Fine and performing arts professor Laura Standley knows firsthand what theatre students want from their education. Like MCLA students, she chose a small, liberal arts college to put herself on the road to fulfilling her dreams.
After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma, she earned her master's degree in acting from the University of California-Irvine. From there, Standley was off to New York City where she worked as an actress for 10 years before moving on to teach acting and direct shows at Stoney Brook University, and later at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Last fall, she joined MCLA.
"Theatre and the liberal arts setting is where I came from, and it's what I wanted to give back," Standley explained. "It feels very important to me, and right. I was attracted to this position because it allows me to be a generalist. It allows me to not have to focus on just one part of the theatrical experience. This way, I can teach in a broader way, and that is more appealing to me."
According to Standley, most students interested in theater are looking for experience. This means participating in a lot of plays, and right away. "The best way to learn theater is by doing it," she said.
To achieve this, in addition to the two yearly, more elaborate plays MCLA puts on, Standley is arranging for additional productions that are less expansive, shorter and with simpler sets.
Over the Fall Family Weekend, students will present a staged, concert version of "Three Penny Opera," without sets and with few costumes. Part of a new "Encore Series," students will put these productions together in a relatively short period of time.
"It gives them a different experience. It teaches them how to do a staged reading of a musical. This is something that happens a lot in New York City," Standley explained. "If people are trying to get a new musical produced, they'll typically shop it to producers this way. It's teaching students another thing that happens in the business, as well as giving them a chance to become familiar with an important piece of music theatre history."
Each fall, students will produce a musical, accompanied by an original score by those in the music department. Beginning this year, an advanced musical theatre class will be offered alongside the production. A directing class also will be added. In the spring, there will be a theatrical laboratory, which will result in another production.
Doing additional plays will allow Standley to accomplish another goal; to introduce theatre to the student body as a whole.
"A student arrives here as a freshman and they have four years. I want to introduce them to a broad experience of the world of theatrical canon. If I try to do that in only two shows a year, that's not going to give me as broad of an experience as I'm looking for."
MCLA students are "incredibly dedicated," Standley said. "I love their energy. I love their passion. I really have enjoyed working with them. Of all of the places and of all of the groups of students that I've taught, these are definitely the best that I have encountered."
While she acknowledges that it can be hard for students to have a new professor come in and do something different, MCLA students have been "so open and wonderful about really getting to know me and learning," Standley said. "I love the diversity of backgrounds that the students have here at MCLA. I think that's really great. And, they have a lot to offer."