Program Spotlight: Belmont University

Updated: May 7


Belmont University's production of Fiddler on the Roof

Belmont is a conservatory style, high level performance track program which prides itself on a voice program which trains students in ALL styles with a classical foundation. Not ignoring the dance and acting elements of the triple threat, students study modern, tap, jazz and ballet as well as multiple acting coursework within the Theatre and Dance department. The Theatre and Dance department offers a BFA of its own in acting and technical theatre. 

How long has your BFA program been around?

Our program began in 1999 and the BFA was added in 2009. We have been a successful training ground for Musical Theatre majors for 21 years with our BFA in tact for the past 11.

How many students, in general, does your program accept every year and how many total students are currently enrolled in your program?

We strive to have between 50 and 60 students in the program so we bring in a class of between 15 and 20 freshmen each year. We currently have 52 but with our incoming freshman class and outgoing seniors, the Fall will be at 58.

What's unique about your program?

Our program has several aspects that make it unique. The type of student that chooses Belmont is driven but also cares about others and their community. The end result is a very special bond and atmosphere in which to train; one where your peers and professors actually rejoice in your success, feel your struggles and support you when things are difficult. The conservatory style training in a liberal arts setting also makes Belmont unique - you can have a “traditional” college experience while learning how to compete with the highest level of musical theatre performer.  In addition, being in Nashville (music city) provides some exciting experiences like recording opportunities, music videos, and commercial music experiences. One other element which makes us strong and special is our alumni network. Perhaps it’s because of the family atmosphere or that so many of our students are in New York and L.A., but there is a bond which endures beyond Belmont and the students rely on each other daily for information, audition tips, side gigs and more. The community is incredibly supportive, yet they challenge each other as well and create opportunities for one another in the city. 

Tell us a little bit about the musical theatre faculty at your school.

The musical theatre faculty is incredibly close and includes Jo Lynn Burks (musical direction, arranging, showcase, and voice), David Shamburger (directing and acting), Erica Aubrey (capstone, showcase, directing and voice), Anna Perry (choreography) and Nancy Allen (voice, showcase, and program coordinator). We respect and rely upon each other and we ALL engage with ALL the students to help them become the best performers and the best humans they can be. We are there in the trenches with them creating opportunities for them, giving life lessons along the way and promoting them beyond graduation.  The entire faculty are well trained and continue to work within the musical theatre industry from the local to the national level. Between us we have over 100 years of experience in musical theatre, much from a Broadway perspective. We are all experts in all styles of vocal training and work very well with our faculty in the theatre and dance program. This camaraderie helps prepare our students for good professional working relationships.  The students are encouraged to and can contact faculty members easily.

Are there any recent productions you're particularly proud of?

Our most recent production of Little Women was absolutely stunning; but I have to recall our award-winning productions of Parade, Fiddler on the Roof and Side Show as remarkable as well.  Those hold special places in my heart for different reasons, but all were beautiful, collaborative efforts to tell meaningful stories while highlighting the incredible talents of our students.  By the way, professors never perform in our productions. We make sure to cast as many of our students as possible and to create opportunity whenever we can. For this reason, we often double cast our leading roles which has worked out very well in helping students to learn to collaborate and not compete.  

How about alumni?

I’m incredibly proud of all of our 182 graduates but in particular we like to highlight Katie Ladner (Sunset Blvd and Wicked on Broadway; Heathers Off Broadway (originated the role of Martha Dunnstock; original cast album) , Be More Chill Off Broadway (originated the role of Jenna Rolan, original cast album)  Fat Camp, Freaky Friday and Gigantic workshops; and just created the role of Sapphire in Almost Famous in San Diego at the Globe Theatre. We are also quite proud of our graduate, Deonte Warren who is standby for the Sultan, Babkak and Genie in Aladdin after being in the National Tour of Sister Act and Dreamgirls as well as Disney World’s The Lion King. In addition, we like to brag about Rebecca Covington who is currently in Hamilton in San Francisco after her Broadway performance as Janelle Woods in Beautiful: the Carol King Musical and Motown the Musical in addition to her national and international tours of Motown the Musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Mamma Mia!, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Beautiful: the Carol King Musical. Wow!

There are so many others currently working on Broadway and off Broadway that it’s hard to pinpoint, but we also love our Tony Award Winner, Levi Kries (Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet) and our very own Chris D’Sean Lee who was the second person to play Jefferson/Layette continuing the role for the Chicago production of Hamilton and now starring in Legacies on the CW.

What is your program's "best-kept secret"?

I think the best kept secret (and we wish it weren’t a secret!) is that our students are incredibly talented and often are accepted into but choose Belmont over schools such as Michigan, Carnegie Mellon and Baldwin Wallace.  They are in the room competing with students from these more famous “top twenty” schools and they are trained as well, or better.  The three things I hear from alumni or working students when out in the world is, “Thank you so much, I didn’t realize how well we were being trained”, “I know so much more than others at this audition!” and “I am the only person in the cast who has not had any vocal issues”.

Anything else?

Here's a photo from Fiddler on the Roof, Fall 2017. This was a production which was spiritual, collaborative and rewarding from the very first rehearsal. You know those productions when the cast and creative team work together like a well-oiled machine and the material is just so wonderful? This was our first season with our current choreographer, Anna Perry, who turned this musical (which is not normally thought of as having very much dance) into a major dance vehicle. It was visually and aurally stunning with a vibrant energy that permeated every scene; and brought our productions into a new era of movement which continues today. 

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