The north end of the Simplot/Micron Building is filled with students bustling about; some readjusting camera and sound, some moving props and one actor sitting in the corner memorizing his lines in preparation for filming of the Narrative TV Initiative.
“What we’re doing with the Narrative TV Initiative is a good example of different people who have different focuses and different interests—some of the people in casting or some in being cameraman—being brought together,” said Nolan Turner, second year fiction MFA student. “This is forcing us to be a lot more collaborative.”
Turner wrote the script for the Narrative TV Initiative, a collaboration between the Department of Communication, the fiction MFA and the Theatre Arts Department. The program is piloting the style of multidisciplinary work that will be pursued in the the new School of the Arts.
The School of the Arts is a proposed subunit of the College of Arts & Sciences that will be submitted to the State Board of Education in May for approval. The School of the Arts would house the visual arts, music, theatre arts, creative writing and film, and is planned to start in Fall 2017.
The University hopes to use the new school to foster collaboration between artistic disciplines. Several faculty members see the new school as the grounds to start several new Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) and Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) including an MFA in dramatic writing and a BFA in musical theatre, film, creative writing and art entrepreneurship.
According to Leslie Durham, the associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of the Arts is in its planning stages with few of its details worked out. Durham created the proposal with a “working team made up of representatives from each department, department chairs and a faculty members without an administrative post.”
“Creating the proposal for the School of the Arts is what I regard as the first step in recognizing what a full School of the Arts will be,” Durham said. “[The proposal] will help us create a frame but then I think we can settle on more programs, co-curricular activities and opportunities to connect to the community.”
Durham said the proposal is “creating the administrative structure to administer” the tentative programs. This, she said, is important because the majority of these programs will include interdisciplinary work.
“Research shows that people who have vibrant artistic careers are pulling from more than one artistic discipline and are able move across those disciplines so that is a good way to think of how to train young artists,” Durham said.
The Creative Writing and Theatre Department
According to Richard Klautsch, chair of the Theatre Arts Department, people started “thinking in a totally different way” after several faculty members in the Creative Writing MFA wanted to be more aligned with the other arts.
“People in the arts and sciences had thought about a school of arts for a long time as a way to be able to unify the arts, to make us closer, to dissolve the silos that exist between us and motivating us to make more interdisciplinary programs between the arts,” Klautsch said.
These conversations lead to the merging of the Creative Writing MFA with the Theatre Arts Department under the School of the Arts. Klautsch said the department will most likely be renamed the Creative Writing and Theatre Department.
“It made sense to us that we need to be training our students as artists in the 21th Century, not just theatre artists or writing students,” Klautsch said. “We felt there was such a need for that interdisciplinarity today because we realize we can’t just sit here and teach students about theatre anymore thinking that some of them will have a lifetime career in the theatre.”
According to Mitch Wieland, program director for the creative writing MFA, the merging of the two departments “seemed like a natural fit.”
“When we were looking for a good collaborative thing, theatre came to mind because they’re storytellers and we’re storytellers,” said Wieland. “And so they kind of speak the same language we do. What we really aspire to is coming up with a new department.”
According to Wieland, the new department is hoping to offer an undergraduate degree in poetry and fiction by Fall 2018. Wieland said the department should be well staffed enough to start the degrees and even consider adding a narrative arts track or a screenwriting track now that fiction writer Emily Ruskovich is a part of the staff.
Klautsch said that over the next two years the department plans to start an MFA in dramatic writing—which would be made up of playwriting and screenwriting classes—and a musical theatre BFA. Currently, Klautsch said the department has “pretty close” to enough professors to start both programs.
“The idea is MFA students in dramatic writing would both teach and serve as in-house permanent working artists to workshop with each of the writers everyday in a lab,” Klautsch said.
In order to do this, Klautsch said the department will need a larger performance space—preferably off campus—where they can practice their scripts and have fellow MFA students serve as actors during workshops.
JZ Marrero, a junior English and Theatre Arts double major, said she felt there was a lot of overlap between theatre arts and creative writing. Marrero, who has written both screenplays and fictional pieces, believes students will become better writers by taking courses in both.
“It makes you more versatile,” Marrero said. “When someone is looking for someone who can write something more stripped down and bare bones you have done screenwriting, you have done playwriting and then you just need dialogue.”
Adding Film to the mix
According to Wieland, the ideal department for theatre arts and creative writing would also house film.
“TV is in a renaissance right now,” Wieland said. “You could argue that some of the best writers and screenwriters have gone from film to television.”
Programs like The Narrative TV Initiative—a program where fiction MFA students are collaborating with students in the Communication Department and Theatre Arts Department to create a three episode TV series—will be the “cornerstone of this new department,” according to Wieland.
“Film tends to be a bit of a difficult discipline to place in academic institutions because it involves so many other forms of art, design and storytelling,” said Ryan Cannon, professor in the Department of Communication.
Cannon explained that this difficulty placing film is one of the reasons why the Narrative TV Initiative was started, to “see if we couldn’t marshal a number of the folks across campus whose work ties into narrative film and TV and do something together.”
The Cinema & Digital Media Certificate—offered by the Department of Communication—is, according to Cannon, essentially already an interdisciplinary curriculum that “taps into film courses across campus.”
Second year fiction MFA student Nolan Turner, who wrote the script for the Narrative TV Initiative, said working with film on a regular basis would give students interested in creative writing the skills to produce writing outside of literary fiction on a regular basis.
“TV is something I’m interested in at least and having a little bit more training than I’ve had now—if there was that focus it would be a little bit more cohesive,”Turner said. “There are more TV jobs out there than chances to write fiction.”
According to Klaustch, there could be some problematic aspects of including film in the School of the Arts.
“Right now Communication is a very large, very extensive department and it has areas, emphases, that crosses line between social sciences and the arts—even into the natural sciences and the certainly with the humanities,” Klautsch said. “So one of the big questions becomes: what is the best strategy to involve either just that film program or possibly film and media studies.”
Klautsch stated that the entirety of the Department of Communication wouldn’t “fit into a school of arts.” If film studies isn’t moved over to the School of the Arts, Klautsch worries that coordinating schedules, faculty workload, faculty policies and staff distribution will make it “a lot harder” to still ensure that collaboration between film and the School of the Arts takes place.
Cannon agreed that it would “make sense” to house film in the School of the Arts.
“We’re uniquely situated in the region to really thrive and build something special here,” Cannon said.