Baldwin Wallace’s Acting Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program has recently received national attention by OnStage Blog after two short years since establishing the major in 2016. With the program’s fresh start, it was not expected.
“We were wonderfully surprised to receive that kind of ranking so early in the game,” said associate professor Scott Plate and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance.
The program focuses on theoretical practice and has brought opportunities in a partnership with Great Lakes Theater to not only the BFA majors, but to all the students involved in the department.
According to the head of the BFA program and associate professor Brennan Murphy, the major “requires a very high load of credits in the practical aspects of actor training.”
This heavier course load is specifically designed for students who wish to specialize in acting. Despite the basic principles, “BFA acting programs around the country vary considerably,” said Murphy.
For instance, not all BFA programs allow for students to audition their first semester as freshman. However, programs are often similar in the sense that they primarily focus on acting, movement, voice, speech and participation in the various performance seasons the school offers.
“We are somewhat different,” said Murphy, “in that we allow freshman to audition and perform their first semester.”
In other programs, it is required for actors to spend their first year or longer in training before they are allowed to audition for school productions. This is one aspect that makes Baldwin Wallace unique. Another aspect includes the fact that the school’s program is smaller than other BFA programs around the country, consisting of only 18 students in the major currently. The university desires to keep it this way to ensure that there is enough faculty and space to satisfy student needs. Additionally, having a smaller program allows for more individualized training.
With these aspects in mind, there were other contributing factors leading up to the recognition of the program.
According to Plate, one reason for the program’s consideration is the “strong relationships with professional producing partners in Cleveland and across the country.”
The partnership with Great Lakes Theater specifically has brought students many opportunities from their association with Idaho and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Current seniors performed over the summer in a production of “Macbeth” in Cleveland which then got to travel to both festivals in Boise and Tahoe.
Great Lakes Theater “will reach out to us for understudy assignment options [and] for possible casting opportunities,” said Plate. “We try to… organize our training around getting students ready to perform at that level.” After this experience students “can bring that learning back to the classroom and see how that training applies in a professional setting.”
According to Plate, this opportunity helps the department by obtaining feedback from individuals involved with the company who can provide information on where the students are excelling and where they fall short. This allows for improvement in training “to make [students] more professionally viable.”
Likewise, many faculty members are involved with acting and directing themselves in productions outside of Baldwin Wallace. The Department of Theatre and Dance is being joined by three new members to their faculty for a total of 11 full time faculty and four full time staff members for the 2018-2019 academic year.
“It’s very important for faculty, especially in the theatre and dance program, to practice what they preach,” said Plate. “We’re out there working and making the same mistakes our students are… What we try to do is give our training a practical edge that comes from direct knowledge of what’s happening now out there in the world.” Plate believes that this real time component gives students a bird’s eye view into the occupation.
Murphy said that the new faculty members, including a new set, lighting and sound designer, will have “a great benefit to our students” as well as for the entire department. With more specialists, students will be able to receive a more in-depth perspective of the profession.
Currently, there are many different areas of the performance arts present such as theatre, film, television, voice over and more.
“The business is changing so quickly with the explosion of film production with Netflix and Amazon,” said Murphy.
It is important for students to study these areas of expertise so that they are capable of working in the different mediums.
Plate hopes that these aspects of the BFA will create “individuals who will sustain a long career in theater and have patience to see it through.”
In present time, the Department of Theatre and Dance students are currently involved with the many productions happening on and off campus. For more details on the program and the different productions taking place this semester, visit www.bw.edu/acting and or www.bw.edu/tickets.