Theatre and Musical Theatre Students in a Department: What’s The Relationship?

Photo: Ros Kavanagh/Ithaca College

Photo: Ros Kavanagh/Ithaca College

  • Nikki Scamuffo

As a musical theatre student in a competitive performing arts program, I have witnessed the dynamics between the different majors. Particularly, I have seen how the theatre and musical theatre students navigate the program, and how it can often be different from each other. These students will often stick together by major, even to the point of joining different student theatre clubs where students could usually mingle and exchange experiences. Therefore, this makes the circles rather closed off to each other.

In my department of performing arts, it’s typical for theatre and musical theatre majors to share many of the same classes. However, this does not mend the disconnect between the two. Often, theatre majors will stick with theatre majors, and musical theatre majors will stick with musical theatre majors. This is not completely on purpose either; it’s just how many departments work. Theatre majors need to take classes that musical theatre majors do not have to take, and vice versa. During these classes, students often find special bonds with others in their specific majors, therefore creating friendships that don’t necessarily span to the other majors in the program. 

In addition to classes, theatre and musical theatre students are, of course, often cast in different department shows. Though the two majors intermingle in some shows, at least in my program, usually the theatre majors will be cast in straight or classical theatrical productions, and musical theatre majors will be cast in the musicals. This makes sense, of course, since they specialize in different types of theatre based on their majors. However, this increases the disconnect within the department and creates exclusivity among the majors. Also, the students within the different majors will miss out on training that would make them better and more versatile actors.

Finally, this separation of students by major often carries into activities where it’s not necessary, like student theatre clubs. Theatre students will gravitate to one club, and musical theatre students will gravitate to another, even though these clubs are open to all students regardless of major. This occurs because of the disconnect between the two majors in the department. The two majors become comfortable with their exclusivity, therefore keeping the two separate even when they don’t have to be.

Overall, I feel that this separation between theatre and musical theatre majors should be mended. In essence, the two majors are studying the same thing, just with different styles and emphases. This can start at the department level, where theatre and musical theatre can be treated more as one group, as opposed to two separate entities. This can also occur among the students in the two majors. Club leaders can express the need for all forms of talent and training for their shows, regardless of genre.

If theatre and musical theatre majors were in the same circle, both groups would learn so much more about the art of theatre in all of its aspects. To truly have a broad education in theatre and musical theatre, both need to be experimented with by the theatre artist.