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IU unveils new degree in musical theater

Bloomington Herald-Times

By Joel Pierson
May 13, 2007

This year, the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama is introducing a new degree program, the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. While it is new to IU, it is an established curriculum across the country. To find out more about the BFA, I spoke with program director George Pinney.

Pinney explained that the BFA is considered a professional degree, while the BA is a liberal arts degree. "The goal of the BFA," he said, "is to launch a student directly into the profession upon graduation. Many schools concentrate on performance and related support courses, with less emphasis on general education courses."

Not so at IU. Here, the BFA is placed in the context of a liberal arts education. Students pursuing it will fulfill general education courses as well as intense performance requirements. I am a firm believer in liberal arts education on the undergraduate level," Pinney stated. "We live in a very complicated world. I believe it is the responsibility of a university not only to prepare a student in their chosen profession, but to prepare a student to further the human condition with a global outlook."

Musical theater is extremely competitive and challenging, with union actors facing an 80 percent unemployment rate at any given time. By including a liberal arts background, an IU BFA recipient has a grounding in several disciplines, and can pursue a number of careers after that last curtain call.

The BFA degree is based on a balanced study of theater, music and dance, with guidelines established by the National Association of Schools of Theater.

"The wonderful thing," Pinney told me, "about a musical theater degree is that it is diverse by nature, drawing courses from the Department of Theatre and Drama, the Jacobs School of Music and (schools of) Kinesiology, HPER and Afro-American Studies. Adding a full complement of liberal arts, the degree is very well-rounded."

Admittance into the program is by audition. Three auditions were held on campus, and roughly 200 students nationwide auditioned for 12 available spots. As of now, eight men and five women have been accepted into the program.

Upon graduation, BFA students will be well prepared for their career, starting with a musical theater showcase in New York City in front of talent agents, casting directors and industry professionals.

The program has been a long time coming. Incubated via the individualized major program in the College of Arts and Sciences, the BFA has been championed by Pinney and others for more than 20 years. Most recently, theater department chairman Jonathan Michaelsen gave the final push that made the program a reality.

"We have hired new faculty to broaden our offerings and expertise," Pinney said. "A recent hire in sound design is Professor Andrew Hopson. Ray Fellman will be joining the Department of Theatre and Drama in the fall as our musical theater voice professor, as will Adam Noble, an expert in stage movement. This coming fall, we will search for a music director. With these new colleagues joining our forces to teach the bright and talented, the future of musical theater at Indiana University is full of potential and promise.