Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 3, the Midwestern US Schools
Written by Michelle J. Evans
March 18, 2020
It’s March, which means that current seniors and GAP students are anxiously waiting to hear from schools they auditioned for this year. As they nervously stare at their phones, check their mail, and refresh their email to see where they might get an acceptance, I am already starting the process of helping my Juniors start their college audition list. Being a professional college audition coach comes with a lot of challenges. Helping my students find the right programs for them is no easy task, and there are many things to take into consideration. My colleagues and I at CAP (College Audition Project) are always on the lookout for programs that we think have all the components to help our students prepared for a life in the entertainment industry. With record numbers of auditioners this year, it is more important than ever for students to have a vast and varied list of schools in which they are interested.
We are now in the 3rd part of this series and have already covered the Southern and Northern US. Now we travel into the Midwest. I know the midwest does not invoke the thought of Broadway or Hollywood, but numerous top acting and musical theatre programs can be found in the midwest. While I could rattle off 15-20 amazing programs that you frequently see published in the “top” list, there are even more that you may not have seen on a list or heard much about. The list below is full of programs that have amazing offerings, and who knows one of them may just be the school you have been looking for!
OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSTY
LOCATION: Ada, OH
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA International Theatre Production, BA Theatre, Dance Minor, Theatre Technology and Design Minor, and Arts Administration Minor
AUDITION FACTS: Those interested in the BFA Musical Theatre degree will need to audition for consideration for the program, and those looking at the BFA International Theatre Production major will need to complete an interview.
ALUMNI FACTS: ONU alumni have found themselves in all facets of the entertainment industry around the world. Mary Beth Donahoe, Brady Miller, Saori Yakoo, and Glenn Stanton all called ONU home and now find themselves having brilliant careers in the arts.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: ONU offers conservatory-style training with small class sizes. The faculty works closely with each student to help them shape their craft. They have numerous performance opportunities each year both in their mainstage season and student groups and frequently have fantastic guest artists come and work with the students. The Freed Center offers amazing training and performance facilities.
MY EXTRAS: I love ONU and the excellent faculty there, they are some of the kindest and generous people I have had the privilege to get to know. They have top-notch training, but they maintain that tight, family feel. I really cannot say enough wonderful things about this program or what they have to offer the next generation of professionals. I know many students that committed to this program, and they are all growing, learning, and loving their time at ONU!
MISSOURI STATE UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Springfield, MO
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Design, Technology, and Stage Management, BA Theatre, BSEd-Speech and Theatre Education
AUDITION FACTS: BFA Musical Theatre, Acting, and Dance candidates will need to audition to be considered for the department. BFA Design, Technology and Stage Management students will have to complete an interview for consideration.
ALUMNI FACTS: Two of the most notable MSU alumni are TV and Film sensations, John Goodman and Kathleen Turner. However, many other amazing professional performers and technicians graduated from MSU, like Broadway’s Deidre Goodwin, Kyle Dean Massey, and Nathan Tysen, to name a few!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: MSU offers rigorous training in all arts-related fields. Their faculty are highly trained professionals that bring their years of training and continual work in the industry to the classroom. There are a variety of performance opportunities and performance clubs on campus, as well as in the Springfield area. BFA Acting and Musical Theatre students get to attend Senior showcases in NY and/or LA. A lot is waiting for students on the MSU campus and even more packed into this fantastic program.
MY EXTRAS: MSU is also home to Tent Theatre, a fully operational summer stock theatre. Students in the MSU Theatre and Dance department can audition for these productions, alongside professional and equity actors and even earn EMC points towards their equity card. Students also get to work with Bob Westenberg (most notably the original Prince/Wolf from Broadway’s Into The Woods) and Lisa M. Brescia (run as Evan’s mother in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway), as well as many other amazing faculty members and guest artists.
