Make Your Own Path in the Performing Arts

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Any Person, Any Study

Each year, students from programs across Cornell University come to PMA to learn about themselves and the arts through minors and student productions. Students use PMA's course and program offerings to enhance their college experience and even develop custom academic paths to shape their chosen career goals.

Learn more by reading some of their stories below. 

Jacob Hunter '18

Jacob Hunter dancing in a performance

Major: Independent Study (Biomechanical Engineering)
PMA Productions: Locally Grown Dance Festival: "Loss, Denial and Desire: The Melodrama of the Krewe of Doberge Ball"
Career Goal: Integrate choreography and engineering

How did you become involved with dance at Cornell?
"I came to Cornell without any intention of taking dance. I was on a dance team with my church youth group in middle school and high school. We had performances once a year as a way to get together, interact, and bond. I was going to affiliate as an engineering physics major, which is the furthest thing from dance performance. But I saw I could take a ballet class as one of my required two physical education classes. So, I took Modern I, which is the fundamental class. I thought I’d see how it is and I met (senior lecturer) Byron Suber who was teaching the class. As we went along in the class, everything lined up. It made sense and it was beautiful. It was something I naturally did really well. After that, I took more classes and realized this is something I would love to do on several sides. I would love to choreograph as a career but I would also to love to do performance and I would also love to teach like Byron and (senior lecturer) Jumay (Chu) do here at Cornell. I would love to take theory classes. It’s such a broad category and I’m interested in it all.”

How were you able to integrate your love for engineering and dance?
"I’m currently applying for a combination of mechanical engineering with biomedical engineering, which is technically biomechanical engineering. It’s kind of the study of the physics of your body. How your muscles work, how your joints work but also how a rigid body -- a metal bar -- will work. How stress and strain and deformation create interesting things as well as the cellular side of your muscles. It’s kind of the approach of the body from a scientific side. That’s my primary area in my independent major but my secondary area is just every dance class I can take here.”

How is that going to help you in your career?
“I want to have the option of going into engineering for dance -- going into prosthetics or physical therapy -- but what I would like to do is work on the dance side and the choreography side because I love choreographing. I want to examine how my choreography changes because I am so aware and understand how the body works. What limits are there but also, how does the process change if I’m taught from an engineer’s perspective?"


Elise Czuchna '18

Elise Czuchna

Major: Anthropology Minor: Law and Society, Inequality Studies
PMA Productions: Olive in Twentyhood, 10-Minute Play Festival
Career Goal: Human Rights Lawyer
Why do you choose to participate in student productions at PMA?
“It’s so funny, at the beginning of this semester I told myself, I don’t think I’m going to do theatre anymore. Then I was in 10-Minute Playfest. Then I did some student films. I’m doing The Vagina Monologues. It kind of never ends for me. It’s one of those things I can’t give up. It’s not something I’m going to make a career out of, but it’s something I love and really makes me happy. Theatre is a great outlet for presenting really difficult ideas and difficult themes that people will be confronted with at certain times in their life. It allows them to absorb it and better understand it. I think you learn a lot about yourself doing theatre.”
How does theatre influence your other work?
"With theatre, you learn to analyze why a character says what he or she says. What is the emotion behind it? In turn, you start to analyze why you say the things you say. You learn to be introspective. I’ve actually learned more about myself. I’ve learned who I am as a person and how I function. You also gain perspective of real world issues and consider other people’s perspectives you wouldn’t have been exposed to outside of theatre. These are characters who are different from yourself but you have to relate to them in some way. You learn to find commonalities. Even if you think, this character is nothing like me, you find similarities and learn about yourself and how to relate to other people. You have to connect to a piece. You have to connect to the characters and to their experiences. If you learn to do that and you can apply it to the real world, you find yourself connecting with people much more effectively.”

Larry Lenkin '17

Larry Lenkin in the scene shop with machinery

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Career Goal: Undecided

Is it satisfying to produce something with your hands and be able to hold it at the end of the day?

“Definitely. Especially for engineering majors. What we learn is to do things in the real world and make things in the real world and then we never get that chance (to make it). I get to come here and I just do the same sort of thinking in terms of plans and design but then I make it and I see it on set hanging up in the air or wherever it goes. It is a really great feeling seeing your product used and being seen by other people.”

Do you enjoy getting out of the bubble of your major to see what else is going on at Cornell?
“It definitely is. Sometimes you get into the mindset of thinking you're the only one who’s staying up late and working, or that everyone else is out having fun. Then I come here and it’s almost the same thing. Pretty much any hour of the day you’ll see someone out here working for the next show.”

Jacob Kuhn '18

Jacob Kuhn acting on stage

Major: Landscape Architecture 
PMA Productions: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]

Why did you get involved in student productions at PMA?
"The moment I got to Cornell, seeing the shows at PMA, I knew I wanted to be a part of them because it’s a process and a production that I’d never gone through. High school is one thing but the level of professionalism and the whole spectacle of what PMA does is really awesome."

Why do you spend so much time on something unrelated to your major? 
"There’s nothing like performing. It’s just so much fun, with the costumes and the accents and the excitement. It just pulls you there and you can’t let it go. When I got here, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do theatre because I was afraid of the time, but there’s no way I can’t make the time commitment because it’s something I have to do.”

