A performer onstage reaches out and grasps a ribbon suspended from the ceiling.

New Minors For Fall Semester: Choreography, Dance Performance, Devised Theatre, Graphic Design, Music Technology, Studio Art

Six new minors have been added to the growing repertoire of Texas A&M University’s School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts as it approaches its second year.

Choreography, dance performance, devised theatre, graphic design, music technology and studio art will make their debuts in the fall semester. They join the established minors game design and development and performance studies, and the newly renamed film and media studies minor.

Here’s a look at each of the six new minors.

Dancer kicks leg up with maroon skirt flowing behind her
Photo by Igor Kraguljac Photography.


Creation and motion are the focus of this new minor. It will benefit dance majors and students who will work in theater or with other events, said Carisa Armstrong, dance program director and associate professor.

“A director often has to move people through space,” she said. “It could be someone who is interested in working with the community in a broader perspective, putting together large productions that bring community members together. It’s going to teach those people the tools that are necessary to move bodies through space.”

Three levels of choreography will be taught, starting with Choreographic Principles. This covers the basic concepts and how to implement them to create phrases, and then how to build those phrases into larger works.

Next is Group Choreography, which focuses on moving groups of people through space “in an interesting way — creating interweavings of patterns of people,” Armstrong said.

The third level is Concert Choreography and Production, which ends with a capstone project in which students produce and choreograph their own concert.

“They’re responsible for everything,” Armstrong said. “Creation, casting, rehearsal and all of the production elements as well.”

The Dance Production course is essential for dancers and choreographers because dance is “a very poorly funded art form,” Armstrong said. Many dance educators from kindergarten through high school must be responsible for all elements of production, and this course will provide the background and hands-on skills needed, she said.

Performance and Editing Documentation will instruct students how to capture performances on film, and also explore the promotional side of dance. Students will learn how to create materials to draw attention to their performances, Armstrong said, and learn how these materials can be used to apply for grants.

Musicality and Movement for Performers will help students learn to create with a sound score, whether it’s traditional or more abstract.

Though choreography has always been a part of the dance program, Armstrong said she is excited about the new minor and the additional classes.

“Now, instead of it being embedded in the degree, it allows students to really focus in with this minor,” she said. “Those students who are really passionate about choreography can add it. We are going to encourage our education-based students to take this minor because many of them will be choreographing as part of their jobs. The more success you can have with that choreography, the better your program looks. We feel it’s an essential tool for them and their career path.”

Two dancers reach out while standing on one foot
Photo by Igor Kraguljac Photography.

Dance Performance

This minor will not only benefit students pursuing a career in dance, but also those who enjoy the art form and want to continue exploring it through their undergraduate career, Armstrong said.

“We have some non-majors who are just really interested in continuing to dance,” she said. “For someone who is a dance major, it gives them the ability to have a focus in performance. It allows them to take more technique classes and refine their skills.”

The minor has four required courses and five elective options. These include interdisciplinary opportunities that the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts emphasizes, such as the Performance in Virtual and Augmented Realities course. As the school was developed, there was a focus on the intersection of the arts, science and technology, Armstrong said.

“Many performers are moving into this virtual and augmented reality but don’t have the necessary training in how to do that,” she said. “All of our dance training focuses heavily on stage performance or site-specific-type performance. This is going to open up a digital-type performance, the quality and skill set that’s necessary to work in those particular realms.”

A Conditioning for Dancers course will help students understand how to take care of their bodies and teach the necessary exercises to “maximize their performance and minimize injury,” Armstrong said.

Musicality and Movement for Performers aims to take a deeper look at how the two work together. Armstrong said many dancers don’t have a music background or have never worked with a live accompanist or composer.

“We’ll be teaching them what a meter is, teaching them about the values of different notes and how that impacts movement,” she said. “It will also probably have a portion that is directed toward working with a composer or an accompanist, and how you have those conversations when you’re from two different disciplines and basically speak two different languages.”

A performer onstage reaches out and grasps a ribbon suspended from the ceiling.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Grace Parker.

