Cultures Crossing From Stage Left to Stage Right at Notre Dame

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The oft-quoted Shakespearean theme of the world as a stage continues to feel relevant and appropriate even in 2017. Theatre is glamour, and theatre is excitement.

In a world where people are constantly offering multiple presentations of self in digital platforms, highlighting their cultural backgrounds and interests, we may be even more drawn to the concept of life as a show because the idea allows us to make the mundane interesting.

Honoring Diverse Beliefs and Cultures

The DeBartolo Theatre at Notre Dame does not have to add to the existing hype when it comes to dramatization and fascination. The Department of Film, Television, and Theatre and the theatre itself have brought diverse performances to the forefront of the campus, which allows students, faculty, and community to indulge in cross-cultural displays of beauty. The center has commissioned dozens of original works, including nearly every genre. In fact, DeBartolo Theatre has put forth considerable efforts to emphasize the enlightenment that comes with being more sensitive to other cultures.

One example of their commitment to honoring multiple nations and diverse beliefs is explained on the theatre’s website when discussing the Browning Cinema—Emilio Estevez, Sterlin Harjo, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Notre Dame Emeritus Professor Jill Godmilow, and Notre Dame alumni Jian Yi, Greg Kohs and Gita Pullapilly have all come to campus to screen their films and speak with Browning Cinema audiences.

No Small Actors

DeBartolo Theatre seeks out plays and topics that touch on controversial—or at the very least, varied—points of views, encompassing identity positions such as race, gender, and ethnicity. Notre Dame’s director of theatre, Kevin Dreyer, explains the importance of these different perspectives being represented in the arts. Though there are many examples of the assorted cultures represented in any given season at the college’s theatre, some of the highlights include José Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park. Outside of the theatre, other forms of performing arts have also gone above and beyond to sample and promote crossglobal beauty. For example, Dreyer explained, “The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center has recently programmed Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Ensemble, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among many others.”

In addition to working to incorporate international perceptions and beliefs, DeBartolo Theatre also makes concerted efforts to include the surrounding community, as well as the students and faculty. Within the borders of Notre Dame’s campus, Dreyer states that many characters to be played in the upcoming Christ’s Passion: Medieval Mystery Plays will be graduate and undergraduate students on campus; when expanding beyond the university grounds for casting, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival frequently casts community actors in smaller roles. Additionally, their Presenting Series (a civic engagement that has the explicit goal of integrating professional artists and associates with the community) recently included performances by the professional dance company, Ronald K. Brown/ EVIDENCE, which allowed the full auditions, rehearsal, and performance experience for some community dancers alongside company professionals.

Mixed Media on Stage

The DeBartolo Theatre is unique in many ways. One of the more notable traits, as stated by Dreyer, is the fact it houses a multidisciplinary department that is fully committed to the arts, including everything from scholarship to production. This all-encompassing approach to performing arts allows the student actors to be more than just familiar with the multiple disciplines regarding their craft; instead, they have the potential to gain a true understanding of them. In conjunction with traditional scripted drama, Dreyer shares that other aspects of storytelling, such as film, are also revered, encouraged, and offered to their students— both onstage and backstage.

When the Curtain Rises

Considering all that DeBartolo Theatre has done for promoting the arts on campus, it is surprising to note that the venue is only twelve years old. Dreyer explains that the location of the theatre is not unintended; it was purposely placed on the furthest southern border of the campus grounds, which allows for simple access to patrons, actors, and students. Dreyer states that DeBartolo is a “welcoming gateway for both community and campus audiences.” Dreyer further explains that one of the potentially most critical and fundamentally beneficial developments for Notre Dame’s arts has been the construction of a new School of Architecture, as well as a new building for the Department of Music—all within direct proximity to the performing arts center.

Expanding beyond the boundaries of the curriculum, future plans also include relocation of the Snite Museum of Art; soon, it will be adjacent to Notre Dame’s sculpture park. “This literal foregrounding of the arts on the campus map should increase both attendance at performing and visual arts events and awareness of their value at Notre Dame,” according to Dreyer. These changes and expansions on campus are exciting for those who are seeking a full immersion in the performing and visual arts.

Crafting Well-Rounded, Empathetic Students

Notre Dame’s Department of Film, Television, and Theatre, which is housed within DeBartolo Theatre, is one that deserves notice and accolades. The easy access to the arts that is promoted on this campus is exciting; having an abundance of visual and performing arts—especially ones that are dedicated largely to widening one’s scope of reference to other cultures and points of view—is vital to creating well-rounded students, as well as community members. Furthermore, this emphasis on helping an audience view life and situations through another’s eyes promotes empathy and provides a liberal arts education with breadth and depth.

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About the Author
Cassidy Clevenger is a Samford University alum. After earning her BA in Psychology, she studied Gerontology at Georgia State. She now works for the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a Research Specialist in Nephrology and is pursuing freelance writing. She can be reached at cclevenger@uabmc.edu.