OPINION: WSU should revive student theater program

Performing helps students make friends, gain public speaking skills, confidence



Student theater at WSU has continued through the STAGE program, which hosts many productions on campus. Bringing back the drama program would give students who already love theater a chance to expand upon and develop new skills.

JACOB HERSH, Evergreen columnist

The WSU theater program was unceremoniously scrapped in 2017 by the administration, part of a series of cuts intended to dig the school out of a $30 million deficit. 

A drama program that brought life and culture to campus, staffed by gifted and talented writers, performers and directors, was slashed from the budget, leaving WSU without a dedicated drama, dance or theater program. 

However, that doesn’t mean acting as a craft disappeared from WSU. Since then, dedicated and talented students, working with STAGE Student Theatre, have been working tirelessly to keep the passion for acting alive in Pullman. They stage one-act festivals, 24-hour playwriting competitions and perhaps most notably, improv acting shows with WSU’s resident Nuthouse improv comedy troupe. 

Given the marked student interest in theater and acting, and the lengths to which students and groups have gone to preserve and protect acting and drama, WSU needs to reevaluate its removal of the theater program and find room in the budget to bring it back. Hundreds of students around campus share this belief, including freshman genetics major Hannah Johnson, director of “12:27,” a student-written play performed in STAGE’s recent one-act festival.

“I think it’s a shame that WSU got rid of the drama program,” Johnson said. “It teaches you great public speaking skills … Being involved in theater has instilled a lot of confidence in me, and it helps me not only on stage, but as a person, and even academically.” 

On the audience side, theater performances offer an immersion into fine arts and culture, often in a low-stakes, accepting environment, like the WSU black box theater in Daggy Hall, which allows for more intimate and character-based showings. The smaller space and warmer atmosphere, combined with the actor’s proximity to the audience, lends the shows a richer, more personal feel. 

College theater also allows for students to hone their skills in front of a non-judgmental audience of their friends and peers, rather than a larger, more critical crowd. 

“One of the biggest parts of theater and acting is learning how to be human,” said WSU graduate Jared Braswell, former journalism and media production major, who wrote and acted in two plays for STAGE for last Saturday’s one-act festival. “When you do character work, you pay more attention to how other humans would do something, so in that sense, it’s really good in learning empathy … theater’s given me more knowledge and more skills to learn about myself, while I’m learning how to be someone else.” 

Acting teaches students public speaking and self-confidence, while directing teaches leadership skills and delegation. Backstage tech work teaches technical skills, which are constantly in high demand for television and film production companies. Most importantly, the composite parts and characteristics of a play, all of which function under student direction, teach students to work together to accomplish a complicated task (in this case, a performance.) 

“One of the cool things about STAGE Student Theatre right now is that all of the interest is so wide-ranging,” Braswell said. “We have students that come from so many different parts of the college. It’s really telling that there is a wide range of interest from a wide range of people, and a lot of different types of people can benefit from theater.” 

With that in mind, the idea that the theater program was a liberal arts money pit is far from the truth. It functioned (and continues to function) as a reminder that motivated college kids can put together legitimately entertaining performances, from comedy to drama, from one-acts to improv to musicals, and that they can do so on a limited budget in a small theater. 

The WSU administration needs to reexamine its priorities, and find room in the budget to bring back the theater program. A healthy, thriving fine arts community allows us to grow not only as a college, but as a community. A group of motivated STAGE student actors reinforces that lesson with every performance.