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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Solving the mystery of the missing theatre major

The Art and Theatre center located at Staller Center on campus. The theatre major at Stony Brook faded away in 2017 after department budget cuts. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

The once-popular theatre major at Stony Brook University disappeared in a nondramatic fashion. Although this change incited little fanfare, it affected students nonetheless.

In 2016, the theatre major at the University was thriving. Student productions at the Staller Center were frequent, and theatre course offerings were plentiful. Now, in 2023, only a theatre arts minor exists, and a handful of theatre professors remain.

When the University faced budget cuts in 2017, the humanities and arts departments took some of the larger hits. Student protests occurred but did not do much to sway the administration — then led by former University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. — from directing its focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. 

The Theatre Arts Department suffered the mightiest blow of them all: it stopped accepting new majors in 2017 and went from being its own department to being adopted by the English Department, cutting teaching positions and productions significantly. Students were largely unaware of the removal, as the last portion of students majoring in theatre graduated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like one of the points of a university is to have a diverse selection of studies and professions which elevate the campus community as a whole,” Christopher Matos, a theatre major who graduated from the University in 2018, said.

But not all the news is bad for theatre lovers. After all, the theatre arts minor remains, along with a sampling of theatre classes that specifically encourage STEM majors to enroll, such as THR 319, which delves into early years of AIDS and the arts’ response. Student productions also still occur, but not as often as when the major existed. 

There are two large student-run theatre groups that perform two productions per semester, in addition to a smaller student group that specializes in improvisation. The organizations are the Actors Conservatory, Pocket Theatre and the SomeBody’s Uncle Improv Group. These organizations continue to thrive as more than 100 total students participate in theatre on campus.

Alexa Grimley, a junior and the current president of Pocket Theatre is a linguistics major with a minor in theatre arts. Grimley is just one of many students who have expressed dissatisfaction with the limited involvement in theatre on campus.  

“I wanted to find somewhere that I could double major, and I ended up at Stony Brook, which I’m not unhappy with, but I would like there to be a bigger theatre scene,” Grimley said. “I wish we had a theatre major.” 

While she is interested in the technical behind-the-scenes parts of theatre, Grimley said that “there are people that are just interested in performing, and I don’t think that there’s a huge outlet for that on the academic side of things.”

Becoming involved with the Theatre Arts Department can have positive effects on students, even if they are not looking to perform or work behind-the-scenes as a career. 

“I definitely think theatre has real-world applications,” Grimley said. “Theatre is really where I learned my public speaking skills.” 

Grimley said that theatre can also serve as a great outlet for expressing emotion and even have scientific applications. Her passion for the performing arts extends beyond the stage, as she hopes to become a speech-language pathologist and help actors and singers struggling with vocal cord nodules.

Walking around the Center, there are an abundance of bulletin boards that read “Coming Attractions,” but their contents are empty. What was once a bustling hub of students exploring creativity and their self-expressions is now mostly deserted.

“Stony Brook’s Theatre [Arts] Department, in my opinion, was a hidden gem. Some of the professors were absolutely amazing mentors and teachers,” Matos recalled. “They masterfully taught their respective fields and guided students along their journey.”

Nick Mangano, the current director of the Theatre Arts minor, declined to comment on the situation.

Correction: This article previously listed Nick Mangano as the director and department chair of the Theatre Arts Department. The department chair of the Theatre Arts Department is Andrew Newman.

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