Smith offers theatre enthusiasts extraordinary opportunities both on and off the stage. The theatre program features some 35 courses in acting, directing, design, playwriting, literature, history and dramatic theory. The department presents an adventurous mix of plays from a variety of cultures, periods and genres on its two stages. Off stage, theatre faculty and staff sponsor guest workshops, lectures and presentations by top professional performers, playwrights, technicians and designers. And the Five College theatre program multiplies students’ options in coursework and practical experience.
The theatre department, which has between 30 and 40 majors, is part of the Five College Theatre Department consortium, which mounts numerous theatre productions each season, including musical theatre, opera, and a range of classic, contemporary and original works. The department season consists of four major productions, directed by faculty and students, including a festival of one-act plays; students also participate in writing, acting and directing for the New Play Reading Series. Majors and non-majors are welcome to audition for productions. Studios and laboratory performances initiated, produced and directed by students provide additional opportunities to act, direct, design and stage-manage shows.
Students learn from visiting innovators of the modern theatre such as playwrights Pearl Cleage, Michel Tremblay and Alice Tuan; designers Ralph Lee and Jane Musky; directors Max Stafford-Clark and Chuck Mike; and performers Ruth Malaczech, Deb Margolin, David Strathairn and Billie Whitelaw. Students frequently participate in workshops in acting, design, directing and writing for the theatre by world-renowned artists in these fields. The department also organizes field trips to New York City, where students attend a variety of plays and performances and meet performers, playwrights, directors, producers and stage managers active in the New York theatre scene.
Theatre faculty members have a variety of interests including Hispanic-American drama, the theatre of Shakespeare, Chekhov and Moliere, African-American and African-Caribbean drama, Israeli theatre, Jewish-American theatre, feminist theatre, theatre translation, Asian theatre, performance art, improvisation and collaborative creation. Courses include Theatre History and Culture, Acting, Directing, Writing for the Theatre, Set Design, Costume Design, and Lighting Design, and a rich array of courses in world drama, including American theatre, Black theatre, Jewish theatre, African and Caribbean theatre, Canadian theatre, as well as premodern and modern European theatre.
The department has specialists in costume design, computer-aided scenic and lighting design, sound design, voice, movement, stage management, technical theatre, and theatre publicity and promotion. Smith maintains an extensive historical costume collection of women's clothing from the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Collaboration: producing work—creating meaning—together, that we could not produce alone.
- Competence in one or more areas:
- Dramaturgy (History, Literature, Criticism)
- Design and Tech
- Performance (Acting & Directing)
- Describe, analyze, interpret and evaluate performative, visual and written texts.
- Contextualize and interpret diverse theatrical works, practices and traditions.
- Creative investigation: Engage intuitively, creatively and imaginatively in investigations and research across disciplines.
- Develop, articulate and defend informed choices and judgments. Write and speak clearly and conceptually about theatre.
- Apply discipline and process to enhance and increase students’ capacities.
Our curriculum reflects the global connections of theatre in the past and present. We offer courses at all levels and in both history/theory as well as performance. Recent courses have included a first-year seminar on contemporary theatre and film in China; Modern European Drama; Staging the Jew, an intensive study of selected plays and films from the U.S., Israel and the Jewish diasporas; Contemporary Canadian Drama; a colloquium on African and Caribbean Theatre; and Shamans, Shapeshifters and the Magic If, which uses an international range of plays including Caryl Churchill, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Bertolt Brecht, in an examination of theatre as a transformative experience beyond the mundane world.
Theatre Productions From All Over the World
We consider our productions to be the laboratories for our curriculum. We use them to explore in depth the texts and ideas discussed in our classes. Since so many of our classes include playwrights and performance techniques from all parts of the globe, it's not surprising that our plays are as diverse.
Here is a selection of a few productions staged at Smith recently.
- Top Girls, Caryl Churchill
- Marya, Isaac Babel
- After Mrs. Rochester, Polly Teale
- A Doll House, Ibsen
- Cinders, Januz Glowacki
- Dogeaters, Jessica Hagedorn
- A Bright Room Called Day, Tony Kushner
- The Golden Lotus, Wang Yansong
- Cuentos de Eva Luna, Ellen Kaplan, based on stories by Isabel Allende
Many theatre majors spend a semester or year studying on campuses all over the world, on programs approved for Smith College credit as well as programs that students have chosen for their special curriculum or location. Some programs have a strong curriculum focused on theatre. Others offer only a few related classes that might count for credit towards the major but offer a cultural experience that enriches that student's perspective on the field.
Opportunities range from Smith’s own junior year programs in Paris, Florence and Hamburg to the Smith Associated Kyoto Program in Japan, the University de Puebla in Mexico, the University of Otago in New Zealand, SIT Kenya, Rhodes University and the University of Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa and the British American Drama Academy in London.
All majors are encouraged to include courses in art and music in their programs as well as dramatic literature in any of the language departments.
Eleven semester courses, at least two of which must be at a 300-level, including
1. 198 and 199 Theatre History and Culture
2. Two courses from History/Literature, Criticism
3. 141 Acting I
4. One Design course: 100, 252, 253, 254
5. 344 Directing I or 261 Writing for Theatre
6. Four credits of 200 Theatre Production (these count as a single semester course)
7. Three Elective Courses: At least 8 credits of these must be beyond introductory level in Performance (acting or directing), Playwriting and/or Design.
