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Ohio University prepares for new musical theater program

Starting in Fall Semester 2019, Ohio University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance program will diverge into a four-year degree with two tracks. 

The acting track will remain as the same traditional program, while the new musical theater track will collaborate with the School of Music and the Dance Division to prepare students for that particular field of performance.

Chiara Ridpath, a junior studying acting, recognized the value of the new track and being educated specifically in musical theater.

“I totally would have done musical theater instead,” Ridpath said. “I did end up picking OU because I do also want to do film and movies, and I thought getting a solid acting training would be good, … (but) if I were at a lower year, I would switch.”

Ridpath isn’t the only one who found the lack of a musical theater program deterring.

“Most of my friends … who went into theater went to different schools because there wasn’t a musical theater program here,” Ridpath said. 

David Haugen, head of the Theater Division’s performance program, acknowledged the strong demand for a musical theater program at OU. 

“There is a great demand for (musical theater) programs, but we wanted to create something unique, something that played to our strengths in actor training,” Haugen said in an email. “The core of the Performance Faculty has been together over 10 years. We think we are in a strong position to spread our wings and expand the Performance Area.”

The performance program is closely associated with the playwriting program, giving students the opportunity to create original works of theater. The new musical theater track will give students the same opportunity to create new works of musical theater. 

“Most students get their information on how to perform a role from listening to the cast album,” Haugen said in an email. “What would it be like to create a role all on your own?”

Haugen emphasized the importance of integrating students from both tracks into the same classes. Unlike what is the case in many other programs, the acting and musical theater students will be taking many of the same courses. 

“I’m excited to see how they will influence each other,” Haugen said in an email. 

Haugen said there were many logistical challenges associated with restructuring such a large program, including scheduling, staffing and creating curriculum. Because the program is transitioning from a three-year to a four-year degree, there was also a need for increased staff.

“As a non-singer, I’ve always been mainly concerned with ‘straight’ acting,” Haugen said in an email. “So I’m walking into a new world. I’m learning a lot! And creating a program from scratch is very exciting.”

Haugen also chaired the search committee for a head of musical theater, which is a new position. The committee chose Alan Patrick Kenny.

Kenny is a man of many hats, wearing those of a theater director, producer, educator and even of a musician. With an extensive history in each field, he appeared to be the perfect candidate to be the head of musical theater.

His breadth of experience is particularly suitable for the breadth of specializations for students in the musical theater track. Actor-musicianship, pop/rock performance and performance wellness are just three of the many possible specializations for each student’s interests.

Although not involved with musical theater herself, Morgan Austin, a junior studying production design and technology, knows many people who are. 

“I think it would be a great opportunity for them to dive into musical theater,” Austin said. “I really hope that (the musical theater program) will make the theater program even more known around the world, because I think Ohio (University) has a great Theater Program, and adding musical theater will only make it better."


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