Headshots of Eman Ahmad, Tate McAluney and Roy Gantz.

Student Spotlight: SDA Theatre Minors

(l to r): Theatre minors Eman Ahmad, Tate McAluney and Roy Gantz.

The School of Dramatic Arts offers a number of undergraduate conservatory and liberal arts degree pathways for those pursuing a degree in the dramatic arts. But the School also has a robust offering of minors, including a minor in Theatre, Comedy (Performance), Musical Theatre, Performing Arts Studies, Performing Leadership, Performing Social Change and Playwriting.

We caught up with three students pursuing the Theatre minor to understand how they combine their passion for the dramatic arts with other interests, and how they believe a minor from SDA will help them reach their future artistic and career goals.

Eman Ahmad

Major: Human Biology/Minor: Theatre
Eman Ahmad is a Human Biology major pursuing a minor in Theatre. Ahmad spoke about her passion for theatre, how the SDA minor provided her a more well-rounded education, and how to use theatre skills as a future physician.

What drew you to the dramatic arts?
I’ve always been interested in learning to act, ever since I was little. It was a childhood fantasy, like how all little girls want to be ballerinas. When I got to high school, I thought it would be fun just to try it out, so I took a drama class and I auditioned for our Fall play, and it just stuck. I really enjoyed the program, so I ended up doing it all four years and was super dedicated to theatre all through high school.

What has the Theatre minor been like?
I’ve been busy so I haven’t had the chance to do a performance yet. But I’ve taken Theatre 101 and a text studies class. I’ll be taking a lot more theatre classes this upcoming year. I’m taking Intermediate Acting and a voice class. The Theatre minor is mostly focused on the classes, and all the performing is outside of class. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to do that in the future.

Do you feel that pursuing a minor in Theatre will help you with your goal of getting into med school?
Yes. I used to be pretty introverted, and I found it difficult to talk to people. I think it was theatre that helped me break out of my shell. I consider myself a people person now, and I’d attribute that to the skills I’ve gotten, not just performing, but working in a team and building a community through theatre.

Also, a big part of medicine is empathy. I think through analyzing texts, I’ve learned how to have a level of empathy that I don’t know where I would have gotten anywhere else. You’re forced to deeply analyze people and their motivations, and I think that’s a helpful skill to have if you’re going into an interpersonal career.

Did any experiences in the theatre stand out as particularly applicable to your goal of becoming a doctor?
I took a theatre class called Medical Clowning. You wouldn’t think that something theatrical would belong in a hospital, but in that class, we read and learned a lot about how art is very healing, and how art can be used to mitigate the power dynamic between doctor and patient. That’s something I’d never really thought of before.

You mentioned that the Theatre minor made your USC education more well-rounded. In what way?
In science classes, you attend lectures and lab and you don’t really talk to anyone around you. In my theatre classes, I met people from so many different majors that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It made me more well-rounded, not only academically but also in terms of the people I’ve talked to. In theatre classes, you really develop a relationship with the professor that’s so much harder to do in science classes.

My text studies class reminded me of a humanities class, where we analyze plays. I think that critical thinking and analysis is so important, and you don’t get to practice that a lot in science classes. It was good to get experience with that.

What would you tell people considering declaring a Theatre minor?
USC is so open to interdisciplinary people. It’s so easy to take classes outside your own major. That’s one of the reasons I came here. I knew that wherever I wanted to go, I wanted to minor in Theatre.

Tate McAluney

Major: Chemistry/Minor: Theatre
Tate McAluney is a Chemistry major pursuing a minor in Theatre. Like many SDA minors, he was on the fence about whether to major or minor in Theatre. Born and raised in Honolulu, McAluney found himself soul-searching during the pandemic, which led him to find the perfect balance for his studies: using his love for theatre and chemistry to pursue a future career in science communication.

What made you decide to pursue a minor in Theatre?
I got interested in theatre in middle school and pursued it into high school. There was a musical theatre program at my high school—I took that and I really enjoyed it. I love singing and acting, so I applied to the BFA Musical Theatre program at USC, and I was advised I could pursue a BA in Theatre. I thought, perfect, because USC is great for multidisciplinary students, and I’ve also always been interested in chemistry. That’s a thing about me: total left-brain-right-brain.

