playhouse.
“I was excited to move back into the playhouse, because when I was an undergraduate at NSU, that is where everything concerning theatre took place,” Pursley said. “It's a really neat theater space and has a lot of history with the university.”
NSU’s summer series, The River City Players, has also returned to the playhouse. Pursley expressed excitement with RCP performing under the same name and at the same venue as when the revue began in 1983.
Most visible to NSU Playhouse patrons are the renovations to the seating area, which affords better visibility from all areas. An onsite computer lab is also completed, and further renovations to the stage area are planned.
Pursley said further plans include moving production capacity into the playhouse.
“If we can get our production shop onsite, we will not need to go back and forth between buildings for classes and production work-calls,” she said. “The students handle our current configuration wonderfully, but bringing everything together can create a wonderful space in which they can work and learn.
In the long term, Pursley said the Department of Theatre is considering the addition of a film study minor. Pursley said the minor, if implemented, would focus on all aspects of film creation, including script development and production.
“I think we have a large number of students interested in film studies and we hope that this will provide an interesting and applicable minor option for those students,” said Pursley. 
Pursley said she anticipates the minor will be approved and offered by the fall 2014 term.
“We regularly speak with theatre students who also want to study film,” she said. “I think this additional minor can help us recruit students who are interested in both performance arts.”
For more information about NSU’s theatre program write to Pursley at or call 918-444-2793.

Published: 4/23/2013 9:22:39 AM

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