How do you think the performing arts will help you in your career?
"My experience in Shakespeare (Abridged) was the epitome of collaboration. As a cast, we went over every little bit in the show together to create a product that was ours, and I think that form of working together will easily translate into how I work with others in a professional setting. And, if there's one thing I learned this year, it's that theater is so much more than just entertainment. There are so many incredible stories that can and should be told, and theater is such an open, interpretive medium for that. While I do not plan to pursue a career in theater, I've become so much more in tune with art as an expression of stories and emotion, many of which are given the attention they deserve. For my career in landscape architecture, I want to continue to use the creativity and expression that theater incites to make designs that tell stories and allow people to share their stories with others." 

Irving Torres '18

Irving Torres in character for All God's Chillun Got Wings

Major: Industrial Labor Relations Minor: Performing and Media Arts
PMA Productions: On the VergeAll God's Chillun Got Wings
Career Goal: Theatre

Why did you get involved in student productions at PMA?
“As an ILR major, my entire career interest, my entire plan for life is theatre, and is artwork and what I’m learning in ILR informs that. Specifically, the idea of labor and how labor connects to me as a Latino male and my Latino family; how it connects to them and how it’s relevant to them. I’m taking on theatre because that’s the crux of the work, that’s the focus point of the work, and I see it as blending together everything I want to do, yet not being confined to that major.”

What’s the end goal for you professionally?
“Create theatrical work. Ideally, in a dream world, broadway. Showing that my story as a person of color matters, my life matters, and this story deserves to be told. People need to see it as it is and not as a stereotype or a caricature.”

How has Cornell helped you engage in coursework relevant to what you want to do?
“I get to do what I want. It’s great. Even just learning performance theory, I’m taking classes with Dr. Karen Jaime and I’ve taken her class two semesters in a row now. Last semester was Spoken Word Hip Hop Theatre and The Politics of Performance and this one is Global Stages II. In both of those classes, things have come up that have also come up in my ILR classes and vice versa. I’m the only nerd in the ILR school who is excited about theatre being mentioned very briefly in labor history class. It just really makes me appreciative of the fact that I can pursue that passion and also be aware that I’m probably the only one in the ILR school who’s pursuing this passion of theatre and education -- not just HR, law school, consulting.”

Jonathan de la Fuente '17

Jonathan de la Fuente in the Schwartz Center's scene shop

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Career Goal: Performance Automotive Engineer

How did you discover scene shop?
“I found out about it through my graduation requirements. You are required to take a certain amount of liberal arts classes. I found out this was one of the courses I was able to take that fulfills that requirement."

What is mechanical engineering?
“Mechanical engineering is very broad in that it covers most regions of structural mechanics and any sort of integration of parts that have to work together and not break -- analysis of stresses and materials. Things like selecting materials for different types of structural and physical buildings, what materials we’d select for different applications. So, if something is a structure or if something is sitting there in someone’s hand -- anything that has to do with everyday objects that you’ll see or interact with -- mechanical engineering has some part in making them work better and work together.”

What do you want to do with that?
“Currently, I’m looking to move toward the automotive industry. I work on the Formula SAE team. We’re designing and building an open wheel race car that we’re going to race."

How is scene shop different from the automotive work you do?
“This is more of a visual artwork. I have never really had to care how it looks. It’s been more of a functional approach as opposed to a physical and appearance approach. I’m pretty bad at that so it’s really cool to get practice in it and kind of start thinking about that. Whenever I’m making something, I've started to consider how it will all come together and look as a whole.”

How do you think your work in the scene shop will help your career?
“It’ll definitely help with taking a step back and looking at something. I can design the fuel system; I can design the lubrication system; but if you were to put them together and take a picture of it, how would they look? How would they look together?”


Isabelle Stark '16

Isabelle Stark and other dancers

Major: Biological Sciences
PMA Productions: Three Locally Grown Dance Festival performances
Career Goal: Researcher

Why did you get involved in dance at PMA?
"A big part of my life in middle school and high school was performing each year in The Nutcracker and other productions. During my freshman year at Cornell, I stopped dancing because I wanted to try new things, but I found that I really missed dancing and performing. I started taking PMA courses my sophomore year, and that was also the first year I was invited to be in the Locally Grown Dance Festival. It gives me a chance to perform challenging and interesting work each year."

How do you think your work in PMA will help you professionally?
"My work in PMA has taught me to be more open to new experiences and ideas and it has also helped me step out of my comfort zone."

Jeanette Pang '19

Jeanette Pang in the Schwartz Center's scene shop

Major: Architecture Minor: Performing and Media Arts
Career Goal: Undecided

How did you get involved in scene shop?
“I went to the meeting during the first semester. I really like acting but I’d never really done scene stuff before. I’m in architecture so this sort of correlates to what I’m doing right now.”

What are the overlaps between your other academic work and PMA classes?
“The most obvious one is between architecture and scene shop because we’re building scenes and architecture is all about space and how you arrange space. The second relationship is with acting and architecture because as actors you have to interact with what’s around you and as architects you have to build stuff that people can interact with and can explore around.”

Do you see this as a joining of two of your passions?
“I really like it because I love theatre and I was debating between architecture and theatre for college. This is sort of the best of both worlds where I get to do architecture and theatre and I don’t only get to do theatre in the sense of acting. I get to do scene shop and other things and lighting and everything.”

What do you want to do for a career?
“I really want to do something that combines architecture and theatre. I don’t know if that’s possible but I’m trying to look into that.”