Performing prematurely — with an audience

Keeping oneself together as the oppression of finals week draws closer can prove quite a struggle, but try facing that task a week in advance. Better yet, try inviting your peers and the public to watch you take your finals.

Students in the theater department’s actor training program do just that every semester in their pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts degree.

With students already immersed in a highly intensive curriculum, this extra demand carries its weight in added pressure, though the benefits are definitely in the students’ favor.

“It’s awesome (to have finals early),” said Steve Schubart, a sophomore in the ATP. “I get to go home earlier and see my family sooner. For all the hassle that goes on the week after with all my other classes, it takes a lot of that load off. It makes it easier to pace myself.”

“I love it because it takes so much of the stress off of the normal finals schedule,” said Dawn Boardman, a student also in the sophomore ATP class.

While upperclassmen might already be comfortable with the routine of final exams popping up a week early, freshman students are facing this challenge for the first time.

“It doesn’t give you as much time to prepare, but it’s also kind of nice to get the acting stuff over with, so that we can give a little extra attention to the rest of our academic stuff,” said Ruth Jones, a freshman in the ATP.

Students in the freshman class take one class exclusive to the ATP curriculum during the Fall Semester, as opposed to the three to four ATP classes taken by upperclassmen.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking to do the open final, because it’s our first semester and it’s the first time everybody gets to see us perform, unless we’ve been in a show, which most of us haven’t yet,” Jones said.

Despite the occasional onset of nerves, Jones said she recognizes the value in going through with the ATP structure of finals, which is open to the public.

“We need to have it,” she said. “It’s really easy to get comfortable around your classmates and then get in front of other people and suddenly just shut down or get nervous.”

Given this human reaction to the unfamiliar, it’s clear whether or not the ATP finals structure was crafted to enhance the students’ preparation for careers in the acting industry.

“There’s always a heightened energy when there’s a public performance,” said Patrick Harris, a senior in the ATP who is also majoring in physics while simultaneously pursuing a master’s degree in math.

“When we have an audience come in that hasn’t seen our work before, it’s really exciting,” Harris said. “When we perform for each other, there’s less surprise with it.”

Boardman echoes Jones’ sentiments about putting the entirety of a semester’s work on display.

“It’s really nerve-wracking,” she said. “My class is very open to each other, and we love each other to pieces, but bringing people in — it’s more of an actual show. I think (it’s designed this way) to get us used to an audience, but also it feels more like a final, because it’s your last chance to perform.”

For Schubart, having open finals translates to a sense of stimulation and motivation, he said.

“It’s awesome because I can get a better grade by connecting with those people in the audience and by making them get enjoyment out of my final,” he said. “It makes it easier to do well.”

“I’ll invite my friends and my roommates and see if I can get them to show up, so that they can see all the effort and time that goes into acting,” Schubart said. “It’s not just a fluff major.”

Those interested in viewing the open final performances can go to the Performing Arts Building before or during the ATP finals which take place Monday through Friday next week.

“We post the finals times all over the building,” said Boardman, who plans to invite her friends. “I generally let my mom know as well.”

“I’d love for people to come,” Harris said. “As many that can come, should come, because it’s going to be so much fun.”

“I might even invite my grandparents,” Jones said. “But I’m not sure about that yet.”

WHAT: Actor Training Program’s Open Finals Week

WHEN: Varying times, Dec. 3 through Dec. 7

WHERE: Several locations in the Performing Arts Building

HOW MUCH: Free

PERFORMANCES TO INCLUDE: musical theater, acting scenes from playwright Sam Shepherd, ballet, hip-hop, tango, corporeal mime technique, monologues from Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” poetry, various dialect performances, Japanese butoh movement, audition techniques and more.

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