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Teatro, danza, musica

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The night before Kenzie Wynne ’17 boarded the plane for her summer experience in Italy, she began plaguing herself with questions.

“What if it isn’t everything I imagined? What if I hate traveling? What if the movies really do set unrealistic expectations? What then?” she said.

After being catapulted out of her comfort zone into a new culture, Wynne said her summer of acting and creative writing classes in Tuscany was everything she imagined and more. “Traveling is great, and reality is far better than the movies,” she said.

Six Furman theatre arts majors—Caitlin Cain ’15, and sophomores Sal Donzella, Sam Nelson, Ellie Caterisano, Lauren Girouard, and Wynne—spent the summer in Tuscany as part of Accademia dell’ Arte’s four-week study away program.

Accademia dell’Arte, located in the city of Arezzo, Italy, is a vibrant community of performing artists, musicians, scholars, and students. Its study abroad programs for undergraduates in the performing arts and master’s degree program in physical theatre encourage individual expression and experimentation, according to founding director Dr. Scott McGehee.

The summer experience in Italy is one of many opportunities Furman theatre arts students have been able to enjoy as part of a three-year Duke Endowment grant, a new initiative to enhance and expand the University’s programs in music, art, and theatre. While students paid for their own tuition, endowment funds covered transportation costs, including airplane and train tickets.

The department has also been able to fund trips for more than 20 students to theatre conferences and bring nearly a dozen guest artists to campus for acting workshops, the world premiere of a play, and instruction in mask making, stage combat, sound, lighting, and costume design.

Theatre arts professor Maegan Azar spent two weeks participating in professional development at  Accademia dell’ Arte last summer before taking Furman students to Italy for the first time in July.

Students spent their first weekend in Florence, getting acclimated to Italy, before settling into the villa they would share with other young apprentices from across the United States. Sharing chores, including taking out garbage and cleaning the kitchen, was all part of living in the artist community.

Students were each able to take two courses during the four weeks, choosing from classes such as mask making, Commedia dell’ Arte, documentary film, drawing in Tuscany, and art history.italy7

“The Commedia class really opened me up to a different style of theatre,” said Sam Nelson. “It shared a style of acting that has been around for hundreds of years since its original development around the Italian renaissance. It plays a huge role in inspiring the development of many stock characters that we’ve seen throughout history and continue to see today.”

His film class took him on the road to put together a documentary that focused on World War II in the local area and offered a cultural perspective on history. “The class completely changed my ideas about film and inspired me to make more documentaries in the future,” Nelson said.

Wynne said she felt a bit like Amy March during her summer experience in Italy.

“There’s a quote from Little Women where Amy talks about her relationship with her sisters,” said Wynne. “We bare our souls and tell the most appalling secrets.”

After four weeks in a creative writing class with a professor and five other young authors from across the United States, Wynne found herself feeling quite comfortable.  “On the first day we all met as strangers, but by the end of the program, we were family,” she said. “It felt like home.”

Azar said she hopes to make summers in Italy an annual option for Furman students. The program offers a collaborative mentality that encourages students to take risks artistically, she said.

“We want to give students additional opportunities to add another tool to their tool kits,” she said.

For Nelson, his summer in Italy was an important part of his education. “I think that studying abroad is imperative to a liberal arts education and I really think Furman understands that,” he said. “It’s an incredible way to expand your perceptions on culture as well as the arts.”

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