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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Theatre students navigate the unknown

After the elimination of the theatre minor, students look to their paths forward.

By Molly McFadden

The lights rose in the Black Box Theater, revealing Katherine Nevins dressed in royal blue and a crushed velvet purple cloak. Playing Prospera, she delivered her opening monologue. “The Tempest” begins with the history of Prospera’s life, as other characters appear on stage throughout the monologue. Looking down from above, sophomore Ellen Aho, portraying Gonzala, watched Prospera talk of the past. This is Aho’s first time performing in the Black Box Theater at Bethel, and after the recent cut of the theatre minor, it may be her last.

The cast of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” gather for a group photo. The show took place Oct. 27-30 and Nov. 3-6 in Bethel’s Black Box Theater. In the Director’s Notes Brent Adams said, “Beyond the beauty of the language, the Bard’s genius lies in the fact that his plays are still stage-worthy and engaging over 400 years after he wrote them.” | Photo submitted by Brent Adams.

“I have considered leaving Bethel and I am heavily considering it,” Aho said. “I came here because there was still at least a minor.”

Oct. 10 Provost Robin Rylarsdaam sent an email to Bethel University students to inform them of changes being made to academic programs, including the elimination of the Theatre Minor among others. This email also noted that “Bethel will continue to offer opportunities for students to be involved in theater performances and is in the process of creating a new interdisciplinary minor that incorporates stage performance.”

This isn’t the first time Bethel’s theatre department has taken a hit. In the fall of 2018 it was announced that the theatre major was being cut. For 2022 graduate Hannah Smason, it was her freshman year.

“I had just gotten there. I was so pumped. I really loved the theatre program,” Smason said. “And then it was just kind of gone.”

Smason double majored in English Literature and Writing and Theatre Arts, deciding not to leave Bethel after her major was cut. Although she completed her degree at Bethel and was able to participate in theatre productions each year, Samson said the community in the department wasn’t the same after the elimination of the major. She recalls students congregating outside of the Black Box Theater in the CC 100s, filling each chair, the armrests between seats and covering the floor during her freshman year. 

“By the end of sophomore year there was no one down there anymore,” Samson said. “It was so sad…watching the number dwindle down and my favorite part of Bethel kind of disappearing.”

Katherine Juul Nevins, senior theatre arts student and professor emerita of psychology, raises her wand to use magic with the help of a spirit named Ariel. Nevins has recently been a part of Bethel’s productions of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Enchanted April.” Playing Prospera, Nevin’s opening monologue set the scene for the play. | Photo submitted by Brent Adams.

As “The Tempest” came to an end of its run, according to sophomore theatre minor Lauren Densmore, there was a “heaviness” that was different from past shows she has been in. Densmore is also considering leaving Bethel due to the loss of the theatre minor.

“There’s a sadness around everyone because we don’t know if it’s our last show here,” Densmore said.

In the playbill for “The Tempest,” a director’s note from Professor of Theatre Brent Adams read, “As this is most likely my final production at BU, I have also thrown in a little of everything to help tell this amazing story well… Through the triumphs and challenges of our program, it has been my honor to have creatively served you.”

As for Bethel students currently pursuing a theatre minor, they carry some unknowns as they navigate this change. Densmore said that it is “unclear” about what the future of the department looks like. For senior Katie Friese, who plans to graduate in the spring, she is sorry for the students and professors whose future at Bethel is uncertain.

Tranquil Grauss, Kyla Kirsch and Lauren Densmore pass a bottle of “celestial liquor” around throughout the show. The trio of characters can be found around Bethel involved in everything from Student Ministries to Wind Symphony to FacMan. “We’re kind of like the comedy trio,” Densmore said. | Photo submitted by Brent Adams.

“That’s the part that hurts the worst,” Friese said. “It feels like there has been a gaping wound left that everyone else is left to deal with, while I go on my merry way.”

Although there are unknowns concerning how students will complete their degrees with fewer professors and not as many class opportunities, the email from Rylarsdaam assured students that had declared the minor that they would be able to receive that degree saying, “If you are currently enrolled in any of these affected programs, you will be able to complete your degree at Bethel.”

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