The art of performance is beautiful and enjoyable. Many students love the feeling of joining a like-minded community and stepping on the stage, personifying a character. However, Northern Illinois University’s theater department is only offered to those wanting to dedicate their major or minor to the subject; it is not open to all students.
Whether you’re a transfer student or you’ve been here since freshman year, you look for ways to get involved at the university upon your arrival. Junior communication major, Thomas “Tommy” Smith, transferred to NIU for the spring semester of 2022. Smith remembered his love of theater and was excited to join NIU’s department, but was disappointed when he learned he wasn’t allowed.
“At South Dakota last semester, I was busy with my media involvement. I had no time, but coming here was like a clean slate and I looked forward to joining the theater here… but here it’s like ‘switch your major or no,’ basically,” Smith said.
Fortunately for Smith, he attended the community college in Joliet, Illinois, and still remains friends with those involved in the community there, so he was able to land the role of Gaston in their production of Beauty and the Beast.
However, it is unfortunate that a student has to look for resources outside of the school to get involved.
School of Theater and Dance interim director Terrance McClellan explains NIU’s theater department as being connected to the classes it offers. “It’s very similar to saying, ‘I want to do some engineering exercises on the side,’ as they do a lot of physical hands-on things in engineering, too. But why can’t I do those? Because you’re not in that class that does that,” McClellan said.
McClellan explained that the department’s first priority is the students taking the classes, “We have around 50 students in acting and they have X amount of shows that they have to perform in since they are training together and trying to learn a specific skill set,” McClellan said.
It can still be frustrating for some students who want to get involved on campus at NIU but their particular interest, this instance being theater, isn’t offered in the way they need.
Smith would argue that you can still prioritize the department and hold open audits to all students.
“The students that are in the classes, who are in the major, are getting to know the instructors and getting their names known, so when the directors are creating their cast it is these students names whose are going to stick out,” Smith said . “But not having the option open of talent for any student here, is I think a huge loss for the department.”
There are many universities across Illinois and the rest of the country that have open auditions for their students, so there is little reason why Northern Illinois University cannot provide that for its students as well.