The Rising Spotlight on Performance Arts
by Karina Le | published Nov. 4th, 2019
From Fringe Festival in the fall to Jazz Fest in the summer, Rochester is a hub of activity for performance arts. Visitors from all over come to our festivals to have a good time, but Rochester has a special place in its heart for performance arts. This can be seen in the theaters dotting each street corner, to our museums and music halls — there is something so valued in the arts that Rochester loves and celebrates. But what does it mean to celebrate the performance arts at a tech-focused school?
Performance Arts: Then and Now
One of the objectives RIT President David Munson wants to focus on is putting more of a limelight on performance arts. Munson's interest stems from his family, where practically everyone was invested in a STEM field and skilled in performance arts.
“I was just very accustomed to the fact that [because of my family] people that were interested in ... math and also science were often good at music,” said Munson. “It’s not a perfect correlation, but it was often.”
Munson also saw this trend when he was a dean at the University of Michigan. Through an inventory, he found that 70 percent of the engineering students were also musicians.
Regardless of Munson’s push for the performance arts, it’s been a staple in the clubs we have on campus. Whether it be organizations like RIT Players or Eight Beat Measure, performance arts have been active among the community years before Munson. However, students interested in the performance arts and those who actively participate in them have felt underrepresented in the past.
“There just wasn’t a lot of representation for the arts before,” Kelsie Fobare, a second year Biomedical Engineering major, said.
"There just wasn't a lot of representation for the arts before."
Fobare based this on her interactions with older students as the programming officer for RIT Players, a theater group on campus. Older students in RIT Players, such as fifth year Mechanical Engineering major Joseph Buck, noted that performance arts were more so underrepresented.
“The club [RIT Players] wasn’t as huge in my first semester compared to it now,” Buck said. “There’s definitely been a lot more excitement about the performance arts ... and the different possibilities [Munson] is bringing to the table.”
Some of the possibilities Munson brings are programs like Munson’s Challenge and the new Performance Arts Scholarship offered to incoming freshmen.
Challenge and Scholarship
One way Munson is advocating for the performance arts is through “Munson’s Challenge” — a contest in which all current students at RIT can showcase their talent on stage. So long as they’re not guided by faculty members, student groups are also encouraged to participate.
This challenge was introduced as a way for students to display their talents and express themselves in a more creative way that their majors may not allow.
Munson is also advocating through recruitment of artistic students. He is seeking students from high school who are involved with performance arts to continue this pursuit through the Performance Arts Scholarship.
“We’re sort of thinking of it like athlete scholarships," Munson said. "But instead of competing on the field, [students] are going to be enriching the performance arts activities throughout the institution."
The Performance Arts Scholarships this year were given to high school students who were interested in RIT and demonstrated skills in the arts. The administration allowed applicants to submit an audition to display their talents, and those accepted were given this particular scholarship.
To incite continued interest in the arts, accepted applicants have to be involved with performance arts throughout their time at RIT, whether from club involvement or through classes.
Though the increase of attention on performance arts has its perks, there are downsides to it that can be improved for future considerations.
One of the most emphasized possible improvements to Munson’s plans is the need for more performance space.
“Our club has been expanding so much in the past few years ... and now we have a lot more club members, but there’s just not enough space for that,” Fobare said.
One part of this struggle for space is that performance arts areas such as Ingle Auditorium are also shared with academic events, so it’s hard to not have conflicting schedules.
“Sometimes academic events take priority — which they should — but there are other places just as viable for them to host those events that aren’t viable for performing arts to host,” Buck said.
Munson, in addressing this issue, has been working on several projects to construct two large spaces dedicated specifically for performance arts. One of these buildings will connect the Wallace Library and Student Alumni Union, tentatively titled the “Innovator Maker Learner Complex.” It will have a black box theater and possibly a dance studio. Note that a black box theater doesn't have a traditional theater stage and is exponentially smaller than the Ingle Auditorium. This leads to a separate project RIT is still preparing for.
The other project will be the creation of a performance arts center. There is a plan for two theaters in this space, both of which would be larger than the existing theaters at Ingle and Panara.
At first glance, some might wonder how RIT will fund these projects. However, the Innovator Maker Complex has already been funded, and donors have a vested interest in seeing the rise of RIT's performance arts
The Meaning of Performance Arts
For performers, there is something special in being a part of a performance.
“More than doing it outside of my major, it’s my passion,” Buck said.
"More than doing it outside of my major, it’s my passion."
Performance arts can affect people in a way that sometimes just watching a movie or concert on screen can't create. For the people making these productions and overseeing it to its completion, a performance is so much more than just a one-off event. It’s an experience that can stay with you in a variety of ways, such as connecting with others.
“For me, personally, it’s a lot more for the community,” said Fobare. “In a show, you have to spend so much time with these people and you get to see so many different sides to them. You just get so close — it’s like a close-knit family.”