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO
LOCATION: Chicago, Il
DEGREES OFFERED: BA & BFA in Acting, BA & BFA in Musical Theatre, BA in Comedy Writing and Performance, BA in Theatre, BA in Theatre Design and Technology Acting
AUDITION FACTS: If you want to apply for one of the BFA programs, you will need to audition to gain admittance. The BA degrees are non-audition; however, you can choose to audition for one of the BFA degrees after your first year as a BA student, if you desire. They also have some great minors to offer in Stage Combat, ASL (American Sign Language) Studies, Entrepreneurship, and Live and Performing Arts Management
ALUMNI FACTS: Columbia College Chicago has produced many working actors, directors, and writers that have saturated the entertainment industry. Aidy Bryant has made a name for herself in SNL, and Courtney Mack and Mallory Maedke just joined the cast of Six!. Scott Adsit, Michael George, Chester Gregory, Michelle Monaghan, and Nadine Velazquez, only a few more of the notable alumni that called CCC home!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: The department offers over 40 performance opportunities a year for students with both existing works and new works, as well as on stage and behind the camera opportunities. Students will dive into their selected degree program and get in-depth study into all asc[ect of their degree program from award-winning faculty. Students can also study abroad with short-term immersion courses as well as semester-long exchange programs through their partnerships with international theatre schools in the UK, Ireland, and Australia. Students can also take part in “LA: An Actor’s Guide to Hollywood ”, which is a 10-day course. During these ten days, you’ll spend time networking with industry professionals (including artistic directors and agents) and learning how to audition in LA.
MY EXTRAS: Being located in such a vibrant theatre community, CCC offers students the opportunity to supplement their training at some of the best theaters and comedy houses in the world. Students frequently are given opportunities in the Chicago area to work professionally in all fields of the arts, and the school supports students working around the Chicago area while in school.
UNIVERSITY OF INDIANA-BLOOMINGTON
LOCATION: Bloomington, IN
DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre & Drama, BFA Musical Theatre, and BFA Dance
AUDITION FACTS: Students looking at the BFA Musical Theatre or BFA Dance degrees will need to submit a prescreen audition. If they pass the prescreen, they will be invited to attend an in-person audition.
ALUMNI FACTS: This program gives students the foundation they need for a full career in the arts. IU was the training ground for many amazing theatre professionals such as Cj Pawlikowski, Kaitlyn Louise Smith, Julian Ramos, Meghan Faddis, Charnette Batey, and Robert Toms.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: IU is a small, focused, and well-rounded program that takes a very hands-on approach to help shape and nurture each artist. Beyond what they teach in the classroom, they bring in guest artists and casting directors to work with students and supply feedback. The Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST). It is a member of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). IU believes in connecting the current students with the professional faculty and the IU alumni in helping them build a network that will be with them throughout their careers.
MY EXTRAS: IU Summer Theater (IUST) provides unique educational opportunities for students to work with professional actors from around the country. It is a professional summer stock company employing Equity guest actors, IU Theatre and Drama faculty, undergraduates, and M.F.A. students.
WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Wichita, KS
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Dance, BFA Theatre Performance, BFA Design & Technology, BA Musical Theatre, BA Dance, BA Theatre, and Certificate Programs for Directing, Stage Management, and Physical Performance Studies.
AUDITION FACTS: Students that wish to be considered for the BFA/BA Musical Theatre and Theatre Performance programs will either need to audition/interview for those programs. BFA Design & Technology does not require an interview, but it is strongly recommended. Those wishing to be considered for scholarships must complete
ALUMNI FACTS: WSU Alumni have had performance opportunities and jobs with companies like Lyric Opera, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Light Opera Oklahoma, and of course, their local Equity Theatre, Music Theatre of Wichita. They have starred and performed in shows ranging from Les Contes d’Hoffmann to the National Tour of 42nd Street, to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, to Phantom of the Opera. Alumni are represented in AEA (Actor’s Equity Association), SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild), ITASE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), and many other well-known unions and organizations that benefit artists and artistic communities.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Wichita State offers a competitive learning atmosphere, all while maintaining a small community feel. They have a balance of studies in each of their degree programs, making sure that students exit after four years with a firm foundation of skills. The Alumni associated sponsors “Spotlight Series”. Alums in the industry are invited to share their professional experiences with current students, as well as other industry professionals to lead lectures and masterclasses, WSU is also home to the Wichita State University National Playwriting Contest, which has been a part of the department since 1975. They also have their “Performing Arts Angles” that help provide funds and opportunities for current students while training at WSU. The department itself awards $50K in scholarships each year to undergraduate students.
