Theatre meets engineering at Penn State Berks

READING, Pa. — While majoring in engineering and minoring in theatre may seem like an odd combination at first, three Penn State Berks Engineering students with theatre minors find that it is opening doors for them in unexpected ways. They recently had the opportunity to expand their technical knowledge by participating in the 50th Annual Region 2 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) hosted by Indiana University of Pennsylvania in January.

Senior Andrew Bush, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and sophomore Ray “R.J.” Bonham, Scranton, Pennsylvania, both majoring in electro-mechanical engineering technology (EMET), along with first-year student Patryk Smith, Gap, Pennsylvania, a computer engineering major, attended festival design, technologies and management workshops covering such topics as lighting, sound, scenery, costumes and allied crafts.

The trio also was involved in the Penn State Berks productions of "Macbeth" and "The Pavilion" that were entered in this year’s KCACTF. Bush was nominated to participate in the Design, Management and Technology Design event for his sound design for "Macbeth."

Bush, Bonham and Smith all said they were inspired to become involved in theatre based on their high school experiences with sound and lighting. Bush, one of the college’s first engineering majors with a theatre minor, is also in charge of sound and lighting for Campus Life events at the college. He states that he is exploring full-time work with professional sound companies like Clair Brothers, Manheim, Pennsylvania, and Tait Towers, Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Twelve other Penn State Berks students attended this year’s festival.

Penn State Berks is the only Penn State campus that offers a bachelor of arts in theatre with concentrations in acting, design/tech, directing, management/administration, and theatre studies. Design/tech students can choose from lighting, sound, scenery, or costume design. The college produces four productions per academic year–two each semester–offering students a wide variety of experiences.

Jim Brown, Berks Theatre Program Coordinator, stated, “I would like for the engineering students to realize there is an opportunity to double major in engineering and theatre, or to minor in theatre, since there are many design and technical jobs in theatre, film, and television production for people with those skills.

“Engineering students bring a rigorous thought process to their tasks in the design areas and in the technological execution of the design,” Brown emphasized.

The KCACTF has annual conventions for its eight regions, including Region 2 that covers Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, western New York, northern Virginia, Ohio and West Virginia.

“Regional festivals have workshops and activities that specifically target acting, design, technology, playwriting, directing, dramaturgy, criticism, and other areas,” explained Brown. “Students from each area are able to participate in events led by highly qualified faculty and professionals and are exposed to teaching that either reinforces what they get at their own college or techniques that are not available to them.

“Students participating in the regional festivals should learn enough to come back to their home institution with a set of objectives that drive their course and practical theatre work for the next year,” said Brown.

Brown said his personal festival favorite this year was a set of workshops that led students through the process of creating a not-for-profit theatre company.

About the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival

Started in 1969, KCACTF is a national theatre program involving 18,000 students from about 600 colleges and universities. The program has served as a catalyst for improving the quality of college theatre in the United States. It has given more than 400,000 college theatre students the opportunity to have their work critiqued, improve their dramatic skills, and receive national recognition for excellence. More than 16 million theatregoers have attended some 10,000 festival productions nationwide.

About the Bachelor of Arts in Theatre

The bachelor of arts in theatre at Penn State Berks provides students with a solid foundation to become successful theatre artists and effective theatre educators. The degree program also trains students in the skills to become effective communicators and professional program managers.

For more information about the festival or the theatre program, contact Program Coordinator Jim Brown at 610-396-6419 or via email at JNB20@psu.edu.

Last Updated February 14, 2018