Musical Theatre Joins Lineup of Program's Emphasis Areas
Image from the April production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Department of Theatre photograph
JONESBORO – With the addition of an emphasis area in musical theatre, the Department of Theatre at Arkansas State University is expanding the scope of its Bachelor of Arts degree program.
Musical theatre joins the other emphasis areas: acting, directing, and design and technology, according to Tim Bohn, associate professor and department chair.
"This entire process, establishing the new emphasis area, has helped us improve not just our musical theatre curriculum, but the entire theatre program," Bohn said. "The resulting offerings already have demonstrated increased interest and enrollment."
The new and enhanced emphasis areas are the result of a complete overhaul of the theatre degree plans by the department's curriculum committee, which is chaired by Marc Williams and includes faculty members Claire Abernathy, Lisa Bohn and Jeff McLaughlin.
In order to offer the new emphasis, the Department of Theatre added a dance instructor, and has included courses from the Department of Music. Theatre patrons got a taste of the expanded direction in April, when A-State Theatre produced "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at Fowler Center.
One of the department's first tasks in setting up the emphasis area was developing the curriculum, then putting it through departmental, college, and university committees, Bohn explained. Establishing the partnership with the Department of Music also was an important facet.
The whole process came to fruition with the review process and approval by the accrediting institution, the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST).
"Undergraduate students need opportunities to work on musicals to be competitive in the field," explained Williams, assistant professor of theatre. "The entertainment industry is increasingly looking for practitioners who are multifaceted, who can adapt to a wide variety of performance situations. "Through our commitment to musical theatre, we are able to offer students unique learning opportunities not only in performance but also in design and technology."
Students who desire to be educators need musical theatre experience as well.
"While the musical theatre emphasis is designed for performers, it also enables us to consistently produce musicals at a high level, and that musical theatre experience benefits all of our students," Williams continued.
The new emphasis in musical theatre is coupled with the department's commitment to producing a musical every year.
"In April 2019, we will be doing the musical 'Godspell,' " Williams announced. "It’s been an audience favorite for many years and we’re excited to share this story with the community."
The partnership with the Department of Music is key to the new educational opportunity.
"They are providing singing and other music training to the students in the classroom, and they also are our artistic collaborators when we produce musicals on the stage," the professor also said.
Brianna Larson joined the theatre faculty last fall as dance instructor and resident choreographer. She completed her Master of Fine Arts in theatre pedagogy with an emphasis in movement and musical theatre at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"Her work strengthens the musical theatre program immeasurably," Williams added. "Our musical theatre emphasis is the only program of its kind in Arkansas, and our accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) is a testament to the quality and rigor of our curriculum. We are excited to begin enrolling students."
Department of Music Chair Marika Kyriakos has worked with Department of Theatre to create this program. She also served as music director for A-State Theatre's two most recent musicals.
The 2018-19 season will open at Fowler Center with the production of "Silent Sky" by Lauren Gunderson, Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 1-3.
Students work as part of a new course, "Musical Theatre Dance," taught by Brianna Larson. Department of Theatre photograph.