Hope College is known for having a wide variety of majors. However, one that is not always talked about is the theater major. Riley Wilson (’21) did not initially set out to be a theater major but is thrilled he did. Initially, Wilson looked at small, Christian, liberal arts colleges and fell in love with Hope. “I originally only planned to be involved in the theater department as a non-major, but after spending only a few weeks being a part of the professional theatre world through my acting class taught by professor Jean Bahle and getting cast in “The Miser” my first semester, I declared as soon as I could,” Wilson said. His decision to pursue theater in college was not unexpected.
Wilson always loved being on stage. Since the 6th grade, Wilson has been performing on stage, both through school and community productions. “I knew that God had put a passion in my heart for telling stories on the stage,” Wilson said. Wilson’s favorite Bible verse, Hebrews 10:24 – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” – is his inspiration. “[I want to] change the world through live stories,” Wilson said. “Yes, theater is entertainment, but to me, theater is first and foremost an art.” This art is embraced many ways on campus, both through a theater major and with productions on campus. A typical theatrer major takes a wide variety of courses due to Hope’s liberal arts education. In addition to general requirements, the theater major itself has students partake in a wide range of classes. Some include Shakespeare, contemporary drama, costuming, musical theater, directing and playwriting. “I am truly blessed to be a part of the theater department at Hope, because I know I am getting the education I need to be able to work in multiple areas of the theater,” Wilson said. “The more versatile you are, the easier it is to find jobs. Being able to do multiple things makes you more marketable.” In addition to majoring or minoring in theater, Hope offers a variety of ways to stay involved on campus. Any student can take a theater class; in fact, it is one of the many options for a required art credit. Students can also work in a departmental work study job.
According to Wilson, some of the jobs include costume shop, scene shop, publicity, office assistant, stage management, follow spotlight and being on run crew for a show. Another way a student can get involved is by auditioning for a production. Students do not have to be majoring or minoring in theatre to be a part of one of Hope’s productions. Next month, Wilson will be starring in Hope’s production of the musical “Into The Woods,” directed by Rich Perez and Sherri Pilon. Rehearsals take place every weekday for most of the semester from 7 to 10 p.m. During each rehearsal, a different focus is covered, whether it be music-based or scene-based. “The rehearsal process is extensive and lasts the majority of the semester, but rehearsal is the best way to tell the best story we can tell,” Wilson said.
Being a theater major, Wilson is used to the hard work needed for shows. “While many people think theater is all about talent, the truth is that it is hard work,” Wilson said. Along with taking a 16 credit course load, Wilson averages 15 hours a week of rehearsals. Like any major, the hard work ultimately pays off. “My goal is to make a living as an actor, but I have other passions in the theater as well such as costume design and arts administration,” Wilson said. “I will go wherever God leads me after graduation, whether that is living in New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles, auditioning or working at a theater company designing shows.” While being a part of the theater community has many benefits, one stands out to Wilson. “I am passionate about this major for a variety of reasons, but my favorite part about majoring in theater at Hope is the community,” Wilson said. “My fellow majors in the department are also my closest friends, and we all hang out and grow as people together.”