Trekking up the Mississippi, we chat with Josh Harvey, Instructor of Musical Theatre, who shares an in-depth look at the Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre & Dance at Southeast Missouri State University.
How long has your BFA program been around?
The BFA in Acting, Dance, or Design/Tech began in 2003, the BFA in Musical Theatre began in 2005.
How many students, in general, does your program accept every year?
We accept around 25 into the BFA for Musical Theatre every year.
How many students, in total, are currently enrolled in your program?
220 (inclusive of all BA’s and all BFA programs)
What's unique about your program?
We are a quickly growing, top-flight conservatory that is amazingly affordable.
Our goal is to have student-artists graduate with little or no debt, as Southeast
Missouri State has some of the lowest tuition rates in the country (both in-state
and out-of-state). We are NAST and NASD accredited.
We do three musicals a year, two “mainstage” (full productions, usually in the
Bedell Performance Hall but sometimes in the Flex) and one “2nd stage” (Chicago-store-front style, limited tech and budget) per year. Because MT BFA’s comprise a large chunk of our student body, they are also the predominant cast members for our other
plays (four per year and often feature music), including Shakespeare, which
happens every other year. We have student-run workshop productions (pitched
to, and then paid for by the department), student-run cabarets, The Christmas
Jukebox concert (with the Music Department), the Music Department yearly
opera, and The FaultLine Film Festival—there are so many performance
We are located on the River Campus, the state of Missouri’s only all-accredited,
all-arts campus, so named because we overlook the Mississippi River. Our
conservatory students mingle and live with students from other areas of the
visual and performing arts (the Department of Visual Arts and the Department of
Music are also located here). We have been told by NYC visitors from the
industry that our facilities compete with only a few other schools in the country
in their quality and caliber—we agree! Our main space, the Donald C. Bedell
Performance Hall, is a multi-purpose proscenium stage with an audience
capacity of 950. The Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre has space and features
way beyond a traditional “black box”—200 seats and holds up to six
performances a year. We also have a beautiful recital hall that was transformed
from the old chapel for priests training in the seminary space in which we now
reside. Our students can live on dorms on this campus and eat in the cafeteria
here, which means they are immersed in their training.
We are a professional training program within a traditional liberal arts school. Our students take core curricula but receive conservatory style training within that framework. Our BFA musical theatre students also cross-train in tech and have to complete 30 hours of tech/run crew, costume crew, box office, shop hours, and costume builds each semester. Like our faculty and their broad experience, we train students for all markets and all theatre-related artistic endeavors. Our senior portfolio class is business driven and includes websites, graphic identity, cost of living studies in major cities, as well the usual contacting of agents, directors, auditions, having your “book” ready for different audition scenarios, etc. All BFA MT students have to complete a summer, professional gig/internship with paid work to graduate. We do both an NYC and LA showcase (predominantly NYC for MT students, but that is not a rule), but we have our own external fundraising committee to help offset most of the costs of these showcases (so, generally, our students have not had to pay for showcase). We like to take any qualified students, but many non-traditional to “type” casting and have regular group discussions on diversity, race and representation within shows. Because our students come from all economic backgrounds, most of our classes are technique-driven (as opposed to style-driven). We are a teaching school, first and foremost (not a polishing school).
From a health perspective, we have our own training room in facility. We also have free scoping for all singers through the college’s SLP Masters program. A local chiropractor also offers free sessions to any theatre or dance students. We are currently developing a mandatory health and wellness class for all BFA students, to be implemented in 2020 or 2021.
Tell us a little bit about the musical theatre faculty at your school.
Being a conservatory in a liberal arts setting, our faculty are an amazing blend of academic-professionals with experiences ranging from cruise ships to Lincoln Center—and many regional theatres and academic programs in between. We have 16 full-time faculty, most of whom are members of their respective unions. We have fight choreography experts, intimacy coordinators, published designers.
Our voice faculty includes opera and contemporary singers and training styles. Being in the Midwest, we strengthen our ties to NYC regularly and have constant contact with our many friends working in the city and on Broadway. Our faculty members have performed all over the world. Our newest MT acting faculty, Kitt Lavoie, joins us from NYC. He works frequently as a member of the directing team for the filming of live theatrical events, including the Emmy-winning “Sweeney Todd” (starring Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel) and “Sondheim! The Birthday Concert,” as well as HBO’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (starring Audra McDonald in the role that won her a record sixth Tony award). He wrote and produced the acclaimed feature-length documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” about the cast in the legendarily short-lived original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” He is a frequent collaborator with Lonny Price. More about our faculty here.
Are there any recent productions you're particularly proud of?
In 2018, we took a student/faculty work, “An American Hero” to NYMF, which was the first academic production in the festival’s history. It was written by Kenn Stilson, department chair, and then-student, now-alum Cody Cole. It won “Best of Festival.” Student actor Adam Schween won an Award for Outstanding Individual Performance and the university received a special citation for excellence from NYMF.
How about alumni?
(Most recent) TIM NICOLAI: The Glass Menagerie (Broadway) ANDREW TEBO: Completed the final, international tour of MAMMA MIA! and is currently on the national tour of ROCK OF AGES Other alums are currently performing off-Broadway, in major regional theatres (including Black Hills Playhouse, St. Louis Shakespeare, and Alabama Shakespeare), performing on cruise lines, at Disney, in film and TV, as well as Second City and The Upright Citizens Brigade.
What is your program's "best-kept secret"?
We were just voted OnstageBlog.com’s “Best in MT Program in Missouri.” We regularly fit the profile of many other “best lists”—and actually do a lot of the things that make them individually unique!
Want to learn more? Visit Southeastern Missouri State University's Department of Theatre and Dance website.