As the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company settles in on campus, Beth Wynstra is settling into her new role as well. The visiting assistant professor of English was named the faculty director of the Sorenson Center for the Arts. Working closely with Commonwealth, Wynstra is charged with finding more ways the arts can aid learning in the classroom. “The arts are absolutely integral to the curriculum in classes across the board,” says Wynstra, who also is artistic director of The Empty Space Theater, or TEST.
Tell us more about your new role. I’m in constant contact with faculty all over campus to get a sense of what’s going on in their classrooms and how the arts can support them. They’re looking for activities to supplement the curriculum. It’s one thing to be discussing politics, but to be able to watch political events unfold in a film or a theater piece or a piece of visual art, that can only enhance the conversation in the classroom. Last year TEST did the musical Working, which is based on Studs Terkel’s book, so a class did their own ethnographic study, much like Studs Terkel’s, in conjunction with the show. They came to see the musical and were inspired by what they saw. It’s those kinds of ties that we’re looking to strengthen.
What is TEST? When I came to campus, I was so blown away by the talent I was finding. I wanted to start something that was a tie to what students were doing in the classroom and that was a place for faculty to share ideas of what they would like to see on stage. I co-founded it with professor Jon Dietrick. We’re committed to outreach work. For our recent production of Avenue Q, we took a sneak preview performance to North Hill, our next-door neighbor. We also did a reception with the LGBTQ community.
TEST looks to be the closest thing to a theater department that we can do at Babson. All of our productions are directed by Babson faculty or theater professionals. We work with professionals in lighting design, choreography, costume design. We’re giving students a glimpse of what a professional theater production is all about.
Some might be surprised by all the art at Babson. When I came here four years ago, I definitely had some preconceived notions about what a business college would be. Those have been shattered and continue to be shattered. The immense talent our students show on a daily basis proves they’re not only strong performers, but they can do—and really want to do—a number of things offstage, and perhaps want to make the creative arts their life’s work in some way.—John Crawford