Searching for the Arts at Villanova



Chelsea Woods

Take a walk around campus on a fair-weather day and simply observe. You will see signs of vibrant college life, from the obvious (gatherings at the Oreo, rallies in the Quad and tours traversing the school’s walkways) to the simplest hellos between friends. There is electricity in the life on this campus.

But at a school where the spirit of students and faculty is so tangibly reminiscent of the quintessential life of a college student, there is one element that is noticeably absent. With all the activities, all the academic majors and fields, all the involvement, it is hard to overlook the empty space amid the bustle that a large performing arts program should be filling.

Though not often publicized, this is an opinion held by more than a few students at Villanova. It seems that when people hear “Villanova,” they are more prone to associate with it words like “basketball” and “business school,” rather than a place for the arts. Villanova has worked hard to become an institution of fine education and community, as well as one that excels in athletics. However, many are beginning to acutely feel the need for something more, something that can no longer be sated by student organizations, Music Camp or performance spaces in St. Mary’s Hall.

Academically, the possibilities on campus for students who have a passion for theatre, music or dance are limited. Currently there is little-to-no opportunity for any sort of degree in those areas; only a theatre minor is available. Though there is life in Villanova’s student groups, there is a growing demand for more. The fine arts currently hold a backseat at Villanova, a university that is chiefly advertized as a liberal arts school.

The common notion is that there is not a high enough interest in the arts among the student population to have any sort of significant facility or program. However, examination of the involvement and enthusiasm in student vocal, theatre and dance groups and the fact that Music Camp saw its highest enrollment ever this year, this misnomer is quickly put to rest. The interest in performance is overwhelming. It could be, however, that interest in performing arts careers isn’t as high.

Ryan Kirchner, a freshman communication major and participant in the Villanova Student Theatre, elaborates. “I think there is a lot of passion here for the arts,” he says. “The difference is that kids don’t come here for that specific reason. They want to pursue careers in other areas, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a program of some sort.”

Kirchner, fresh from the lead role in VST’s recent run of “Noises Off,” is gearing up to begin rehearsals for this semester’s production of “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.” Passionate about theatre, he believes that there is enough interest in the arts on campus but that the base is simply not being built upon. Kirchner, like many others, feels there are not enough resources for students to express themselves.

Jimmy Yandoli, a sophomore English major and the director of “Noises Off,” shares the same sentiments. He talks about some of the difficulties of having a student theatre group with limited resources. The biggest issue? Space.

Currently, both the student theatre and student musical theatre groups perform and rehearse in a nursing lecture hall in St. Mary’s Hall, with a stage smaller than the standard proscenium many are used to.

“As the director, a concept for the set was very hard to come up with because of the size of the stage,” Yandoli says. ” ‘Noises Off’ demanded a second story in its set for some of the blocking. The height of the stage was much smaller than what is standard. Our lead [actor] was six-foot tall, so it was difficult to arrange a set that didn’t have his head in the lights. It was tough to manage this and make sure it didn’t look ridiculous.”

According to Yandoli, sharing the space with VSMT was also difficult. With two shows (“Fame” and “Noises Off”) rehearsing simultaneously, it was sometimes problematic to find practice time for each in the performance space. Both groups often ended up blocking and running scenes in vacant classrooms instead of on a proper stage.

The theatre groups are not the only ones with space issues. The vocal and instrumental groups as well have no formal rehearsal space.

Amber Brown, a freshman member of the SuperNovas, talks about the inadequate practice spaces for vocalists.

“In high school, we had an auditorium to perform and practice in,” she says. “Here, we once had to perform in a lecture hall of CEER. There were virtually no acoustics, and the lighting was very poor. We also sometimes have to rehearse in empty classrooms. It makes it hard to perform to the best of our abilities.”

The need for an actual facility for the groups is becoming increasingly immediate. Many students involved would also like to see faculty recruited for the purpose of instruction. While all seem to love the student-run groups, some feel that instructors with training in fields specific to drama and music should be hired in addition to some degree opportunities.

Elizabeth Foster, a junior transfer student from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, comments on what she would like to see in a future program at Villanova. Having come from a university heavily inundated in art education, she talks about the importance of movement and voice classes for students, as well as for warm-up, rehearsal and performance spaces.

“[At the Academy,] we had classes on acting, movement, theatre history, acting style, Shakespeare – basically everything,” she says. “We also had three theatres for performance.”

Currently cast as Margaret in VST’s “Cat,” she feels it is next to impossible to rehearse with the current resources. She would like to see an effort for a stronger program, hopefully sometime soon.

Yandoli feels the same. He says he believes there is enough interest to support such an effort. He points to the recent success of “Noises Off,” which had a significant surge in audience attendance.

“People liked coming; they liked laughing and the humor of the show,” Yandoli says. “Most importantly, they came back a second time, something which I think shows their growing interest in the arts here.”

Many like Yandoli believe the arts need a physical home on Campus – somewhere more accessible and spacious than St. Mary’s Hall. They also believe there should be integrated academic opportunities for those students who possess a passion for performance. Though there have been whispers of a plan already in the works, nothing has yet materialized. There is a growing group of people who are eager to perform and hope that they can see increased resources and facilities – and the sooner, the better.