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Program Spotlight: West Virginia University

Updated: Apr 4, 2021

"Assassins" by Steven Sondheim and John Weidman, WVU School of Theatre & Dance, Morgantown, WV

Lee Blair, Associate Director/Head of Performance at the School of Theatre & Dance at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, shares some of the finer points regarding the Mountaineer's BFA musical theatre program.

How long has your BFA program been around?

7 years and our BFA and MFA in Acting programs have a long history and a national profile

How many students, in general, does your program accept every year? 10-12

How many students, in total, are in your program? 40-50

What’s unique about your program? Our BFA in Musical Theatre is an acting and performance degree with additional coursework through the School of Music. We are a four-year, public, research institution that trains our students in a conservatory style, and a studio system. As such, students enjoy the benefits of a rich and robust academic experience alongside challenging and exciting performance training that prepares them for the demands of the twenty-first century industry. We produce eight to ten productions a year, a combination of plays and musicals. This includes our main season series, directing lab productions, student productions, cabarets and more. All of these opportunities for students to get on stage, and backstage, unfold in our six performance spaces and studios, and eight shops and design labs. West Virginia Public Theatre, a professional regional theatre, operates on the campus of WVU in our College of Creative Arts and our students enjoy various opportunities on stage, and off, over the course of their study. Major regional theatre cities, including Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York are all easily reachable through major modes of transportation. BFA Musical Theatre students appear in an industry showcase in New York City during the spring of their senior year where they are given the opportunity to transition from student to professional, appearing in performance for NYC agents, managers, and casting directors. The School of Theatre and Dance, and the BFA musical theatre program, foster a culture of inclusiveness, generosity, and rigor, and are passionately dedicated to the training, growth, and education of our students.

Tell us a little bit about the musical theatre faculty at your school? All of our faculty continue to work as professionals in the industry as actors, performers, musicians, writers, directors, choreographers, and educators both nationally, and internationally. Our faculty hold advanced degrees from some of the finest theatre programs in the country and maintain union membership status in Actors’ Equity, Screen Actors’ Guild/AFTRA and the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. Our faculty come from a variety of backgrounds in training, and experience, that fosters a training approach rooted in a diversity of methods and techniques.

Are there any recent productions you're particularly proud of? We produced a production of Assassins by Steven Sondheim and John Weidman in downtown Morgantown at the Metropolitan Theatre. The Metropolitan is a turn-of-the-century beautiful proscenium house, fully refurbished at the start of the Obama Presidency; a “shovel-ready” project. It is a jewel of a “roadhouse” and the School produced there every other year or so. It’s a great opportunity to “travel” a show (even if it is only 3 miles from our campus), expose our student actors, designers, and technicians to a different venue. Assassins combined a variety of students which is indicative of our overall programs. As far as the cast, there were students from a variety of our programs of study: the BFA Musical Theatre program, BA in Theatre Studies and in Dance, a Vocal Performance in Opera graduate student, and two MFA Graduate Acting students doing their thesis roles as John Wilkes Booth and Sara Jane Moore. Along with an orchestra of students and faculty from our School of Music, Assassins was a triumph and a true example of the cross-curricular and inter-collegiate efforts of our School, College and University.

How about alumni? As a newer BFA program, our alumni from the past six to seven years are working in regional theatre, cruise ship shows, theme parks, children’s tours and beyond. They are based all over the country from New York to Orlando to Pittsburgh to Seattle.

What is your program's "best-kept secret"? We fully involve our BFA Musical Theatre students in their studies with the BFA Acting and other programs as much as we can, but maintain the focus of their learning in the art of musical theatre – acting, voice and dance. That integration though give a well-rounded approach to what musical theatre truly is: storytelling. And storytelling is done through song and language and text and movement, etc. Every week, our Studio Acting Program and Musical Theatre Studios (Graduate Acting, Junior and Senior Acting and Musical Theatre) gather for our weekly Scene Study with all Performance faculty in attendance. Every Friday, one group in that huge cohort will present songs or monologues, then another will present scenes. The rest of their colleagues will attend and watch as well as experience the critique from all the present faculty. It is a full performance and teaching experience for all our students.

Anything else? We like to think of ourselves as a “best-kept secret”; that sleeper program that attracts the best students, that has that special buzz, that keeps process as important as product. While the BFA Musical Theatre program is to focus the study on that genre of theatre for the students, there is opportunity to explore other theatre genres, methods, and study. The “business” of theatre is expansive. We train the musical theatre artists of the future, but what if you like television or film or dramaturgy or clowning; there’s opportunity to explore that along the way.

Learn more about West Virginia University's Musical Theatre program by visiting this link.

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