What made you decide to pursue the minor instead of the major?
Unfortunately, I only had a semester and a half before Covid hit. I went home (to Honolulu) and we finished our classes online. The online semesters were definitely a controversial thing for me, along with everyone else. “I’m going to learn theatre online? You’ve got to be kidding me.” But I thought, nothing better than an experiment, and I really enjoyed it, honestly. It was great seeing theatre people in the time of Covid. It was as much a support group as a class.

Then I took a gap semester that next spring. I started to pursue more chemistry stuff where I was located and began doing an undergraduate internship at a chemistry lab in Hawaii.

What have you enjoyed most about the Theatre minor?
I did stand-up comedy, that was great. I did improv. I love the stand-up comedy and improv classes at USC. They’re so good. I really made the minor work for me and my career goals, and I’m even graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry at the end of this year. I’m really happy with what I got.

What are you planning to do after graduating?
I’m currently applying to science museums in LA. I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to getting people excited about science. It really brings my theatre and science education together. I also have a science YouTube channel, where I build science demonstrations and show them to my viewers, and I do physics demonstrations along the way.

What will you do at science museums?
I’m interested in exhibit design because I believe my USC degree has prepared me to do jobs of that caliber. That would be on the more creative side for museums. I want to build and design exhibits that will get people to interact with science in new ways.

It seems like the combination of theatre and chemistry is perfect for that sort of role.
Yes, definitely. I feel like the stand-up comedy and improv classes I took can apply a lot to science communication, especially at museums. In stand up, our professor talked to us about how stand-up comedy is a conversation. You can’t just tell jokes and expect to get a laugh—you need to have a connection with the audience. I think that goes hand-in-hand with education. You can’t just go spitting out these facts. That’s one way the Theatre minor gave me the skills for the stuff I wanted to do.

It sounds like you learned how to tell a story?
I totally agree. I think science, if not told correctly and not taught correctly, can be boring and seem abstract and not applicable to everyday life, when, in reality, after I got this degree, I see engineering and science everywhere I look. To be able to communicate that effectively, I’ll definitely be using my Theatre minor.

Roy Gantz

Major: Public Relations/Minor: Theatre and Songwriting
Theatre has always been a major part of Roy Gantz’s life. Before coming to USC, he was a professional child actor, and was cast in a national tour of The Sound of Music before entering high school. Roy talks about how majoring in Public Relations and double-minoring in Theatre and Songwriting allows him to pursue his many interests, and is helping him on his path to becoming an artistic multihyphenate in the arts and entertainment industries.

Tell me a little about what role performance has played in your life.
I’ve been acting my whole life in musical theatre. I was a child actor. I’ve done professional musical theatre since I was 12, doing auditions and all of that. When I was 13 and 14, for six months, I was on a national tour of The Sound of Music, then I went right back to high school after that.

I did a lot of auditions for film and TV, and a lot of musical theatre stuff. I still have an agent and do auditions, and I’m still very much pursuing acting. But when it came to my studies at USC, I wanted to explore those new interests while still being able to be involved in theatre.

Have you been performing while studying the minor at SDA?
I’ve been in two mainstage productions here. I’m so grateful for the minor here. The way that minors are able to be a part of the SDA community is really beautiful. I was in A Chorus Line my freshman year, this year I was in Carrie, and I know that a fellow minor was also in Carrie. It was such a fun, weird musical.

Has it been difficult to juggle the majors and the minors?
It’s a little weird being in three worlds, feeling just a little disjointed. But in terms of juggling it all, I feel that it’s pretty doable. I feel that SDA is one of those schools that—the reason I chose it is because they really value that interdisciplinary student, that student that wants to be involved in 4,000 things at once. My family will laugh at me and ask, “How do you keep your head straight? You have too many interests.” But no, I go to a school that encourages students who want to be diverse and be a little of this and a little of that. I think the world is going to reward USC students for that.

How will you use your education for a future career?
Right now I’ve been very immersed in the music industry. I’m part of Grammy U, which is the Recording Academy’s university program. I’m a Grammy U campus ambassador for USC, so I get people involved with Grammy U on campus, I volunteer for the Recording Academy. I was able to volunteer at the Grammy’s—cool, cool stuff.