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Bethel College students travel to Chicago for interterm theater experience

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Student perspective: drama in the Windy City By Julie Miller

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- "Learning outside the classroom" is one of the hallmarks of interterm at Bethel College. "Studies in Drama" was one of several such courses offered this January. It gave students the chance to combine travel with traditional classroom experience. The primary objective of the course, led by associate professor of English Ami Regier, was to expose students to dramatic works and theories spanning classical to contemporary periods.

The class, which ran Jan. 3-27 and included a field trip to Chicago, encouraged students to critically examine how the subject matter of plays, even ancient ones, might help us understand the diversity of the culture and attitudes that surround us today. The plays we studied addressed topics such as conflict within family units, cultural differences, racism, sexual harassment, poverty and social structure--among many others.

Before heading off to Chicago for five days, we spent the first 2½ weeks of interterm reading and discussing dramatic works, from Aeschylus’ "Agamemnon" to more contemporary drama, such as Paula Vogel’s "How I Learned to Drive," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997.

Class work exposed us to different theories of theater from Aristotle, Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud and Arthur Miller. One of the main questions posed by these theories was on the purpose of theater. While the general consensus was that all theater should entertain, there was a difference of opinion as to what constitutes entertainment.

Aristotle might claim that the viewer should leave the theater having gone through a kind of catharsis. Brecht and Artaud, on the other hand, might argue that the purpose of theater is to change society, to make us look at issues that are not always comfortable to face or speak about.

When you leave the theater, perhaps you should not feel comforted but rather thoughtful about the issues just presented. For many in the class, this was a new way of thinking about theater.

There was learning outside the classroom as well. During the wee hours of the morning on January 20, the class boarded the train that would take us from Newton to Chicago. Once there, our group checked into the hostel that would be home for the next five days.

During our stay in Chicago, we attended the annual Young Playwrights Festival, saw a one-man show and went to several plays, including "I Am My Own Wife," "Solo Latinas," "Shoes" and "From Tel Aviv to Ramallah." Each play dealt with challenging social issues in unique ways, exposing us not only to cross-cultural issues but also to new realms of theater.

The focus of the trip was not only theater. We were also confronted with cross-cultural issues that we’re usually not exposed to in our everyday lives.

For instance, our class attended a Saturday morning Rainbow/ PUSH Coalition political rally where we heard Rev. Jesse Jackson speak about important issues in the Chicago community. We also went to Pilsen, a predominantly Hispanic Chicago neighborhood, and visited Jose Guerrero at his print shop. He told us about issues facing minority cultures today, and then took us on a walking tour to see a few of the community’s many murals that depict area traditions and culture.

After returning to Newton, once again in the early hours of the morning, our class spent the next few days typing up journals and reviews of the theater performances we attended in Chicago, writing interpretive essays about plays we had read and reading scripts written by several classmates.

"Studies in Drama" offered exposure to new ideas, theories and cultures. More than that, however, the course allowed students to get to know each other in a way not possible during the course of everyday college life. We made new friends and strengthened old friendships. From stimulating class periods to early-morning train rides to a bustling metropolis, it’s fair to say that everyone was sad to see it end.

Julie Miller is a senior art major from Inman.

Other students who participated in the course were seniors Lindsey Bannon, Douglass; J.J. Birky, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Shelley Gruenbacher, Colwich; and Jill E. Rundquist, Leonardville; juniors Adrian Cadena, San Antonio, Texas; Jeremy Duerksen, Perkasie, Pa.; Allison Graber, Newton; Adrianna Stucky, Moundridge; and Mariah Thompson, Newton; sophomores Amy Castle, Gardner; Russell Cole, Arkansas City; Chelsea Hahn, North Newton; Heidi Johnson, Topeka; and Caitlin Welch, Lawrence; and freshmen Caitlin Buerge, Kansas City, Mo.; Bethany McElhiney, Wichita; and Bill Pruett, Holton.

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