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Saint Mary’s introduces new musical theatre minor

| Monday, August 28, 2017

Saint Mary’s has expanded its list of minors to make way for the start of something new: a musical theatre minor.

Specialist in costume design Melissa Bialko said in an email that she proposed the idea for the minor — which requires 17 credit hours — to her colleagues after years of polling students and alumnae.

“I presented the idea to my wonderful colleagues after several years of polling alums, and after hearing many times that students were interested in such a minor,” she said. “My colleagues in music, dance and theatre were enthusiastic, and we moved forward, collectively agreeing upon the 17-credit hour music, dance, and theatre-based curriculum.”

Bialko said she credits her colleague for the establishment of the minor.

“Katie Sullivan, professor of acting, took all of our thoughts and composed our formal proposal, which was readily accepted by our friends on the Curriculum Committee and in Academic Affairs, who were necessary and helpful in this process,” Bialko said.

Sullivan said in an email that her students’ enthusiasm propelled the minor forward.  

“We have known that our students love musicals and that there is always a really high turnout when we produce one, so we gathered that the interest would be there,” she said. “We also wanted to promote the interdisciplinary nature of this theatrical genre, which is a definite underpinning to the liberal arts tradition and philosophy that Saint Mary’s is built upon.”

Sullivan said the minor will feature a wide range of dance, music and theatre classes.

“There will be an assortment of selected and pertinent courses in singing and piano in order to develop one’s understanding of the structure of music and to help in being able to sight-read as a singer,” she said. “As well, there will be selected types of dance technique that are frequently used in musical theatre productions.”

The minor spans disciplines and trains students in the various components of theatre, according to Sullivan.

“Also required are an introductory acting course, a more advanced one focusing on musicals and a course on stagecraft so that students can learn some of the rudiments of getting a show actualized and on its feet, in terms of scenery, lighting, props, costumes and sound effects,” she said.

Dance professor Michele Kriner said in an email that students do not need to have advanced dance experience to minor in musical theatre.

“All levels of proficiency are welcome, from beginning to advanced,” she said.

Bialko said she feels the minor is important to the theatre program because it engages students in the arts.

“I think [the minor] is a new way to draw interest into our arts programs,” she said. “This is a joint program for music, dance and theatre, and it allows arts students to enrich their academics in a way we have not been previously able to offer. However, we also intend this musical theatre minor program for students of any major or minor.”

Bialko said students with an interest in musical theatre who may not want to major in theatre or the arts will find the musical theatre minor especially endearing.

“We want the student who was active in theatre in high school or loves musicals or simply wants an arts degree to be able to fulfill herself without having to commit to a major in theatre,” she said. “While most theatre majors double with other programs — and we create an especially flexible curriculum in order to accommodate doubling in other majors — we fully appreciate that the theatre major is not for everyone, whereas our 17-credit-hour musical theatre minor should be readily completable by students in any field. This is truly for the business or bio student that adores theatre but simply does not have the time for another major.”

Kriner said the minor will give students the opportunity to broaden their performance abilities and increase their knowledge for potential teaching careers.

“Musical theatre has been presented onstage at Saint Mary’s for years,” she said. “This minor will give students more tools and experience in musical theatre that can broaden their ability to contribute to musical theatre as an onstage performer or perhaps at a school that they might teach at in the future or their community after college.”

Sullivan said students will not need to have expertise in singing or dancing to minor in musical theatre.

“[Students] will be learning how to do these things, and they will all start at different places with different strengths and weaknesses and different amounts of past experience,” she said. “All are equally welcome.”

Bialko said she hopes students have fun with the minor and also gather necessary skills to propel themselves into graduate education.

“I hope students gain an enhanced appreciation for the various skills needed for a successful life in the world of musical theatre, and I hope they simply have fun as well,” she said. “It is important to enjoy fun things and to enrich ourselves in terms of our passions, not only to move our careers forward.”

Sullivan said students should not worry about their expertise as stage performers.  

“It is performance-based,” she said. “But one can certainly be going through it with the idea of getting generally knowledgeable about musical theatre. … Starting very beginner is equally expected.”

Music professor Nancy Menk said those worried about the required voice and piano classes do not have to be expert singers themselves.

“The idea behind taking voice and piano is, even if you’re not a singer, you would learn how to talk to a singer,” she said. “If you’re working with a singer on the stage, you would understand what they’re doing. It doesn’t mean you have to become a great singer yourself. Just knowing how the voice works and what’s important to a singer will help you work with a singer.”

Professor Mark Abram-Copenhaver said students who earn this minor will gain applicable life skills.

“You pick up with the skills you come in with and we expand upon that,” he said. “It’s analogous.”

Sophomore Sandy Tarnowski said she awaits earning a minor in musical theatre.

“I feel more included,” she said. “Not many people appreciate musical theatre all that much, and to have a program that celebrates musical theatre makes me feel more included in the theatre program and at college in general.”

Sullivan said she is happy to talk with anyone who is interested in learning more about the minor. She said the new musical theatre minor will teach students valuable skills, no matter which path in life they wish to pursue.

“Theatre, in itself, teaches one how to be creative, imaginative, collaborative, analytical, how to compromise, meet deadlines, organize one’s tasks and how to communicate,” she said. “Our new musical theatre minor will be no different in that respect, and those learned skills will be applicable and needed in all sorts of careers and work situations in which one may find herself over the years. Theatre teaches a person invaluable skills and readies a student for so many different paths in life.”

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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