Why I Studied Theater at a Liberal Arts College

As a theater teaching artist, I often explain to my colleagues why I am so happy I have a liberal arts education. When I began my college search process, I knew I wanted to attend a college with a rich art scene and robust theater major. In fact, I removed all colleges (perhaps a bit naively) from my list that only had a theater minor. In other words, a major driving force in my college application journey was studying and participating in theater. I planned to focus on playwriting and directing, believing that I would be an artist equipped with all sorts of random knowledge about the world, ready to take on New York City after I graduated.

Once I got to college, I immediately jumped into student theater and theater classes. I was amazed by the creativity, thoughtfulness, and artistry that I saw in older students and how their varied academic interests shaped their craft. And I was also pushed by my classmates who did not have a theater background but who could draw connections between class content and their knowledge of biology, philosophy, sociology, etc. I could follow threads of different disciplines weaving together to make me a deeper thinker and, in turn, a better artist. I became increasingly invested in exploring every academic interest and impulse I felt, and that often led me outside of the theater department.

And that is why I am glad I chose to study theater in liberal arts setting.

Being at liberal arts college meant that I had the flexibility to grow as my interests grew. I was never stuck studying one thing and was able to carry my love of theater into other academic disciplines. In fact, my initial passion for playwriting and directing transformed into a deep fascination with an academic study of the intersections of theater and American cultural life. I personally discovered that my interests lay outside of a career as a playwright and director, but I have many classmates who are bringing their liberal arts education with their artistry all over the world. My college experience allowed me to discover new ways to think about myself; it taught me to think about where my interests can overlap and to seek opportunities that challenge me to find new interests.

I personally would have been limited if I had pursued a BFA degree in a conservatory setting. Even though I assumed the theater department would be my artistic and academic home on campus, I had other interests coming into college. I loved history and English and Spanish in high school and wanted to have the option to double major. For some, a BFA (or any other arts specific degree) might be the right path. Students will certainly deepen their craft and be guided by mentors who are experts in their discipline and be surrounded by immensely talented peers who will push them to become a better artist. But I found this in my liberal arts college experience, and I am immensely grateful for depth and breadth of my education. I am better teaching artist because I studied outside of theater and bring an interdisciplinary lens into my work with young students.

-Betsy Zaubler