MY EXTRAS: A great way to find out more about this program is to attend their “Performing Art Day,” where you get to come to campus and get to experience a day full of workshops and classes. You can get a real glimpse of what it would be like to live and learn at WSU. They also will give each student two vouches to see any of their shows, another great way to get a feel for the program.
LOCATION: Athens, OH
DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre, BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Playwriting, BFA Production Design & Technology, and BFA Stage Management
AUDITION FACTS: Those wishing to complete a BFA degree program will need audition/interview to be selected. You can also enter into the BA program as a freshman and audition/interview at the end of that year for one of the BFA programs.
ALUMNI FACTS: Ohio University was once home to notable alumni like performers Brandy Burre, Betty Thomas, Church Cooper, Musical Composer Dave Malloy, and Dancer/ Dance Judge Mary Murphy from So You Think You Can Dance?.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Ohio University offers rigorous classroom training as well as offers students numerous experiences outside of the classroom. Students can attend or participate in a study abroad program, OHIO Performing Arts Series, Tantrum Theatre (OU Professional Theatre), Athens International Film Festival, and OHIO CoArts. These opportunities are on top of the 9-12 productions produced each year by the department.
MY EXTRAS: I love the Residential Learning Community at Ohio U. If you’re a student in art, dance, music, or theater, Lincoln Hall is an arts-friendly residence hall with spaces dedicated to each discipline. The hall provides an art studio with two drafting tables, a computer lounge with art- and music-friendly software and equipment, and a large seminar room fully equipped for dancers, performers, and theater students. They also have the Clinic for Science and Health in Artistic Performance (SHAPe Clinic), injured performing artists at Ohio University can be evaluated, treated and receive health and wellness advice from licensed athletic trainers who have the specialized equipment and knowledge to care for them.
LOCATION: Decatur, IL
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Stage Management, BFA Design & Production, BFA Theatre Administration, BA Theatre and Performance Studies, and a Dance minor.
AUDITION FACTS: BFA Acting & Musical Theatre students will need to submit a prescreen and pass it to audition for the program. BFA Stage Management and BFA Design & Production students will need to complete an interview process for consideration for admittance into the program.
ALUMNI FACTS: The list of Millikin Alumni is lengthy, but here are a few that you may know for their exemplary careers on Broadway and in TV/Film, Sierra Boggess, Jodi Benson, Ian Liberto, Jessica Wright, and Brain Collier.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Millikin’s approach to education, known as Performance Learning, offers a comprehensive integration of theory and practice with the added component of collaboration with third-party stakeholders. Through these collaborations, students gain valuable insight into their chosen field, which helps prepare them for professional success. They also offer some fantastic opportunities for students, such as the New Musicals Workshop. This exciting workshop gives students and faculty opportunities to collaborate with professional writing teams as they develop new musicals intended for commercial production. As well as the Shakespeare Corrected’s mission is to bring undergraduate students together with incarcerated and disadvantaged populations to collaborate and create a theatrical experience intended to inspire transformation and redemption in students, participants, and their families.
MY EXTRAS: One of the big new things about this program is that Millikin will be opening its new $29 million Center for Theatre & Dance this fall. A 250 seat courtyard-style theatre, dance and acting studios to support classes, productions, and informal performances, Classrooms, well-equipped design labs, a costume studio, a script library, collaboration spaces, and public spaces for the School of Theatre and Dance and the visiting public. The innovative facility will house all areas of study within the nationally recognized School.
LOCATION: Des Moines, IA
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Design & Technology, BFA Teaching Certification (Theatre, Speech & English), and BA Theatre
AUDITION FACTS: There is an audition for admittance into the BFA Acting & Musical Theatre programs and an interview/portfolio review for BFA Design & Technology degree.
ALUMNI FACTS: Drake alumni can be found all over the entertainment industry.Two- time Emmy Awards winning actor, Michel Emerson is a Drake alumnus, as well as TV/Film actors Steve Bannos and Bridget Flanery. And you can find Drake alumni Michael McGowan on the national tour of Book of Mormon.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Drake focuses on creating well-rounded artists. So, even though students will receive the majority of their training in their designated degree program, students also take classes in all aspects of theatre as well as the broader Drake Curriculum. The goal is to combine the best elements of focused conservatory training, with the best that a traditional liberal arts education has to offer. Drake typically mounts two productions in their larger, proscenium, Performing Arts Hall (one musical and one non-musical) and five to seven productions in their “black box” performing space, the William S.E. Coleman Studio Theatre.
