Acting Across The Curriculum: Illinois Wesleyan Acting Students Perform All Over Campus
|Members of an Actors' Studio class in the School of Theatre Arts perform for the School
of Nursing. From left, Brianna North evaluates the inappropriate bedside manner of
Julia VanderVeen toward the patient, Sarah Bordson.
February 19, 2005
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - When Nancy Loitz, director of the School of Theatre Arts at Illinois
Wesleyan University, offered to have actors from one of her classes develop and perform
short programs for any course in the University's curriculum, she expected that only
a few faculty would accept the invitation.
But within hours, faculty in disciplines ranging from psychology to sociology to English
had responded to what Loitz has dubbed “Acting Across the Curriculum,” which is one
component of her Actor's Studio course for upper-level theatre majors this semester.
“I immediately had more requests than we could possibly handle,” said Loitz. “I could
have had a class based entirely on this project.”
After sorting through the requests and figuring out scheduling issues, the 16 acting
students will appear in 11 different classes this semester, producing improv sketches
of bad bedside manners for students in the School of Nursing and staging a scene from
the comedy Abie's Irish Rose for a history class.
Loitz sees obvious benefits for her students who are responsible for making arrangements
with faculty, conducting research independently, and then rehearsing the performances.
“The work is all self-directed, which I believe is excellent preparation for these
students once they're out on their own,” said Loitz. “I have to trust them that they'll
get the work done and for a good job for my faculty colleagues.”
In their first “performance” of the semester, three members of the class appeared
in the School of Nursing for an exercise in professional development. Through improvisational
skits, the actors demonstrated professional nursing skills along with some very unprofessional
bedside techniques, which brought chuckles from the nursing students who comprised
“We had mapped out the general idea of who was going to play which part, but this
work was entirely improv and a lot of fun to do,” said Julia VanderVeen, one of the
“bad nurses.” “What I like about this exercise is that it gets us out into the University
For their part, faculty members who have invited the actors into their classes see
significant benefits as well.
Kathryn O'Gorman, professor of English, has asked for a scene from the African-American
playwright Adrienne Kennedy's 1968 play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, which students in
her American drama course are studying.
“When I've taught this play in the past, I find it's one that is especially difficult
for students to visualize,” O'Gorman said. “Nancy's class's enacting of even a portion
of the physical dimension of the play will, I hope, help students in my class appreciate
the different layers of - and reasons for - the chaos Kennedy creates.”
For her senior seminar, Immigrants and Ethnics in the American City, 1880-1930, Professor
of History April Schultz has requested the actors to perform a scene from Abie's Irish
Rose, a controversial comedy from the 1920s about inter-ethnic romance.
“I want students in my class to imagine what this play would have been like for audiences
of that time, and this seemed to be a perfect way to do this,” said Schultz.
One of the most challenging assignments comes from a professor whose students will
be studying autism.
“My request is for Nancy's students to create a social and sensory world that will
give my students a taste of what it might be like to have autism,” said Linda Kunce,
professor of psychology. “I want my students to experience what it might be like to
have the communicative, social, sensory, and cognitive characteristics of autism.”
Loitz will continue to evaluate the project as the term progresses and the actors
fulfill their assignments. “What is going to be especially challenging for the students
is the diversity of these requests - improv, set pieces, different genres,” said Loitz.
“But moving from one short assignment to another is excellent experience for them,
and I hope that we're also offering value to the rest of the campus.”