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Liberal Arts Core Curriculum

Any Conservatory student  taking in a snap shot of  the contemporary world of performance, its variety and wide range of historical, cultural, artistic and often scientific sources, will discover revivals and reinterpretations of ancient Greek and European classics?Euripides’ Bacchae, Shakespeare’s Macbeth; classics of modernism?Stravinsky & Balanchine’s Agon, Becket’s Endgame; works from the American tradition?Bernstein’s Candide, Copland & Graham’s Appalachian Spring, or Kushner’s Angels in America, side by side works drawn from global culture theater, music, and dance from far-flung traditions and alternative world-views). Fused with this varied repertoire, the student will discover works, like Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, that explore the moral role of science in culture, as well as postmodern works of theater, dance and music that experiment with juxtapositions of widely divergent traditions to cast a questioning eye not only on art, but on contemporary culture itself. 

The Conservatory’s Liberal Arts program offers performing arts students the academic skills they need to grasp the underlying historical, philosophical and scientific contexts and motivations that inspire and shape these works. Our Liberal Arts program systematically structures compass points and conceptual maps to orient students to the four general areas mentioned above. Our freshman year combines work in reading, writing and critical thinking with an American Studies curriculum that explores the underlying elements that create the uniqueness of an American voice or American idiom. The sophomore year examines the conflicting forces that produced the complex tensions and ambiguities of the western classic texts. The first half of the junior program analyzes the crucial movements and forces of modernism and post-modernism, while the second introduces students to the most up to date developments of neuroscience and its insights for rethinking relations of the body and mind, the emotions, and the sources of our artistic impulses. A central Liberal Arts elective offering adds further examination of colonialism and post-colonialism, historical and cultural movements which shape so much of the work considered most innovative and cutting-edge in the performing arts today. 

The goal of the Liberal Arts program at The Conservatory is the education of the literate artist: one who has verbal and compositional skills to communicate experience not only through performance, but also through oral and written discourse. The Liberal Arts and Performing Arts have natural points of convergence that our program strongly exploits. Performers are storytellers who play a crucial role in reenacting and revivifying the primal narratives of a culture. 

To effectively fulfill such a role, performers need a thoroughgoing knowledge of the central ‘stories’ of their own culture, as well as the ever more interconnected global culture. Performers need to be fluent not only in the classics of American and western literature, but also in the central cruxes and tensions of our historical, religious and philosophical traditions. Our courses focus on a multidisciplinary ‘cultural history’ that draws from history, literature and philosophy.

Story tellers also often play the role of cultural criticism. Obviously, not all cultural ‘stories’ or ‘myths’ are useful or socially productive, and artists have been in the forefront of confronting many false myths of race, class and gender. Thus, an added dimension of the performer’s role as storyteller must include the role of critical thinking and interpreter of culture. 

Our Liberal Arts program is built to teach performers to balance intellect with imagination, creativity and critical thinking. The nuts and bolts of this work include methods of research, sophisticated analytic reading skills and methods of debate and argumentation. In each phase of the curriculum, writing is taught as a mode of organizing and testing thought, as well as credibly advocating each student’s own unique ideas and beliefs. 

The Liberal Arts tradition in the west has strong links to the evolution of the performing arts through the concept of dialogue. The interplay between the ideas in Socratic dialogue and in Greek theater are two manifestations of the same intellectual and political impulse. Likewise, Stephen Greenblatt’s imaginative biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World, shows how the educational tradition of dialogue inspired Elizabethan drama. Our Liberal Arts classes depend on dialogue and debate to tap students’ performance skills and draw them into an engaged and embodied experience of some of the most relevant intellectual struggles in western culture. Through debates on the works of brilliant and controversial artists who worked at the cusp of cultural paradigm shifts, students experience history, literature, visual art and philosophy as contentious and open areas for making meaning and redefining values.    

A Liberal Arts education immerses students in other historical moments and other cultural worlds, and it stimulates them to reflect upon their own lives and cultures. This intellectual experience gives an awareness of the complexity and multiplicity of human possibilities of choice, belief and action. Such study highlights human invention in the face of conflicts and crises of individual and historic struggles. It empowers students to see their lives as a unified whole and to make informed and reasoned choices concerning goals and responsibilities. 

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