“A person must know about and have experience in the world to have something to say as an artist, and there is no better place to do that than at a liberal arts college, and Princeton is, simply, the best liberal arts college in the world,” says Wolf, professor of theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of the new Program in Music Theater.
“Conservatories teach technique, which is easy to acquire, and graduate school is a better time and place to hone your technique. It's harder to get a well-rounded education, to learn to read, write, think, discuss and do research, and also be able to thrive, grow and be challenged as an artist — and this is what happens at Princeton,” Wolf says.
Princeton offers certificate programs in creative writing, dance, music theater, theater and visual arts, in which students are taught by leading scholars like Wolf and world-renowned artists — both permanent faculty and guest artists — who are working professionals at the top of their field. “A student can be a big fish in a small pond at Princeton. (And it’s a lovely and lively pond.) In theater, for example, there are endless opportunities to perform, direct, design, dramaturg and produce plays and musicals,” Wolf says. “Our arts programs are entirely undergraduate-focused and built around students’ needs, desires and ambitions. No conservatory is as student-centered as our program.”
A faculty fellow at Wilson College, one of Princeton's six residential colleges, Wolf also serves as an academic fellow for the women’s basketball team and enjoys attending rehearsals for and leading talkbacks at student shows. But above all, she loves teaching undergraduates.
“Princeton students are insatiably curious and deeply engaged with the arts and with ideas,” she says. “They’re committed artist-scholars and scholar-artists who see no separation between art-making and study, between theory and practice, between thinking and feeling. They’re intellectually and artistically brave.”
Wolf's own love of theater took hold when she was an undergraduate at Yale University, where she performed in productions and sang with a cappella groups. She holds a master's in drama from the University of Virginia and a doctoral degree in theater from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of America’s foremost scholars on musical theater, Wolf is widely published. Her most recent book is entitled: “Beyond Broadway: The Pleasure and Promise of Musical Theatre Across America.”
At Princeton, Wolf has taught courses ranging from “Isn’t It Romantic? The Broadway Musical From Rodgers & Hammerstein to Sondheim” and “Introduction to Musical Theater Writing” to “Jewish American Theater and Performance” and “Performance and Politics in the 1960s.”
“In my classes, we examine how musical theater is in an intimate conversation with U.S. history, both shaping and being shaped by the larger culture. My students learn that musicals can and should be taken as seriously as Shakespeare or Ibsen, Mozart or Beethoven. I see students make these connections instantly, and watch them become musical theater scholars in one semester,” says Wolf, a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the 2017 President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University.
She is particularly excited about the opportunities the University's new 22-acre arts complex will create for students. “The new buildings have beautiful rehearsal and performance spaces as well as places to gather and make work,” Wolf says. Artistic disciplines previously housed in buildings in separate parts of campus will now be neighbors, she adds, and that “will enhance the connections among theater and music and dance.”
Wolf says the next few classes of incoming Princeton students will set the tone for the new Program in Music Theater, which includes the creation of, the performance of and the study of musicals, including opera, Broadway musical theater, and new or avant-garde music theater. “This program signals Princeton's commitment to and excitement about music theater as a vibrant and collaborative art form,” she says.