Consult with your adviser regarding which study away credits, if any, can be applied to the major requirements. No more that 16 credits from study away can ever be applied to the major requirements.
Seperate from study away, no more than eight credits from outside the department (whether at another Smith department or at another of the Five Colleges) can be applied to the major requirements.
- Theatre 198 and 199 as the basis
- In addition one semester course approved by an adviser in each of the following divisions plus one 4-credit course of the student’s choice (including, as an option, 4 credits of 200 Theatre Production):
- History Literature, Criticism;
- Acting, Directing or Playwriting; and
- Design: 100, 252, 253, 254.
Director: Leonard Berkman
- 430d Thesis (8 credits)
- 431a Thesis (8 credits)
- 432d Thesis (12 credits)
- Production–linked proposals for the honors program must be submitted to the department in the semester preceding entrance into the honors program and no later than March 1 of the second semester of the junior year. Non–production–linked proposals must be submitted to the director of theatre honors no later than April 4. The department recommends that all prospective theatre honors students enter the program at the outset of the junior year.
- Fulfillment of the general requirements of the major. These should be taken as early as possible to allow for seminars and independent study in the department and in approved related departments during the junior and senior years.
- Completion of honors work will be:
- a thesis in literature, aesthetics, critical analyses or history of any of the theatre arts; or
- a creative project in acting, dance, design, direction, playwriting, choreography or stagecraft. Performance projects should be supplemented by production materials (logs, directors' notebooks, etc.) as requested by the department. All creative projects are to be supplemented as well by a research paper relating the project to its specific theatrical context (historical, thematic, stylistic or other).
- Work for a one–semester thesis or project paper must be done in the first semester of the senior year; and the thesis or component research paper is due on the first day of the second semester. Work for a two–semester thesis or project/paper must be done during the senior year, and the thesis or component research paper is due on April 15.
- Two examinations: a general examination in the theatre arts and an oral examination in the general field of the student's honors thesis or project/paper.
All Fall 2020 events are virtual.
Reading and Book Release: Master of Poisons
by Andrea Hairston
featuring Pearl Cleage and Sheree R. Thomas
Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m.
New Play Reading Series: Having the Greysons and Other Food for Thought
Written and directed by Marty Bongfeldt MFA ’21
Thursday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m.
New Play Reading Series: The Treacle of Life
Written by James Barry MFA
Thursday, November 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Daniel Kramer
Written, devised, and created by Smith students
Thursday, December 3 at 7:30 p.m.
See The Amplifier Project Here.
In Conversation Series
All conversations are open to Smith students, faculty, staff, and alums. Five college students, faculty, and staff may request a link as well. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information and event link.
All conversations begin at 7:00 p.m. and are hosted by Len Berkman and Emily Wiest.
Thursday, October 1: Kathleen Tolan
Thursday, October 8: David Henry Hwang
Tuesday, October 27: Lynn Nottage
Thursday, November 5: Sarah Ruhl
Tuesday, December 1: Charles Mee
All Spring 2021 events are virtual.
New Play Reading Series: Virtually Neurotic
Written by Emily Wiest
Thursday, February 25 at 7:30 p.m. Register here.
New Play Reading Series: Acting School
Written by Kathleen Tolan, directed by Cate Boram 'AC
Thursday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m. Register here.
New Play Reading Series: Shorts by Six
Written by Lyza Fennell, Georgia Fowler, Paola Michaela, Lyris Milera-Rivera, Diana Rodriguez, and Bridget Snyder.
Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. Register here.
New Play Reading Series: Cordova Bend
Written by Marty Bongfeldt MFA '21
Thursday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. Register here.
Shapes and Stanzas
By Ken Preuss
Directed by Madison VanDeurzen '22
Premiering May 11 at 7:30 p.m.
By Idris Goodwin
Directed by Cate Boram 'AC
May 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m.
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Fiona King '22
May 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Theatre in Performance
Smith’s theatre department presents an adventurous mix of plays from a variety of cultures, periods and genres. Opportunities are plentiful for students—majors and non-majors—to audition for and participate in productions at Smith and at the other four colleges.
Emily Justice Dunn
Costume Shop Supervisor
Publicity Manager for the Performing Arts
Theatre 14, Smith’s main stage, with seating for 450, has a proscenium stage served by large fly and wing spaces and a hydraulic lift.
Theatre 14, with seating for 450, has a proscenium stage served by large fly and wing spaces and a hydraulic lift.
Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre, a versatile “black box” theatre with flexible seating, gives directors and performers freedom in set and production design.
Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre is named for Hallie Flanagan Davis, director of theatre at Smith from 1942 to 1955 and famed for her innovations in dramatic production.
Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts houses dance studios, faculty offices, classrooms, lighting and set design labs, and the Werner Josten Performing Arts Library.
Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts was designed in 1961 by architect Helge Westermann, who at the time had just completed work on the Juilliard School of Music at Lincoln Center.
Mendenhall Center has a fully equipped scene shop with a paint frame elevator. The building also houses lighting, sound and set design labs and a computer design studio.
The costume staff and shop in Mendenhall Center support the theatre and dance departments. Smith is home to a museum-quality collection of women’s clothing and accessories from 1800 to the present.
Werner Josten Performing Arts Library is home to an extensive collection of texts, scripts, scores and recordings. Listening rooms and stations are available for student use.
The MFA in Playwriting
The Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting program, offered by the Department of Theatre, is a unique opportunity for writers to work collaboratively with designers, performers, directors and other writers.