Theatre appreciation builds on Broadway

WKU students pose for a portrait while on a study away program in New York City over winter break. While in New York, the students took a theater class that required them to see 8 broadway shows.

Mackenzie Mathews

Study Away, a component of the Division of Extended Learning and Outreach (DELO), had a successful run over Winter Term, almost doubling the number of participants from last year with trips going around and outside the United States.

The programs facilitate hands-on experience for particular classes in a realistic setting, while still being taught by WKU faculty.

Rebecca Schwartz, Study Away Specialist, said the greatest advantage to Study Away is the first-hand experience gained on the trips.

“You can’t know what the Great Wall looks like unless you see it. You may know how many miles it is, how old it is, but you don’t understand it until you see it,” she said.

Schwartz attended the Study Away to New York City and Broadway as the budget manager for the theatre classes. She said it’s easy to see how students find the programs invigorating, reaffirming their enthusiasm for their majors.

Madeline Thomas, a senior from Franklin, Tn., said having the opportunity to see several shows on Broadway revived her desire to pursue an acting career after graduation.

“As a musical theatre major, and as someone who wants to perform, it’s always so refreshing and rejuvenating to go see really good theatre,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘yes, this is what I want to do’. You get this feeling of ‘I’m ready to go back home and work, because this is what I want.’”

The week-long trip included theatre appreciation, a general education course and an upper level course for theatre majors, so there was a wide range of experience amongst the participants. Thomas said the mix relayed the benefits of Study Away.

“We had a really cool mix of people, and I think the Study Away programs are really important because it gives people like me a new perspective, who have already seen some theatre. Then, it gives people who had never had an opportunity to see some theatre a perspective, as well,” she said.

It was mandatory for students to see at least eight shows, but most of them ended the week at ten or twelve.

Schwartz said students get more involved on Study Away trips than they ever would in the classroom.

“Students went above and beyond. It’s interesting to see students do every type of extra credit you could possibly do and do it with a song in their heart, because they love what they’re doing. It’s a really rewarding experience for faculty,” she said.

David Young, head of the Theatre Department, said going to New York created gratitude for theatre that could not have occurred anywhere else.

“You couldn’t learn to appreciate theatre better than if you go to New York and see eight or ten Broadway shows,” he said. “When you see that many shows in such a short amount of time, you start to make connections between the shows.”

The students met with Derek Wilson, a WKU alumnus and working actor. He has been the understudy for Ethan Hawke in Macbeth and discussed his life as a Broadway actor. Thomas said it was inspirational to see someone successful in her future line of work.

“It was really cool to see somebody who went to my school being successful and living the dream,” she said.

Schwartz said giving students the ability to see their majors effectively become professions. They come back to WKU engaged and prepared to work for their future.

“On average, almost without question, when students complete a Study Away experience, they always come back to the university, they’re more likely to graduate, they’re more likely to see an increase in academics,” she said.