Hurdles: More than just a final exam

Denny Patterson

It’s true that second semester can be tough but it’s probably a bit more intense for first-year BFA theatre students. At the end of the semester going into finals week, all BFA Theatre students are required to go through a process called freshmen hurdles. During hurdles, students will perform their final Acting II scene for the theatre and dance department’s faculty. Hurdles are discipline specific, so they take on varying forms.

“Hurdles are an opportunity for the faculty to evaluate students at the end of their first year to ensure their progress is in keeping with the standards set by the degree programs in which they are enrolled,” Interim Chair Sean Morrissey said. “The hurdle process is one of great complexity and nuance. It is difficult to boil it down to a simple black or white formula. However, in its most basic form, the hurdle can be compared to a proficiency exam.”

Even though hurdles might seem like a simple final exam, they serve two purposes. One helps determine a student’s final grade in the class, while the other serves as the hurdle evaluation in acting. Hurdles are an evaluation of a student’s comprehension of the material they have been studying and their ability to execute the techniques required of their discipline. Just like any other specific area of interest, students must have a significant mastery of the skills at the beginning level in order to move on to more advanced training.

Hurdles have been known as a stressful and emotionally draining process. They can be a very sensitive subject to some, which is why the process should be treated with the utmost consideration and compassion. Some students might not be that concerned with hurdles but that doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Hurdles can be a life changing experience to some which will help them grow and develop in the long run.

Freshman Kayla Robinson will be going through hurdles this year. She might be nervous, but she doesn’t believe hurdles should be something to stress about.

“I think it’s something you should really think about and give it your all, but not something you should stress yourself out over,” she said. “Of course I’m nervous, but who wouldn’t be? I think you should always be at least a little bit nervous, or you could come off as cocky. I know that I will give it my all, and I will do the best that I can do. Doing my best is all that matters to me.”

Sophomore Martha Coleman went through the process last year and advises this year’s performers to relax and breathe deeply.

“Before hurdles happened, I was on the verge of a nervous break-down. I have a tendency to freak out over things, and it felt like this big ultimatum. Before my scene, my stomach was in knots, but during the scene I just tried to focus on my work and my other. Working to play my objectives helped to keep my head away from the nerves, and I felt the tension in my gut go away gradually as I went farther into the scene.”

The results of hurdles are varied. A student may be right on track and pass the hurdle with ease, or a student might be struggling with one or more techniques that may result in a period of probation. This is an indication they are behind the curve in a certain area(s) and need to focus their energy on improving those skills. In these cases, a second evaluation would be required. If a student appears not to be successfully moving forward in a specific degree program, they may be re-directed or placed in a different degree program that better suits their skill sets. In all cases, these evaluations are designed to ensure students are in a degree program that will offer them the best opportunities for success.

“Many students find themselves in probationary periods,” Morrissey said. “In many cases this is because our students have had limited or no access to formal and/or high quality training prior to enrolling at Millikin. The techniques we are expecting our students to master are complex and incredibly challenging. All of our students have a great deal of raw talent. However, raw talent alone will not make a theatre practitioner successful. Students who are able to combine raw talent with a comprehensive understanding and mastery of technique and critical thinking will find more opportunities for success in a competitive market.”

Coleman, who started out as a BFA acting major, was put on probation and is now a BA theatre major. She says this was for the best.

“Hurdles were a way of showing me that acting wasn’t the only thing I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “It’ll still be there to come back to while I’m exploring other things. I want to learn more than just that. If Millikin didn’t have hurdles, I would’ve been stuck in a degree I didn’t want. My professors noticed something was holding me back, and I felt the same way. This helped me make the choice to change my degree, so the decision was right on the mark.”

“Some people handle hurdles better than others,” Robinson said. “I’ve seen quite a bit of people just stress and stress about hurdles. It’s the only thing that they think about when they go to sleep and wake up. It’s unhealthy. Yes, it’s something you should be thinking about, but you can’t let it rule your life. I do feel like there is some weight on my shoulders, but it’s nothing that I can’t handle. It’s definitely one more thing that I do think about but, like I said earlier, I’m just focusing on giving my all and just having fun with it.”