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Helping Students Find Success Through the Performing Arts
Karen Oster, Chairwoman of Performing Arts, leads students in a group
exercise during an "Introduction to Acting" class.
f there's one thing Karen Oster, Performing Arts Department
Chairwoman, would like her students to learn, it's how to be flexible.
"Theater is all about impermanence. You work on a show and get really
close to the cast and crew, then it closes and you move on to something
else," said Oster. "You have to learn to be flexible in this business. It's
also an important life lesson," she added.
An actor and director with extensive professional experience in
musical theater and children's theater, Oster started teaching at
Middlesex in 2003 and became chairwoman in 2006. As the head of a
small, but growing department that has been limited by lack of a
permanent performance space, she knows all about flexibility.
In addition to teaching acting and directing classes, Oster directs one
major student production each semester, as well as MCC's improvisation
troupe, Random Acts. She likes to stage a dramatic production in the
fall (including a Shakespearean play every other year), and a musical
in the spring.
"I would like our Theater program to be a safe place where students can
explore and discover without judgment; a place for them to be exposed
to all genres of theater, from the classics and contemporary works, to
musical theater. Over a two-year period, there is quite a bit of variety."
However, several times over the past few years, Oster has had to
move shows to different performance venues at the last minute. The
MCC Theatre, a leased performance space, overlooked the Concord
River in Lowell and flooded twice. It was closed altogether last spring,
which required moving "Sweeney Todd" to Merrimack College two
weeks before opening.
"We had to restage the entire show in a completely different space
and in a short period of time. But, in the big scheme of things, it was a
valuable lesson for the students in teamwork and flexibility," said
Oster. "We all had to pull together to make it work and we did!
"That's the beautiful thing about theater, you can make the magic
happen anywhere," she added. "And if you keep an open mind, there
is a lot more that can happen."
Those trials highlighted the need for a permanent performance space
which should be coming soon when MCC's Boston & Maine Building
opens as an academic arts center on the Lowell campus in a few years.
"The Boston & Maine Building will be the most exciting thing to
happen to us, ever," said Oster. Once the new facility is up and
running, she hopes to expand Performing Arts programs. "I'd like to
add a certificate program in dance, as well as a certificate in technical
theater that's anything that happens behind the stage: lights, sets,
costumes and sound."
Studying the performing arts has much to offer students, and often leads
to self-discovery, explained Oster. "Some people think acting is a way to
escape reality and run away from yourself. But it's really a place to run
toward yourself and explore the essence of who you really are."
Kathy Register
"That's the beautiful thing about theater, you can
make the magic happen anywhere. And if you keep
an open mind, there is a lot more that can happen."
Karen Oster
Performing Arts Department Chairwoman