Charting a professional path in the performing arts

A workshop with Benjamin Shaw '07

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Benjamin Shaw '07 | Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg.edu

On Friday, Feb. 19, the department of theatre and dance held a discussion-based workshop with alumni artist Benjamin Shaw ‘07. Shaw is a freelance director with credits across multiple mediums in the performing arts. The workshop was titled “Charting a Professional Path in the Performing Arts.” Over the course of the afternoon, he described pulling from a variety of experiences directing and assisting on plays in New York, Florida, Washington and Minnesota, but the starting point of the discussion would be the pilot episode of “Kinsley Vs.,” a new web series. 

As a handful of students filed into the Baker Center for the Arts Recital Hall, Shaw presented a welcoming aura, asking each person’s name and making lively conversation in the minutes leading up to the discussion. 

Shaw passed out a double-sided document, which contained the first two pages of the script for “Kinsley Vs.” From there, he engaged the audience in an active reading of the material, in which analyses of writing techniques, production cues and other logistical and financial constraints involved with the making of this series were brought to light.

“Having a Muhlenberg alum who is currently working, and hearing about the project he is currently working on instead of his journey, was a nice pace change.”

-Jaxson Goldsmith ’23

“I was especially interested in Benjy’s perspective on fundraising and crowdfunding specifically as I am currently grappling with similar fundraising challenges in my non-profit marketing course as an arts administration student,” said Lauren Koranda ‘23, an attendee. “I have great respect for the boundaries he sets to ensure his crowdfunding is successful, especially in the midst of the financial barriers the pandemic has posed.”

Following the talkback about the web series pre-production, during production and post-production processes, Shaw took a seat in front of the group. He spoke about his experience taking on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” as a theatre director, explaining that, “Eight shows a week is exhausting… but I never reached a point in that show where I didn’t love what I was doing.” 

Shaw then discussed other details that have shaped his experience working in production and direction roles across artistic mediums, including the experience of working with child actors and the casting process for film and theatre. 

 “A career in the performing arts is hard, and it’s a lot of work,” explained Shaw, at the close of the workshop. “But I want you to know—and this is the most important thing-–it is very doable. Start by creating original work and make it something digestible, make it something that you know you can accomplish.”

This sentiment seemed to resonate with the audience. It sparked a short but lively conversation between Shaw and the attendees about the inherent differences between the theory-intensive work of attaining a degree in theatre versus the experience of gaining skills in the workplace and the pros and cons associated with each.

“I have great respect for the boundaries he [Shaw] sets to ensure his crowdfunding is successful, especially in the midst of the financial barriers the pandemic has posed.”

-Lauren Koranda ’23

Koranda continued, “Hearing an alumni student validate that there is a path to a successful and dynamic career in storytelling post-grad was extremely energizing as a current Muhlenberg theatre student.”

“I thought overall it was super helpful,” explained Jaxson Goldsmith ‘23, another attendee. “I feel like the theater department does a good job at teaching about acting but sometimes lacks a bit in the professional development standpoint. Having a Muhlenberg alum who is currently working, and hearing about the project he is currently working on instead of his journey, was a nice pace change. It made me feel like the things I wanted to do were attainable and possible.”

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