New Theater Program Has Tech Twist

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Michigan Tech’s newest degree program, a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Electronic Media Performance, offers potential actors more than a place to polish their Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. It will also make them more marketable, according to Roger Held, chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts.

"We know that 50 percent of an actor's income comes from outside of the theater,” Held says. “We want to enhance the technical abilities of a film student, for example, so he or she will be able to work in industrial and educational videos. It’s a new approach."

Held also believes the new program will elevate the quality of student performances. "We have a reservoir of technically talented students, as our sets routinely show, and we want the acting quality to be on that same, high level," he says.

The best way to grow the program is slowly, Held says, and they anticipate five to seven students in each of the first few years to a maximum of 20. He also sees some 80 technicians helping the program from the department’s other degree programs in audio production and technology, sound design, and theater and entertainment technology. That, too, is different.

"Most universities have 80 percent of their students in performance and 20 percent in the technical programs," Held says. "But we want to reverse that so we don’t burn out the technical students and, at the same time, get our performance students more experience." And a different group of designers can be used for each show, he says.

And the program will have at least one more important difference. "Routinely, theater majors don’t have the time to, or aren’t allowed to, take courses in broadcasting or electronic media," says Patricia Helsel, an assistant professor in the department.

That can further help the actors market themselves, Helsel says. "It can really be a matter of survival," Helsel says.

There is work for actors, she contends, as long as they are willing to work in different areas, both geographically and professionally, "and that might include narration in video games or books on tape," Helsel says. She expects non-majors who want to express their creativity to sample some of the courses, too.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.