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New Concentration Was Years in the Making

Although implementation is just a series of approvals away, much has yet to be determined for Harvard’s first-ever dramatic arts concentration, those who have guided the proposal through years of fits and starts say.

A recommendation for the new concentration first came before University President Drew G. Faust in 2008, but was left without a source of funding to make it a reality. That changed on Monday when Faust publicly pledged $5 million to move a proposed “Theatre, Dance, and Media” concentration off her desk and into the the final stages of development.

In Dec. 2008, a report from the University’s Task Force on the Arts recommended the creation of a “dramatic arts” concentration, pointing to 45 students who declared special concentrations in theater since 1984. Between 2010 and 2014, six special concentration degrees have been awarded in related fields, according to the Committee on Special Concentrations’ website.

The timing of the recommendation was “terrible” as the financial crisis hit concurrently, according to English professor Martin Puchner, who formally proposed the “Theater, Dance, and Media” concentration.

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His proposal, he said, “[tries] to pick up where things had been left off.”

As the financial crisis receded, members of the Committee on Dramatic Arts, which currently oversees a secondary in dramatic arts, began developing the proposed concentration’s philosophy and preliminary logistics in 2011, immediately after Puchner was hired as the committee’s chair. In the process, members consulted with faculty from drama departments at Yale and Columbia, as well as students in the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club.

Puchner said that after this year-long process, he formally proposed the concentration, hand-delivering the proposal to Faust in the fall of 2012.

Since then, Puchner has been leading the charge to turn the proposal into reality; in an interview last Thursday, Faust called him the proposal’s “real engine” and “faculty leader.” With the proposal submitted, Puchner has spent significant time since 2010 trying to secure funding from donors, speaking with Harvard Campaign showrunners, as well as presenting to the Board of Overseers in Feb. 2013.

The governing body, Puchner said, was especially supportive of the inclusion of the “media” component of the concentration. He called this aspect “forward-looking,” and said that it accounts for the changing landscape of the arts.

Ceramic Studio Opening
Director of the Office for the Arts Jack Megan.

“The boundaries between theater, performance art, visualization art, and installation art are porous,” he said, adding that the loose definition of “media” could help to unite these artforms in a curricular setting.

Director of the Office for the Arts Jack Megan said that even without the financial crisis, he would have liked the project to have undergone a similar process to the one that has played out.

“A concentration like this doesn’t just get jump-started, it takes years of dialogue,” he said.

SETTING THE STAGE

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