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Temple of Art

Kevin R. Free • Philadelphia • March 1, 2007

This Philadelphia school excels in training the designers and technicians of tomorrow.

Thinking outside the box is key for students at Temple University’s 40-year-old undergraduate theatre department. Though students do take courses in their major, be it design/technical, stage management or acting, they are required to round out their education with non-theatre courses as well. Is the school pushing its students to have contingency plans in case a life in the theatre doesn’t work out? On the contrary, the department strives to empower its students to make positive choices about arts-related careers.

The bachelor of arts degree begins with a series of “theatre core” courses, including a class for majors and non-majors called “Creativity: Basic.” The class offers instruction in artistic self-expression. Classes in the design/technical/stage management curricula run the gamut from “History of Costume and Architectural Décor II” and “Scene Painting” to “Creativity in Lighting” and “Stage Management I.” Students wishing to major in one of these areas need to meet with the design faculty to plan a course of study consistent and specific to their interests.

The actors and designers in both the BA and MFA programs are offered intensive work in university productions, all with an eye on relatedness to “creative communication and lifelong learning,” as put forth in the program’s mission statement. There is a thesis program wherein students produce a one-act play festival, doing everything from choosing the works, casting the works (often having to cast themselves), producing the plays, designing sets, lights, sound and costumes for the festival, and publicizing it. Professors act primarily as advisors for this program, sending students back to the drawing board several times in the process.

Speaking of productions, there are five on the mainstage in the 2006-2007 academic year, and the department chose a diverse list of plays: Ragtime, The Musical; Our Lady of 121st Street; The Importance of Being Earnest; The Devils; and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Patricia Allen, director of marketing for the theatre department, is proud of that diversity. “Temple is one of the most diverse schools in the country,” she notes, “and that shows up onstage. Because Temple is located in the heart of north Philadelphia, where many people of color live, the theatre department wants to represent the diversity of the community around them onstage. There is even a class in slam poetry being offered this year.”

Productions are staged in two theatres: the Tomlinson Theater, a 450-seat proscenium (which can be converted into a thrust) and the intimate Randall Theater, which is ideal for smaller productions. The Tomlinson Theater has a large fly system with an 80-foot grid, 24 counterweight line sets and a hydraulic orchestra pit. The Randall Theater has a dead hung pipe grid and flexible seating.

In addition to the two main theatres, the department has several rehearsal studios, a fully equipped scene shop, a thriving prop shop, a recording studio and a light lab where special effects and lighting research are performed.

Because students are encouraged to express themselves creatively, there are countless student productions, studio presentations and class performances (not to mention the One-Act Play Festival). It is the hope that theatre majors will be cast in these shows, and many of the theatre folks involved sign contracts — just like in the professional world. Further, many students work on productions outside of the theatre department at professional theatres in the area.

For many years, Temple’s MFA program has been a magnet for the finest theatre design and technical talent in the country. The theatre department offers specialized study in scene design, lighting design, costume design and costume construction. Admission is by portfolio review. Each MFA candidate can customize their own course of study, based on their particular interests, and finish it in three years, while they maintain their professional careers. Alumni have found work in some of the country’s top theatres, such as the Kennedy Center, the Mark Taper Forum, Circle-in-the- Square, the Guthrie Theater, New York Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Yale Repertory Theatre.

Though technically a school of the commonwealth, tuition ranges from $10,180 annually for in-state students to $18,224 for out-of-state students. The fees for graduate and part-time students vary according to the number of credit hours a student takes. Scholarships and financial aid are available. For more information about the theatre department, visit the school’s Web site at

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