Devised Theatre

The concept of collaborators building a performance from the ground up is at the heart of devised theatre.

As Dr. James R. Ball III, associate professor and assistant dean for industry and community engagement, describes it: “This is where you can get your hands dirty learning the skills involved in making theatre.”

The performance studies program has long incorporated devised theatre elements into its curriculum, but it will have a stronger focus with this new minor. Devised theatre differs from the more traditional form with an emphasis on creating from scratch, without even a script as a starting point.

“It might begin with an idea, a question,” Ball said. “Maybe a found text or document of some sort. In some famous pieces, a current event happens, and a group of actors go to where it happened, and they start interviewing people. It’s those interviews that slowly but surely become the text of the play. Or someone just has an image in their head, and they start playing with it with their collaborators.”

Traditional creative workflow — in which a playwright creates a play, it gets in the hands of a director, the director assembles a cast and leads that cast through rehearsals, and then the play is performed — is transformed with devised theatre, Ball said. It “decenters the text,” he said, eliminating hierarchies and allowing each element to have an equal value in the production process.

“With devising we think instead, what happens if the writer, director, actor, scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer all arrived in the same place at the same time and started from scratch?” he said. “What is the work of art that we create in that sense? You end up getting plays that are very different from the usual structures of a play, that are maybe a bit more design-forward, or that eschew design to explore some element of movement vocabulary or other sort of question.”

Ball pointed to the work of Rude Mechs in Austin and The Wooster Group in New York City as devised examples, along with the documentary-style production “The Laramie Project.” In 2019, the performance studies program staged “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” by Anne Washburn, a work that also began life through a devising process. It imagines a postapocalyptic future in which survivors create traveling troupes that perform episodes of classic television shows like “The Simpsons.”

Four courses are required in the minor: Introduction to Devised Theatre, Dramaturgy, Creating Performance and Devised Theatre Studio. Nine elective options are offered, including Physical Acting, Critical Design Studies and Intermedia Performance.

Devised theatre will align with the other minors in the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts in its interdisciplinary focus, Ball said, and it will be particularly useful to students with an interest in exploring performance, acting, directing, costume, lighting or stage design and incorporating it into other scholarly or creative works. The concepts learned will also strengthen widely applicable skills, including leadership, teamwork and team building.

“I think to have a theatre program entirely centered on what is really the most compelling way to make work in the 21st century — yeah, I am there for it,” Ball said. “I’m excited to see what our students create. I’m excited to see how our students are empowered by this.

“We’ve consistently had students come into the performance studies major because that conventional, playwright-driven approach to making work didn’t work for them. We’ve had this thread of devising in terms of practice, and they could see that’s where it’s exciting. That’s where the cool stuff is getting made.”

A magazine spread shows different graphic design elements including different fonts and colors
A project by graphic design student Maggie Martin.

Graphic Design

This new minor will go a long way toward satisfying a demand, according to Jill Honeycutt, lecturer in the visualization program.

“We saw a big need for students specifically wanting to focus on graphic design,” she said. “Those courses historically have been popular — they are always full.  This new minor came to fruition because of that.”

The minor has three required courses and an opportunity for three additional elective courses, including Intro to Digital Photography, Multimedia Design and Development, Color Theory and Designing for the Web (currently only offered in the fall semester).

“We built the minor so students have a solid foundation of graphic design principles: layout, typography, color — all these things they will need moving forward,” Honeycutt said. “And then the electives allow them to be more specialized in a specific topic relevant to design.”

The minor is open to all Texas A&M students, now including visualization students. Honeycutt has heard from many visualization students who are interested in pairing the Bachelor of Science degree with a graphic design minor. The courses also attract students campus-wide from communication, marketing and business, along with engineering and computer science majors. These students aren’t just interested in digital tools, she said, but also the creative process and having a creative outlet.

