A truly amazing feat has been achieved by the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. For the fourth year in a row it has been ranked higher on the “Princeton Review’s” Best College Theater than Bard College, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College and Brown University.
Even though Drew has dropped from 1st to 2nd and now to 7th, it would seem Drew was still kicking butt and taking Tonys. This year, three of the most well-known theater programs took places higher than Drew: Yale University – alma mater of Meryl Streep and Wendy Wasserstein – Emerson College, which is home to the legendary Majestic Theater, and lastly SUNY Purchase, who’s Pepsi funding schooled Stanley Tucci and Wesley Snipes.
Why has Drew suddenly been toppled from its position on top of the podium? Is it because our productions have declined? Has our campus participation ceased? Is it funding, or lack of Tony award-winning graduates?
The “Princeton Review,” according to its website, has a comprehensive survey which probes students on their school’s academics, administration, campus life, their fellow students and themselves. Students are also asked to rank their questions from “Excellent to Awful” or “Extremely to Not at All.” This “Likert” methodology of The “Princeton Review’s” rankings seems reasonably credible and is used by countless other surveyors. However, the Best College Theater ranking is based on one question from this 80 question survey: “How do you rate your college’s theater productions?”
So the potential for error here is not large. No, not large at all. Too bad there aren’t thousands of prospective students reading their publications.
A school’s theater could lose their rank based on one or two bad seasons. Many things can affect a show such as swine flu, hurricanes, school closures or bad shrimp, and it’s not as if the “Princeton Review” can account for this in their rank. It’s not as if they average the school’s total rankings.
The “Princeton Review” aside, Drew’s theater certainly hasn’t declined in quality, nor has it declined in student participation. What is remarkable, and attractive, about the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, is that typically all of the designing, directing, acting and work in general is done by students.
Furthermore, despite misleading rumors, department productions are always open to anyone on campus willing to audition. This is not the case with Yale, Emerson or SUNY Purchase. On another note, their programs are also much larger and far more competitive. Drew remains a strong program that encourages – and requires – student involvement.
What is important to ask is whether this rank change might affect admissions. Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance Rosemary McLaughlin thinks it won’t. “I can’t predict it, but I’d say not really,” she said on the issue. “In the past 10 years, we’ve seen so much growth, and our reputation has grown through word of mouth through our graduates who are working in professional theater.
There aren’t many programs who allow for as much student initiative as we do.” The theater majors who graduate from Drew may not be Meryl Streep, but many do have jobs in theater. Certainly the system that McLaughlin’s department uses to involve students is appealing in and of itself. Not many other schools allow students to write “designer” or “director” or “playwright” on their résumé.
What of the quality of the productions? It is safe to say that the shows, despite the ranking, have only gotten better in the past four years. A skimming of The Acorn’s archives will show a gradual – very gradual – but gradual increase in positive reviews of Drew productions. While there will never be a perfect season or even the perfect show, it isn’t as if Drew is producing sub-par work – not by a long shot. Too bad our food isn’t as good as our theater.