If I've done theater and/or dance in high school, what do I need to know about applying to Amherst?
You should include an Arts Supplement with your application. It is helpful for the Office of Admissions to know if you have had experience in the arts, and it may distinguish you from other applicants. If you do apply, and plan on participating in theater and/or dance in college, you should be sure to complete the Arts Supplement portion of the Common Application.
Along with the Common Application Arts Supplement, please be sure to include:
- an additional copy of your Amherst Writing Supplement or other personal essay (see guidelines)
- a teacher recommendation
- a résumé summarizing your experience and a short statement of your interest in theater and/or dance
- optional but recommended: a video of acting, directing or dance (up to five minutes), or original artwork. Video of full-length pieces (monologues, dance pieces) is preferable to compilations of short clips. You should also be easily seen; videos of performance filmed from the back of a theater and usually not helpful to us.
We are especially interested in your exposure to theater and dance work outside of high school, such as in your community or through professional organizations and programs. On your résumé, please be sure to include a short statement about your particular interests in theater and dance.
Do first-year students get parts in shows?
Yes! New students get roles every year. Auditions are open to everyone, including first-year students with little or no prior experience.
Do you have a separate dance program?
Our department includes study and practice of both theater and dance, and performance work of all kinds. We offer courses in dance techniques, as well as courses in choreography, performance, physical theater, and video. We are also part of a larger dance community, Five College Dance, a consortium that combines and coordinates people and activities among Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts. In fact, Five College Dance is one of the largest dance programs in the country. Students have access to a wide variety of dance styles, teachers, peers, and performance experiences.
More information on dance
What kind of shows do you do?
Our rising senior majors plan our performance season based on their interests, so we do not have a set pattern of producing work in particular genres. Many of our seniors choose to create original plays, performances, and dance works, while others choose to work on material from the contemporary or classic repertoire. We round out our season with additional productions or dance events. Non-majors participate in all of our shows.
What about musical theater?
We do not specialize in musical theater. Nor do we do a musical every year. From time to time, the department will produce relatively small-scale musical theater that aligns with our current majors' interests. Extracurricular theater groups on campus produce musicals from time to time, as do the theater departments at other area colleges and UMass. Nevertheless, students interested primarily in a liberal arts education can study acting, directing, dance, and voice lessons (through the music department) if they wish to build musical theater performance skill. But if participating in a big, fully produced musical every year is essential to you, Amherst might not be the right place for you.
Do students do shows that are not part of your main season?
Yes! In addition to our main season, we make theater and dance pieces as part of our studio course work, and we need students to participate in those projects on an extracurricular basis. Also, students do their own extra-curricular projects outside of the department, especially at Marsh Arts House, a residence for arts-interested students, or with various extracurricular groups in both theater and dance.
All of the Five College theater and dance departments have open audition policies, and many of our students perform on other campuses. We also are part of the Five College Multicultural Theater Committee, which helps to support additional student projects, hosts a student playwriting festival, and brings in visiting artists.
Do I have to audition to be a major?
No. Many of our majors had no prior experience in theater or dance before coming to Amherst. Also, many of our majors are not primarily performers. Majors may develop interests in writing, design, video, choreography and direction, in addition to acting and/or dancing. All we ask of our prospective majors is willingness, desire, and hard work.
Can I manage a full course load and also do shows?
Yes, and plenty of students do. Doing a show is a big time commitment, but with smart planning, students do shows and keep their grades up, just like their friends who play sports. In fact, some of our majors are also on varsity athletic teams.
What about film?
The skills required to make live performance are important in film work, too, and a number of our students do video work, both stand-alone and incorporated into live performances. In addition to playwriting, acting, and directing, we offer courses in video production, lighting, and sound design. Amherst also has a Film and Media Studies program that offers courses in the history and theory of film and video, and in screenwriting and filmmaking. The Film and Media Studies program includes courses taught by faculty from Theater and Dance.
Can I "double" major?
Amherst has an open curriculum, and many students do double major in all kinds of combinations. As part of a liberal arts college, students here are active in more than one department, and often work across disciplines to explore their interests. To complement studies in theater and dance, our students take courses in dramatic literature, music, film, performance art, and performance studies offered by other departments. Most of our majors do, in fact, complete a second major. Recently we've had double-majors in Computer Science, English, Mathematics, Music, and Psychology.
Do you bring in guest artists?
Yes! We host nationally recognized guest artists nearly every year, sometimes to work with us on our season, and sometimes to give workshops or performances.
Does your faculty have professional experience?
All of our faculty are active in the field as professional artists. Many of us built significant non-academic, professional artistic careers before coming to Amherst.
How big is the department?
The department has full-time faculty, additional part-time faculty, and a full-time production staff. At any given time, we have about twenty-five majors, with five to ten in the senior class. Over three hundred students enroll in our courses each year.
What if I have more questions, or want to visit the Department of Theater and Dance?
We love interacting with prospective students! Please feel free to write our Department Coordinator if you plan on coming to campus or want to be connected with a faculty member.
Contact Academic Department Coordinator Ryan O'Donnell.