“I often hear of students, especially with our marketing and business students, that want to work in the advertising world,” she said. “It helps to be able to speak the graphic design language, even if you are not the one designing the piece or designing for clients specifically. To understand the time it takes, the skill needed, the software — all those things can be very beneficial for someone working in communication, marketing, advertising or business. You have a background that makes you more suitable for the workplace immediately.”

The student interest in graphic design and its evolution as an industry make the new minor a strong addition to the school, Honeycutt said.

“We know the industry is big,” she said. “It’s growing. It’s always changing. Having something that is more solidified toward graphic design helps us stay relevant and current, but also think future-forward of what is coming in the design field.”

Music Technology
Photo by Igor Kraguljac Photography

Music Technology

This minor’s eight courses — three required and five elective options — explore technology-based live performance, fixed media art, installation art and interdisciplinary work.

Courses include Intermedia Performance, History of Electronic Music, Recording and the Producer and Programming for Composers. Topics incorporate composing with sound, digital audio editing, analog circuitry and equipment, building digital and hybrid instruments, artificial intelligence, feedback systems and live coding.

“We’re focusing on novel ways to use any technology to make music happen,” said Professor Jeff Morris. “In a world where more and more technology is coming up, and we know less and less what to think about it and how to feel about it, what are the opportunities and concerns? The most valuable thing we can cultivate in our students is this ability to see through the front panel where the technology tells you what it’s for. We can see deeper and see what it could be used for so we can get the most out of everything.”

A background in music or technology is helpful but not required. What is essential is for students to have “curiosity and bravery to encounter new things,” he said.

“What’s most important is making yourself special,” he said. “There are ways to get jobs in companies or as a freelancer or serving your own projects doing audio editing, composing, performing. If you learn the same things everyone else learns regarding those things, then you’re in a crowded room with no way to stand out. Our focus is making music in novel ways. You’re going to learn those basic skills along the way, they’re just not an end point. That’s why we’re focusing on making new music.”

The courses share many elements that align with Morris’ research, which he defines as making the most of underexplored or unintended features of technology, and “specializing in using things wrong for artistic purposes.”

Early feedback on the new minor has been positive.

“Students are very excited,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with their adventurousness, and not an A-B-C approach to making music. I mean that in two ways: the notion of starting from the beginning — as if there is one — but also starting to make music without thinking in terms of notes, and just making sound that is artistically compelling.”

An artist sketches a person on a canvas.

Studio Art

Traditional art courses are matched by digital offerings in the new studio art minor. It was developed to include drawing and painting courses alongside those in digital painting, digital illustration and graphic design.

This helps to broaden students’ skill sets in both analog and digital tools, said Jill Honeycutt, lecturer in the visualization program.

“I think being flexible is important for fine artists today, because it’s not always pencil-to-paper thinking or creating,” she said. “A lot of artists work with digital tools and translate those into analog works of art. I think that’s important for our students to keep relevant with the industry and use technology to their benefit throughout the creative process.”

The studio art minor has three required courses: Design I, Intro to Graphic Design and Drawing I. Studio artists need to know how to market themselves, design a résumé and keep a social media presence, Honeycutt said, along with having an understanding of basic fine art.

There are three required electives with 11 options including Painting I and II, Sculpture, Life Drawing, Digital Painting, Color Theory, and Video and Time-Based Media.

“This big elective pool is great, because then students can really explore a topic that interests them, whether it be Advanced Photography or Advanced Figure Drawing for Narratives and Concepts,” Honeycutt said. “Maybe they are really into comic books, or they want to work for Pixar and do character design. This minor allows a lot of flexibility outside of the traditional fine arts that we think about today.”

The minor is open to visualization majors, but the courses attract students far beyond that. Students are looking for a creative outlet and a way to express themselves, which makes the studio art minor a great option, Honeycutt said.

“We’re trying to make the arts accessible for Texas A&M, so this really opens the door for students to have an opportunity to take an art or design class, whereas those classes were limited for those outside of our school before,” she said. “The interest is wide. It’s a great addition to the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts.”

Top photo courtesy of Olivia Grace Parker.

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