Setting the Stage for the Performing Academic

Setting the
For the performing academic

By Greg Livadas

RIT students have never had as many ways to pursue their love of performing arts than they do now. From scholarships, new clubs and classes, private music lessons, community partnerships, and exciting new venues being built on campus, performing arts for RIT students is literally becoming a show stopper.

RIT is well on its way to developing the leading performing arts program in the nation for non-majors, attracting talented and creative students who can continue their passions for music, dance, theater, and other performing arts.

RIT President David Munson has said the best students are students who are also involved in performing arts, which allow them to think creatively. It not only helps the students, but that experience gives them a leg up with prospective employers who seek the best, well-rounded candidates who can think creatively in a variety of situations.

This year, RIT welcomed a record 457 new students with a performing arts scholarship. That’s up from 366 scholarships awarded to new students in 2020, and 126 in 2019, the first year the scholarships were offered. The partial scholarships are renewable for up to five years, as long as the students stay involved in performing arts.

Disciplines listed for this year’s newest scholars are voice, strings, brass, musical theater, percussion, dance, woodwinds, acting, guitar, technical production, piano, jazz, video game composition, and commercial music.

They come from all of RIT’s colleges, with the majority from engineering and computer sciences.

David Hult, director of the Performing Arts Scholars Program, calls the scholarship recipients “talented, bright, highly motivated, self-starters, high achievers, disciplined, and academically gifted. They are truly an impressive group of students and want to leave space in their lives for the performing arts.”

For years, students have been able to take private music lessons at RIT. But now, they can also learn more about the music industry by taking a class called Tiger Records, which focuses on artist management, recording, production, and marketing.

RIT also has partnered with outside experts. Last summer, RIT and its National Technical Institute for the Deaf began a partnership with Garth Fagan Dance for a “cooperative-creation-connection.”

In its 50th year, Garth Fagan Dance is an internationally acclaimed contemporary American dance company based in downtown Rochester. Its founder, Garth Fagan, may be best known for his Tony and Olivier award-winning choreography for Disney’s The Lion King.

The opportunities for performing artists on campus will continue to grow with the addition of two new buildings.

The Student Hall for Exploration and Development (the SHED) is currently under construction, and set to open in the fall of 2023.The building will house a performing arts component that includes individual rehearsal spaces, a large dance instruction studio, and a music rehearsal studio. A black-box/glass-box theater seating 180 can be reconfigured to allow for, or block, light into the space.

And the first phase of a new performing arts complex is also planned to open in 2023. Its first phase is an 800-seat theater for musical productions, and will include a historic pipe organ. The second phase will include a 1,500-seat orchestra hall for larger audiences.

Meet some of the students who are thriving by combining their creative passions with their academic ambitions.

When I was little, acting and singing were just something I did. Since my major has me sitting behind a desk, acting keeps me moving around, meeting new people, and doing different things. I definitely see it as an escape, stretching your imagination, and putting yourself in somebody else's shoes with different feelings and instincts.

Robyn Pope

Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Major: Third-year applied statistics and actuarial science
Activities: Singing and acting with various productions

Robyn Pope singing into a microphone with mathematical symbols overlayed

Serena Rush dancing in a black dress with a rorschach test graphic behind her

When I grew up, I always loved the theater. My family is very strong in theater. We’d  see shows all the time, even RIT’s deaf theater, which has very visual, very powerful stories in sign language. Sign language is my first language. Acting gives me an escape from reality. It allows me to let go from who you are. You don’t have to worry about anything, just follow the script and enjoy your time on stage.

Serena Rush

Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.
Major: Second-year psychology
Activities: RIT Drama Club and various productions

Dance has always been a special way of communicating for me. It’s a language that allows me to share feelings and ideas that would otherwise go unsaid. I started doing little performances for my family when I was about 6 years old. Later, I would dance just about anywhere I could get an audience: school dances, talent shows, the cafeteria. RIT has been the first place I’ve had a community of people to dance with, and being able to share the art with others is one of my favorite aspects of dance.

RJ Pearsall

Hometown: Malone, N.Y.
Major: Third-year motion picture science
Activities: Vice president of Velocity: RIT's Urban Dance Crew

RJ Pearsall dancing with a hand in the air and knees bent

Andrew Dey playing the trumpet with a colorful glass background

I always loved the arts and wanted to express myself. Sometimes it’s just getting my emotions out there, not just being in front of a computer. With computer science, I spend a lot more of my time isolated in my room putting together my code and documentation and getting the program to run. I don’t get to interact with others. Sometimes I like to engage with others, and playing before an audience does that.

Andrew Dey

Hometown: Long Pond, Pa.
Major: First-year computer science
Activities: RIT Philharmonic Orchestra, RIT Concert Band, RIT Jazz Band

I’ve always been into math and science, but I really do enjoy the arts and playing instruments. It’s a nice way to get out of the math and science mindset and get into something a little bit more expressive and creative.

Emily Ruddel

Hometown: Warrington, Pa.
Major: Second-year chemistry
Activities: RIT Flute Ensemble, RIT Wind Quintet

Emily Ruddel playing the flute while wearing a white lab coat and goggles.

Eli anderson playing the violin in a machine shop

I grew up listening to folk music and developed a love for strings. It’s just something that is emotional. I think there’s a lot that can be expressed in music that is difficult to express otherwise. And being part of an orchestra is like being part of a team, especially when you know the others and have that same connection.

Eli Anderson

Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Major: Second-year mechanical engineering
Activities: RIT Philharmonic Orchestra

About the photographer

Clay Patrick McBride, a senior lecturer in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, College of Art and Design, joined RIT in the fall of 2014. He is widely recognized in the photo industry for his striking portraits of top athletes and musicians. His portraits of such celebrities as LeBron James, Kanye West, and Norah Jones have adorned the pages of Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated, and leading record companies.

Check out a behind-the-scenes video of McBride working with the students on this project.