The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance Reflects Growing Academic Breadth, Reputation

Conservatory--On_the_Town_057Y3897-croppedCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 6, 2016 – In a world focused on preparing students for a larger stage, Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance is doing just that — shifting to a new name to reflect its expanding presence among professional training programs in theatre and dance.

Beginning Aug. 1, Southeast’s Department of Theatre and Dance will become The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance.

“It’s a special designation, which more aptly describes who we are and how we operate,” said Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “This is a really big deal for Theatre & Dance, and it’s a big deal for the University. We are so excited about this special designation and name change.”

The Department has been operating as a conservatory for a number of years, he said, achieving accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) in March 2014. The Department offers a professional training program with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in acting, dance, design/technology and musical theatre with a primary focus on performance, production and career preparation.

The opening of the Kenneth and Jeanine Dobbins River Campus Center in fall 2014, with all of its additional amenities, was the final impetus to move forward with the proposal to change the name, Stilson said.

“Academically, the degrees will be the same, as well as the administrative structure” under The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, “but we will be intensifying our curriculum by expanding classes and becoming more selective to bring in the very best students,” he said. “We’re also expanding our recruitment base to go from the Midwest region to both coasts.”

Just the mention of the new name has had a dramatic effect on recruitment, he said.

“We are on track to have a record enrollment for fall 2016, and we have students coming in from California; Phoenix, Arizona; Mobile, Alabama; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Chicago, Illinois; Florida; and, of course, all over Missouri,” Stilson said. “I have no doubt our fall 2017 class will be even stronger.”

The transformation of the Department of Theatre and Dance began in 2001, 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.

Since that time, the Department of Theatre and Dance has been 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 majors in 2001 to more than 170 projected for fall 2016. The number of faculty also has expanded from six in 2001 to 16 professional faculty and staff members currently.
Production budgets, library holdings — every element has been elevated, he said.

With the creation of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, the theatre program defined itself, narrowed its mission to become a professional training program, prepared students for performances in countless first-rate stage productions and groomed hundreds of highly talented students for stage roles worldwide.

“We are thrilled beyond belief by the University’s undying support of our program and for the arts,” Stilson said. The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance name “is a testament to the past and current leadership of this institution.”