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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Dramatic changes for VADA

Vivian Lang / Thresher

By Chiara Moretti     2/13/24 10:48pm

Dissolving concentrations altogether, replacing the theatre major with a minor and a complete name change — the Visual and Dramatic Arts major has recently undergone a variety of changes that are effective for the matriculating class of 2023. Dean of the School of Humanities Kathleen Canning and Director of the Rice Theatre Program Christina Keefe issued a proposal to the Faculty Senate for the creation of the theatre minor and the renaming to the Department of Art which was approved Nov. 29, 2023. 

The VADA major previously included three concentrations: Studio Art, Film and Photography and Theatre. However, these concentrations are now only available for current sophomores and upperclassmen. The incoming students, including current freshmen, will have a single Art major that combines elements of film, photography and studio art. 

According to Natasha Bowdoin, an associate dean in the Department of Art, having major concentrations is too restrictive for students. This new major provides students with a broader education and has the potential to draw more students.

“The freeing of the disciplines and the new art department formation is enticing to a lot of students who beforehand might have felt like the concentration set-up was too restrictive,” Bowdoin said. “These free things are up and our numbers are growing. I’m taking a leap to say they’re connected, but the way our program is structured now is more in line with other cutting edge contemporary programs in the country.”

However, some students would rather commit to a specific track. Cal Mascardo, a film and photography concentrator, has appreciated focusing on the form of art they are most interested in instead of receiving a broad education. 

“[The new major] sort of limits you in terms of what you can focus on within your concentration and what counts as valid creative expression,” Mascardo, a McMurtry College sophomore, said. 

According to Canning and Bowdoin, up until fall 2018, the VADA major had never undergone an external review. Four expert professors with diverse backgrounds in theatre and art were brought in to inspect Rice’s VADA program and compare it with schools of similar caliber. 

After extensive evaluations, which included student exit surveys and interviews, they concluded that Rice’s program was too “siloed” and constricted, limiting students’ options to just one concentration. This differed from other universities’ art programs, which provided various options for students under one major. 

Additionally, theatre isn’t typically integrated into a general art department as it was at Rice. However, Zeisha Bennett, a VADA major with a concentration in Film and Photography, said she believes theatre connects to other art disciplines. 

“It felt random and a little unnecessary in a sense,” Bennett, a Baker College junior, said. “Visual and dramatic arts go hand-in-hand … I’m sure there were reasons at the time for them to make changes.”

Though theatre may be separated from this department, Canning said this new minor under the School of Humanities advocates for theatre to finally exist on its own. 

“Theatre having its own space and coherence also has potential to attract more students because it’s recognizably a theatre program, even if it’s a minor,” Canning said. 

This new minor also offers students the chance to explore other interests. Christina Keefe, a professor in the practice and a professional actor for more than two decades, said she has noticed her students have other pursuits along with theatre and feels like this change will give them a chance to explore those interests. 

“I see a lot of growth ... this frees people up to do the theatre minor and all the other things without being stressed,” Keefe said. 

Cece Gonzalez, a Baker College freshman, was disappointed when she learned Rice will no longer be offering a theatre major. Though undeclared, she decided to pursue English, largely because of her passion for theatre. 

“One thing that I’d really like to do with my English degree is bridge the gap between the English and literary world and the artistic and theatrical world … my English focus is still a theatrical one, so I was able to morph that dream of a theatre major into an English major and theatre minor,” Gonzalez said. 

These new changes, along with the building of Sarofim Hall, raised discussions on the future of the theater program. Since Canning became aware of the issues surrounding Hamman Hall and the underfunding of the theatre program, she said she has not stopped advocating for theatre to be “built up” through philanthropy. 

"I have not been informed of any concrete plans [to build a theatre],” Canning said. “[Theatre needs] not a black box they can use sometimes on a weekend, not a space that can be inhabited for a performance, but a place where teaching can actually be carried out 24/7, five days a week."

Sofia Pellegrini, a theater concentrator, believes theatre teaches important skills, such as empathy. Though disappointed theater will no longer be a major, she said she still has hope for the future of theatre at Rice.

“I think theatre will prevail at Rice,” Pellegrini, a Martel College senior, said. “I don’t think just because they’re not a major anymore doesn’t mean they’re going to slow down.”

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