MY EXTRAS: You might be thinking that Iowa doesn’t have a lot of professional opportunities for students. Well, Des Moines has several local professional and community theatre companies, including StageWest Theatre Company, Repertory Theatre of Iowa, Des Moines Social Club, Des Moines Community Playhouse, Des Moines Onstage, and Tall Grass Theatre Company. Drake students have acted, directed, stage-managed, designed and worked crew for all of these area theatres. Students have also been hired to teach, direct and choreograph at local schools as well. Drake Theatre is also closely connected to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and students have the opportunity to spend a semester exchange at the O’Neill Center.
KENT STATE UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Kent, OH
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Dance, BFA Design Technology & Production, BA Dance Studies, BA Theatre Studies, and Minors in Dance and Theatre.
AUDITION FACTS: Students wishing to be admitted to the BFA/BA Dance program of the BFA Musical Theatre program will need to participate in an audition. The BFA Design Technology & Production candidates will need to complete an interview/portfolio review for consideration.
ALUMNI FACTS: Broadway performers Alice Ripley, Tee Boyich, John Moauro, and Antoinette all graduated from Kent State as well as famous actor and comedian Steve Byrne. These are just a few of the notable alumni from Kent.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Kent State University encourages students to discover their potential, make bold choices, and recognize their ability to define success on your terms. They offer professional training in a supportive atmosphere, offering students ample amounts of classroom preparation, as well as out of the classroom experiences. There are numerous student organizations, such as All In[clusive], Alpha Psi Omega, Audacity Productions, Bachelor of Arts Theatre Student Alliance (BATSA), Black Theatre Association, East Meets West, Latin/X in Theatre, Musical Theatre Student Organization (MTSO), Stage Management Forum, SETT (Students Enhancing Technical Theatre)l Student Dance Education Organization (SDEO), and Transforum Theatre. The Center for the Performing Arts houses more than 70,000 square feet of performance, rehearsal, design, and classroom space for theatre and dance students. Students also have the opportunity to audition/work with Porterhouse Theatre (professional Equity theatre that has a long partnership with Kent) during the summer.
MY EXTRAS: Kent offers some excellent guest arts programs that provide students additional exposure to industry professionals in unique and extensive ways. The Roe Green Visiting Director Series invites a guest professional director each year to work in residency with students and direct one of the School’s Main Stage productions. The Armstrong Family Visiting Artist Series allows the School of Theatre and Dance to invite a guest professional choreographer to work with students. The William H. Zucchero Guest Artist Series offers support for guest designers, choreographers, performers, and other artists to work with students in a variety of learning experiences, including lectures, performances, and public forums.
WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Detroit, MI
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Performance/Acting, BFA Stage Management, BFA Design & Technical Theatre, and BA Theatre.
AUDITION FACTS: Those interested in one of the BFA degrees will need to go through an audition or interview process to gain admittance. Students can also minor in Africana Theatre and Dance, Design and Technology, Musical Theatre, Theatre, or Theatre Management.
ALUMNI FACTS: Notable alumni of Wayne State such as Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Garth Fagan, Ernie Hudson, Tom Sizemore, and Della Reese have all made their mark on the industry, using the skills learned at WSU as the foundation of their incredible careers.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: WSU has a rich 60-year tradition of supplying the next generation of artists with the cutting edge training and opportunities that can give them the foundation they need for a career in the arts. With an 11-show season, students have multiple opportunities in production, augmenting a robust academic program. Annually, 8-10 guest artists conduct master classes, direct, or design productions, and mentor students. Internships are available at many of the neighboring theatres in Detroit, including the Fox Theatre, Michigan Opera Theatre, and Broadway in Detroit.
MY EXTRAS: WSU has the new Gateway Performance Complex, a $65 million performance complex for theatre, music, dance, and arts-related events. They also have three live performance ensembles that travel throughout the greater Detroit area to engage, entertain, and inform K-12 school groups, community organizations, and more, free of charge. These groups include Motor City Cabaret, Freedom Players, Company One, and To Sangana.
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