Brandon Kruhm has more than a decade of experience in theatre education as a theatre camp director, teaching artist, and director. He joined Westridge in 2014 and assumed the role of director of theatre in 2017. At the end of his first year in this role, Kruhm sat down with us to share his thoughts and plans for the theatre department.
Why do you think theatre is important for students as part of a liberal arts curriculum?
With the school-wide conversation around social and emotional learning, the study of theatre is very relevant because it is the study of humanity and human interaction. I like to say that theatre classes aren’t about learning how to act, they’re about learning how to interact.
Theatre is also a space to develop soft skills like collaboration and critical thinking, in addition to leadership and communication skills. It’s a great place for students to express themselves and to generate art about what’s happening in their lives.
Your background in theatre education is significant, but Westridge is the first school where you have taught. What is different about teaching theatre within a traditional school program?
The most exciting part of being in a school is that I’m able to get to know a student over several years so I can tailor their experience to support their growth as an artist and as a person over time. The more I work with our students, the more I’m convinced that I truly learn as much from them as they learn from me.
Tell me about your first year as director of the theatre department. What did you change about the program and what did you learn from this new role?
It’s been exciting, challenging, and scary, but all in a good way! A big initiative this year has been giving the students more agency over what they want their theatre program to be. They’re Westridge girls, so you don’t have to ask twice to find out what they want! The biggest change has been getting the curriculum going for new classes that meet graduation requirements and nurturing a program that puts the focus on students as artists rather than on productions.
Editor’s Note: While Westridge has offered costume and tech theatre elective courses in the Upper School for some time, all other Upper School theatre has been extracurricular for decades. Beginning Fall 2018, students will be able to take acting classes to fulfill their arts graduation requirements. According to Kruhm, these classes will give teachers an opportunity to introduce students to a wider variety of theatrical material. “With a four-show production season we’re limited in terms of what kind of material we can introduce to the theatre community,” said Kruhm. “We want to expose students to diverse playwrights, styles, and historical periods, and now we’ll have the opportunity to do that.”
What are your goals for the theatre program going forward?
My overarching goal is to let the students lead the way in creating the theatre program that they want to be a part of. I want to give them the opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell the world. In the theatre department, we’re always talking about how important storytelling is because that’s where the real value of theatre is. It’s important to tackle bigger questions and to make statements with the work you’re doing, and I want our students to have a venue to have their voices heard.