Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Using theatre and anthropology to explore human nature

“I’ve always been very intrigued by people, understanding the ways they conduct themselves, and how different cultures interact,” says Maia Gelser ’23, a theatre arts and anthropology double-major. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

When Maia Gelser ’23 was applying to college, she knew she wanted to be close to Los Angeles—the epicenter of the entertainment industry and a region that was warmer than her hometown of Corvallis, Oregon. Stepping onto the University of Redlands campus, she recalls, “It was the only place that felt right.”

Having participated in theatre for most of her life, Gelser wanted to continue this pursuit in college. However, after taking a First-Year Seminar focused on myths with Professor of Anthropology Wes Bernardini, she decided to study both Theatre Arts and Anthropology.

“I’ve always been very intrigued by people, understanding the ways they conduct themselves, and how different cultures interact,” she says. “The two subjects go really well together because they both examine how people ‘are.’ In theatre, you’re just displaying it rather than investigating it.”

One aspect of humanity that Gelser has been able to explore through interdisciplinary study at Redlands, paired with the discussions that are encouraged in class, is anatomy and the human form. “I’ve gravitated a lot toward studying bodies, gender, and sexuality,” she says. “I’m really interested in the relationship between our bodies and minds and how it affects the way we live and how we treat ourselves and others.”

Gelser had the opportunity to explore these topics during Professor Emerita of Theatre Arts Victoria Lewis’s course titled Diversity on the American Stage. Students explored how race and ability shape inclusivity in entertainment, which, Gelser says, changed the way she approaches theatre.

Working as Bernardini’s lab assistant has provided her with another perspective on people. For five hours a week, Gelser washes, labels, and organizes artifacts that Bernardini collects on his archaeological digs. “He is really supportive and wants to make the experience as much of a learning opportunity as possible,” she says. “It’s not just work; it’s an opportunity to take a closer look at artifacts and investigate maps that he has collected.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily curtailed Gelser’s activities in performance and lab work, now that students have returned to campus, she sees a silver lining. “The pandemic taught me a lot about my own approach to school,” she says. “I’ve learned to be flexible and give myself room for error so that I don’t get easily overwhelmed.”

This flexibility is modeled after the understanding that faculty members and staff showed her during the pandemic, whether concerning an assignment or her mental health. Relying on a network of support has allowed Gelser to become more self-assured, which is something that will help her in the future.

“I’ve learned quite a bit about myself,” she says of her time at Redlands. “Now, I put myself out there instead of waiting for things to happen. I’m much more confident now than I was when I first got here because of the opportunities I’ve received.”

Learn more about studying theatre arts or sociology and anthropology at the University of Redlands.