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Hartnett Puts Students on World Stage to Appreciate Literary Lessons

October 26, 2016

Terence Hartnett Ireland

On Stage: Students had the opportunity during an Irish Drama Tour to act scenes on some of the world’s most historic theatrical stages, including the Ireland’s famous Gaiety School of Acting, which has produced such talent as current stars Colin Farrell and Olivia Wilde. (Photo courtesy of the Gaiety School of Acting)

If all the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare wrote, then assistant professor of English Terence Hartnett is using drama to give Rose-Hulman students new perspectives on the past, present, and, quite possibly, the future.

This past summer, Hartnett and fellow Humanities and Social Sciences colleague Julia Williams led nine students on a 12-day tour of Ireland for firsthand experiences of many topics studied in his spring-quarter Irish Drama course. They attended performances at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, which included a backstage tour, the Peacock Theatre, and Belfast’s Lyric Theatre—perhaps the most historically significant theaters in Ireland—and participated in a Samuel Beckett Master Acting Class at Ireland’s famous Gaiety School of Acting, the training ground for current actors Colin Farrell and Olivia Wilde.

Away from the stage, the students commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which began the final struggle of Irish independence, and learned much about Ireland’s turbulent political history while touring historic sites of Revolutionary Dublin.

“Since the stage is often a place where social issues and national problems are played out, studying drama is a productive way for students to learn about a culture,” says Hartnett. “Theater captures how a culture engages with a historical moment. We can’t witness history, but studying plays invites students to experience it through performance.”

That’s why he’s teaching a new African-American Drama course this fall that’s examining such plays as Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” William Wells Brown’s “The Escape” and August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” These plays reveal the history of social justice in America, including topics of race, slavery, civil rights, and voting rights. Later, the class will focus on contemporary playwright Dael Orlandersmith and her works “Yellowman” and possibly “Until the Flood,” a play about racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri that premiered this month.

Hartnett’s love for the dramatic arts runs deep. He directed his first production, a set of short plays by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, 20 years ago at an independent theater in Bloomington, Indiana. Then, as artistic director for Bloomington’s Detour Theatre Company for eight years, he directed such award-winning plays as Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” and David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” while earning his doctorate from Indiana University, with a specialty in drama, film, and performance theory. He also has experience in playwriting, set design, and producing.

So, it was a natural for Hartnett to lend his artistic talents as director of Rose-Hulman’s theatrical programs, including leading such spectacular Rose Drama Club productions as “Les Miserables,” “West Side Story,” and “Much Ado About Nothing” during the past three years.

“Our students are so talented, focused, and professional, whether they’re on stage, working on the technical crew, or playing in the orchestra,” Hartnett says before a rehearsal for this fall’s “Little Shop of Horrors” musical comedy. “It’s been a pure delight to work with these students in the wonderful Hatfield Hall Theater. I sometimes tell students that I hope that they find jobs they love as much as I love mine.”

With the goal of enhancing the arts education opportunities at Rose-Hulman, Hartnett is spending time this fall developing a Shakespeare acting course, which will be offered as a humanities elective next fall. He developed the institute’s new academic minor in theater and drama minor, and has added new courses covering modern European drama, American drama, Introduction to theater arts, and Greek and Roman drama to the academic curriculum.

“In addition to contributing to a student’s performing arts education, studying Shakespeare through acting greatly enhances an understanding and appreciation of the language, literature, methods, and history of the theatre. Hopefully, we’re helping a new generation to appreciate Shakespeare, Hansberry, Beckett, and other great playwrights,” Hartnett says.