CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 26, 2014 – Southeast Missouri State University officials were notified last week that the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) accredited Southeast, voting to approve its application and granting it associate membership.
NAST is the national accrediting agency for theatre and theatre-related disciplines. The National Committee on Accreditation admitted Southeast as a voting member of NAST at its national meeting in Chicago.
“NAST has only 177 member organizations in the entire nation, so gaining membership is a very prestigious honor for our University and program in theatre,” said Dr. Kenn Stilson, professor of theatre and dance at Southeast.
This means Southeast has the same quality training program as such universities and companies as: American Academy of Dramatic Art (New York City and Hollywood, Calif.), California Institute of the Arts, Florida State University, Miami University, Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre (New York City), The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, Pennsylvania State University, Southern Methodist University, University of California-Los Angeles and Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute (New York City), Stilson said.
“It’s a long and daunting process, and it’s a real achievement – one that should be celebrated – for Southeast Missouri State University and the Department of Theatre and Dance,” he said. “It puts us in another class and will go a long way toward our goal of being one of the top undergraduate theatre training programs at state universities in the entire Midwest.”
NAST accreditation covers every element of the University’s theatre-training within the context of the entire University, Stilson said, including mission; content and quality of the curriculum; production quality; number and quality of faculty, staff and students; facilities; library holdings; academic and production budgets; travel; professional development; guest artists and residencies; student and alumni success in the field; community relations; recruitment and retention; and diversity.
Stilson said Southeast has been working on NAST accreditation for 13 years. The process began, he said, with a major commitment by the Board of Regents and the administration to build and develop the River Campus and its facilities, the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Beginning in 2001, the Department of Theatre and Dance was completely overhauled, he said. The previous Bachelor of Arts in Theatre program was revamped and the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Theatre with options in acting and design/technology was created. This required approval from the department, college, University, Board of Regents and the Missouri Department of Higher Education, Stilson said. The musical theatre program was added a couple of years later when Judith Farris, artist in residence, was tapped to assist in the development and growth of the musical theatre program.
“Everything had to fall into place with the design and construction of the River Campus and the development of the Holland School of Visual & Performing Arts,” Stilson said.
As the new degrees were implemented, the Holland School was established, the River Campus facilities were built and the Department of Theatre and Dance grew from 17 to 160 majors. The number of faculty expanded from six to 14, as of this coming fall, he said.
“Production budgets, library holdings, and every element they consider when granting accreditation had to be considered and brought up to their national standard,” Stilson said.
With the creation of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, the theatre program defined itself and narrowed its mission to become a professional training program. Along the way, it had to prove that it was who it claimed to be, he said.
Southeast joined and participated in NAST as a non-member institution. NAST consultants also visited to help Southeast theatre program faculty develop elements of its program. A self-study was completed and forwarded to the National Accreditation Committee for its consideration.
A NAST team visited Southeast and compiled a report of necessary action items. The University responded detailing actions taken with all aspects of the program, Stilson said.
Last spring NAST voted to defer Southeast’s bid for accreditation, requesting that the number of voice and movement classes in the acting program be increased. These items again were detailed in an action item report, Stilson said. Resolution of these items began last summer, and the program received approval to hire its 14th faculty member who will begin teaching next fall.
The River Campus expansion project, currently under way and expected to open next fall, resolved the issue of adequate rehearsal and classroom space. The curriculum again had to be revised to meet NAST standards and the department, college, University and Board of Regents again approved it.
Late last fall, Southeast submitted the University’s official response to the 2013 NAST Action Report, he said. The National Committee on Accreditation reconsidered Southeast’s initial self-study, its response to the visitation team report and the official response to the NAST Action Report.
“It took a village,” Stilson said, but the accreditation is external validation of what Southeast officials already know – that the theatre program is of outstanding quality and is committed to theatrical excellence. “And it certainly doesn’t hurt with our future recruitment and retention of the best and brightest young artists to study and train at Southeast,” he said.