Theater department hopes to expand through Fine Arts remodel

By April DeJarlais

Macalester has the largest theater and dance program of the five Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities schools, and consequently draws many non-Macalester students to the department. Dance program director Becky Heist estimates that 10 percent of the 100 dance students per semester are from other ACTC schools. Last year, the University of St. Thomas eliminated its theater program. Heist said she was “appalled” when she heard of the decision.

There has been no major influx of St. Thomas students taking classes at Macalester as a result yet this year, and Heist said “it will be hard to say how many will come.”

The strength of Macalester’s department has attracted ACTC students for more than 30 years. St. Thomas and St. Catherine University have no dance program, while Hamline University’s program is small and Augsburg College offers only a few dance classes.

“[ACTC] students love coming here,” Assistant Professor of Theater Lara Nielsen said.

Because of the department’s growth, Nielsen and Heist said they are looking forward to the renovation of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts building. Theater students have two stages on which to rehearse and perform, but one is directly beneath the other, which makes multiple rehearsals difficult because of sound transfer.

The dance department has one large studio and another smaller space for one- or two-person rehearsals. One set of renovation plans for Janet Wallace includes a new dance studio that will be twice as large as the current one. The project recently changed architecture firms, and Heist is hoping the new studio remains in the plans.

Along with new spaces, events and students are being added to the department. Dance holds six classes this semester, each with 10 to 20 students. Theater added four new courses to its curriculum and new faculty member Wynn Fricke, who is trained in choreography and dance.

Even with a new professor, Nielsen said the department is “wildly understaffed . and [we] desperately need more space.”

In October the department held a workshop entitled “Masks/Viewpoints” featuring Fulbright scholar Dario Tangelson. Major upcoming events are the production of “Tartuffe,” running Nov. 13-15 and 19-21 and the Fall Dance Concert Dec. 11-13. The spring semester will include two more plays and another dance concert.