Taking English courses from the classroom to the stage

English practicums with the Saint John Theatre Company give students the chance to put their skills into practice

The University of New Brunswick offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the city’s biggest theatrical productions – all while earning academic credit.

Through the English department, UNB Saint John gives students the opportunity to work with a local theatre company. With the Saint John Theatre Company they learn the ropes of stage production and discover the magic of making words come alive.

The university offers two chances to work with the theatre company: through practicums during productions and during a performance class, where students can use the company’s headquarters as a learning space.

Elizabeth Morrison, a UNB Saint John nursing student, joined the performance course to study with her sister. What she discovered was eye-opening.

“I learned more about Shakespeare from that course than any other courses I’ve taken,” she said. “When you read it in high school, you just read it. You don’t imagine the play performed on stage in front of you. That changes everything.”

Partnership with local theatre company leads to hands-on learning

UNB Saint John and the Saint John Theatre Company became partners through Sandra Bell, an English professor who sits on the theatre’s board.

“They were quite willing to make that connection and have us in their performance space,” Bell said. “We’re lucky to host courses there.”

The first course, which focuses on drama production, allows up to three students per term to work on a large-scale theatre production with the company. Those students work backstage, taking on various roles and using the theatre as their classroom.

Script into Performance, the second course offered in conjunction with the theatre company, allows students to bring plays to life. The class, studies drama and performs Shakespearean scenes for local high school classes. The course ends its term with a public production.

David Creelman, chair of the department of humanities and languages at UNB Saint John, said the partnership with the Saint John Theatre Company allows students to put their skills to the test.

“Practical experience gives students the chance to put their communication, writing, and technical skills they’ve been developing at UNB Saint John into practice,” Creelman said.

“They get to practice what they’re doing well and figure out where they need to sharpen their skills.”

Bringing imagination back into the classroom

The theatre course had a profound effect on Morrison, even changing the way she reads.

“I started to see things are more than written words. I had to think about the characters as people. That carried over into other courses.”

As a nursing student, Ms. Morrison often deals with medical statistics. She said applying her skills from the theatre helps her to imagine the stats as more than just numbers.

“It changes your perspective. You really see more and learn to be more confident in yourself.”

Bell described the courses as transformative for students, noting the need for an open mind.

“The theatre is not a place where you hide; it’s a place where you perform. Our students get comfortable with that very quickly.”

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