Theatre University of New Brunswick, or TUNB, is the main campus outlet for drama performances by the drama program at UNB. A subset of the English department, drama is a small and close-knit community with a lot of passion for their creative work.
As the de-facto theatre reporter for the Brunswickan last year, I found that I reviewed and wrote pieces for most of the other major theatre companies in town, and never once for TUNB. On top of that, I went to shows and noticed that the crowd was older, only with a few students flecked between retirees.
I wanted to know why so much of the student body is unaware or simply unwilling to see student theatre, exactly what non-attending students are missing out on, and how you can benefit from participating in the program and taking classes, seeing shows and performing in them.
Len Falkenstein, the director of drama at TUNB since 1999, says the lack of attendance is most likely because “the entertainment world has gotten busier and more fragmented.”
John Ball, English/drama professor and department chair for the drama program, says that he tries to “always plug the shows to my classes, encourage them to go, and give them a sense of what the show’s about.” He’s learned to lower his expectations over his years of teaching: “For plays in the past I’ve assumed that all of the students would go, but that’s set me up for disappointment.”
This isn’t only disappointing from an educator’s perspective, but as someone in the Fredericton theatre community Ball “wish[es] that students would support student theatre.” Given that Fredericton is situated in the mostly rural Maritimes, Ball believes it is a missed opportunity for students and would be “a great cultural experience.”
Alex Pannier, a senior student in the drama program, says that while the shows are very relevant to current pop culture, they’re also entertaining. “A lot of the shows that we do focus more or less on social and political issues, whether that’s something local to New Brunswick or part of the greater world politic. So, the plays are informative, tend to be pretty intense, but also a lot of fun to watch.”
It’s valuable in itself to support fellow UNB students that are acting in productions, but there’s also a whole technical component behind the scenes that goes unnoticed. TUNB’s technical director Mike Johnston and his team of student technicians are involved with everything that falls behind the draperies.
The technical and design components of theatre require a different skill set than acting on stage. Johnston acknowledges these “hard” and physical skills might not be what people immediately associate with theatre, but it serves as a great learning opportunity for students in the program. “The technical department might be more of a foreign environment for students, so I get to see students digging in to something that they’re really never tried before.”
Developing these unique skills is a lot of what theatre is about, and are widely applicable to other areas. “Skills like confidence in public speaking, and simple things like presentations or job interviews where you’re going to have to perform in life,” said Falkenstein.
Ball has experienced the development of skills from acting in his undergraduate days to currently being an instructor. He can see the benefit from character work: “Things like self-confidence and just taking on the challenge of inhabiting the skin of another person or telling a story in a live medium like theatre, and having an audience be entertained, moved, or impressed by that.”
Students like Alex Pannier see the benefit to participating in the theatre program, as it can set up students for the department’s summer employment position. She said you also get involved with the greater Fredericton community and have a more personal relationship with your professors because “you end up displaying parts of yourself to faculty that you would never end up showing other professors.”
Falkenstein says the feeling alone is worth getting involved in theatre. “Standing on stage in front of an audience and getting applause, there’s nothing that matches the thrill of that,” he said.