Ramapo breathes new life into theater program

Sometimes, it can be difficult for students to break out of their chosen major and try something new, but the Ramapo theater program is ready to welcome everyone with open arms. Whether you are a theater major, minor or just someone interested in an extracurricular, you can easily join this community.

“Because we’re a liberal arts college, the theater program, in terms of acting and participating and working in the shop and all the technical work, is done by students from across campus, and it really is a place that we hope everyone on campus feels like they have access to, to participate and to come and see the shows,” said Professor and Convener of the theater major Peter Campbell.

While students are not only welcome to audition to perform or volunteer on the technical side, the program also invites students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds to join the Season Selection Advisory Committee (SSAC). The SSAC, now in its fifth year, began as a way to include and represent more of the broader community’s interests and voices in the theater’s show choices.

The Antipodes is a play set in a writers room that focused on the philosophy of stories. Photo courtesy of Mason Murphy, Flickr

Each spring, there is a call to the entire college for production suggestions, which are then reduced to a shortlist of 10 shows for theater students to select from.

The process has allowed easy changes when emergencies arise. Campbell offered the example that most recently occurred for the fall musical. When the professor set to direct the original selection was placed on leave, the program swiftly pivoted to another student-approved option, “Ride the Cyclone.”

“The good thing is that whatever decisions we end up making, we can justify through that process,” Campbell said. “We have a process where they see what we’re doing. It’s transparent and inclusive and is meant to… consider as many voices as possible.”

With the director spot open for “Ride the Cyclone,” it allowed bringing in active theater professionals. Dennis Whitehead Darling will be directing, with a musical director, choreographer and a slew of designers joining him.

“I can’t tell you how many people have ended up getting internships and jobs from a guest director who came and worked with somebody and then got them an audition somewhere,” Campbell said.

Junior theater major Reese Pasquarello reflected on his experience working with guest director Dara Malina on last year’s fall production, “The Antipodes.” “Working with Dara was an especially unique experience because she is currently working in the theater industry as a professional. Even in the way she ran rehearsals gave us a glimpse into the formatting and process of professional theater in the 21st century,” he said in an email.

While Campbell said that musicals use most of the program’s budget and resources for the semester, there has been a fortunate turn of events with the Play On Shakespeare series. The series has provided the funding for a staged reading of a “modern verse translation” of William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” written by Christina Anderson, this semester.

With Campbell as the new convener of the theater major this year, this is not the only exciting addition he has in store. He said he wants to continue developing the theater program to be more representative of the Ramapo community by centering diversity and inclusivity.

Not only does he hope to diversify the student body within the program and the kind of productions they put on, but he also wants to bring in more adjunct faculty and guest artists for students to work with. He started by bringing two new adjuncts to the team: Lester Mayers for Introduction to Acting and 2014 alum Samantha Simone for Acting for Film and TV.

According to Campbell, this year’s freshman class has brought in the most theater students since before COVID, so he imagines the program will only continue creating powerful work and cementing strong bonds among the students.

Junior theater major Sam Dibari agrees. “When I first came to Ramapo, I was unsure of my choice because it wasn’t originally my top school. However, this theater program has proven me wrong,” she said in an email. “I love being at Ramapo and having the chance to work with my best friends every day.”



Featured photo courtesy of Mason Murphy, Flickr