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Conservatories and Student Orgs

Emily Anne Gibson interviews Jackie Mishol, a dramaturg in the School of Drama, and participant in student organization, Scotch 'n' Soda. logo

"We're all just playing our own game. I don't see it as a rivalry. We're just trying to play our best." -- Michelle Wei

There are a ton of reasons that people do theater. But a love of drama doesn't always lead to a BFA. Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama is a serious and demanding conservatory, and those who live within its walls seek to better their craft, to learn professionalism, and to be prepared for the world of theater and film. Not every theater-lover wants that, though. That's why I think student organizations are so crucial. At CMU, the student organization for theater is Scotch 'n' Soda. I interviewed freshman Jackie Mishol, who is both a performer with Scotch 'n' Soda as well as a dramaturg in the School of Drama. Jackie has done professional performance work as an actor and dancer before coming to Carnegie Mellon. She has some insight into the key differences between her experience in the School of Drama and in Scotch 'n' Soda.

EMILY ANNE GIBSON: So you came to Carnegie Mellon as a student in the School of Drama. What made you decide to do Scotch 'n' Soda? JACKIE MISHOL: I really love performance. That's the root of it. In the School of Drama, I focus on my concentration. Scotch 'n' Soda gives me the opportunity to incorporate performance into my education. The best dramaturgs are ones that dabble in all realms of the theater.

EAG: Are the people who do Scotch 'n' Soda different than the people in the School of Drama? Do the ways they approach their theater-work differ? JM: I'd say there are differences in approach. And that's valuable. One of the most important things about theater is being flexible. Working with different methods allows you to develop a varied set of tools. Both groups of people are passionate, so that makes working with them a great experience. But the refreshing thing is that they bring different backgrounds and perspectives to the table. In the School of Drama, there's a lot more focus on method and technique, and people are trained together. Working with a student-run organization, you have a number of people from different theatrical and academic backgrounds that influence their work.

EAG: And rehearsals? JM: Rehearsal approaches, of course, are different, because of the restraints. The School of Drama works similarly to an equity company, and it runs on the same consistent schedule. It's every day, 6:30 to 10:30. When you're a drama major, that's your focus. A student-org has to work around all the other activities of its members. Scotch 'n' Soda is much less predictable. You can't major in Scotch 'n' Soda, so the schedule has to be flexible. For example, I'm working on Drowsy Chaperone right now, and I don't know when I'm going to be called next week. I could be called Monday and Tuesday, and that's it. I could be called the whole week. I don't know.

EAG: If you had to give your idea of the mission of these two "companies," what would you say? JM: The School of Drama has a duty to develop professionals. They raise you as an artist, from the beginning, in an environment that focuses on professionalism and honing of craft. Scotch 'n' Soda and other student theater organizations are less worried about developing a professional skill set. They want to create an immediate outlet for creative expression. So being able to combine the two is really neat because I focus on long term (getting a job in the business), but I also get to branch out [from the School of Drama community]. People think that the School of Drama is about getting a job and Scotch 'n' Soda is about having fun, but there's more to it than that. Scotch 'n' Soda exposes you to people who aren't just theater-people, and that's an important perspective. It forces you to be conscious of all of the other people out there in the world. Theater-people are just one group, and the conservatory method - the way it works - you're forced to be with each other all the time. And that makes sense with the demands of the program, but branching out makes you remember how many threads of the human story there are. It shows you how different people, not just those who were trained with the conservatory methods you know, tell the same story.


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