Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 1, the Southern US Schools
Written by Michelle J. Evans
January 27, 2020
As a professional Acting and Audition coach, I spend a lot of my career coaching high school seniors and Gap students through the college audition process, both through my studio (MJE Acting Studio) and as Co-Owner of CAP: College Audition Project. When I am not privately coaching students, I am usually teaching workshops and masterclasses around the country, instructing students and adults about all things “College Audition.”
One of the most significant parts of navigating through the college audition process is school selections. Each year I help dozens of students, both in the US and Internationally, put together a list of what colleges they may want to audition for. Many factors go into finding the right programs for each person, and these selections are not a “one size fits all” kind of thing. Many of us have seen articles that shine a light on the top 10, 20 or even 30 programs around the country. And to those article’s credit, those schools do offer excellent training, fantastic faculty and top-notch facilities and deserve the notoriety, I have personally had students commit to many of those programs.
However, because there can be upwards to 1500-2000+ students auditioning every year for places in acting and musical theater programs, it is essential to know what other programs are out there that also offer the training, faculty, and facilities that help young artists get ready for careers in the performing arts. Some programs become top choices for students because they offer what they are looking for in a school. The truth is that there is no “perfect” school, but there can be a perfect school for each person!
Over the next several weeks, I will show you 40 programs around the nation that I think you should check out for yourself. In this first article, I am going to show you ten programs located in the Southern regions of the US. These programs have much to offer! So, if you prefer a warmer climate and southern hospitality, then they may be the perfect fit for you!
UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA
LOCATION: Orlando, FL
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Stage Management, BFA Design & Technology, and BA Theatre Studies
AUDITION FACTS: UCF does require a prescreen for the BFA Musical Theatre but does not for the BFA Acting program, though you will still need to go through an audition process.
ALUMNI FACTS: UCF Alumni can be found all over the entertainment industry, like Patrick Sylvester who just released a new album “Fortunate Son,” Jerusha Cavazos who was just cast in the new musical “Between the Lines” Off-Broadway!, and Khalifa White who made it to the TOP 3 in the search for the NEW Roxie!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Theatre UCF has artistic partnerships with Walt Disney World, The Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, and The Orlando Repertory Theatre. Partnerships such as these provide a wealth of cultural and educational resources. Opportunities are available to student performers, technicians, and stage managers working on productions with these organizations to earn points towards membership in Actors’ Equity Association, an essential and necessary affiliation for our emerging theatre professionals. Helps singers and speakers find a full range of expression in their voices, while promoting healthy vocal habits.
MY EXTRAS: Orlando is an excellent entrainment location; there are SO many opportunities for performers and technicians to get real-life experience while enrolled in college.
VALDOSTA STATE UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Valdosta, GA
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Theatre with an emphasis in Musical Theatre, Theatre Performance & Theatre Production
AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season, there were no prescreens required. However, all students must audition for admittance to the department.
ALUMNI FACTS: Alumni from the program have been on the following national tours: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Something Rotten, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Beauty and the Beast, Fame, Hairspray, and Veggie Tales Live! On Broadway, alums have been in the revival of ANNIE and 39 Steps and Off-Broadway in a new musical, Anne Frank.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: VSU hosts Peach State Summer Theatre, The Official Musical Theatre of Georgia, which is a professional summer stock company that performs three musicals per season. Roles and positions in the productions are competitively selected, and several majors participate. The regular season, combined with Peach State, will provide you with extensive experience.
MY EXTRAS: Pro-Conn organizes a professional showcase at the end of each academic year. The professional showcase brings regional hires to campus to respond to the work of the upperclassmen who audition or present their portfolios.
UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA- BIRMINGHAM
LOCATION: Birmingham, AL
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BA Theatre: Performance, BA Theatre: Design/Technology, BA Theatre: General Theatre
AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season, there were no prescreen requirements. However, those wanting to gain admittance to the BFA Musical Theatre program will need to audition for the program.
ALUMNI FACTS: Though the BFA Musical Theatre program is only on their third graduating class, the Department of Theatre has been around for decades. UAB alumni work in all aspects of the industry; people like Cynthia Evans and Britt Rentschler are just two examples of the many that give credit to the training in the fantastic program.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: UAB houses 4 Tour Groups where students get a hand on experience taking a show in the road, students perform in a variety of shows and revues for schools, community centers and retirement facilities throughout the state. They also frequently have masterclasses and workshops with top-level entertainment professionals, like NY casting director Michael Cassara, exposing students to more of what the industry has to offer.
MY EXTRAS: Beyond the fantastic training in this program offers, they foster a real family atmosphere in their department. Birmingham offers the city/metropolitan and small-town all in one place. This program is also very open to giving the student opportunities in their mainstage season to assist and take the lead position with their productions.
LOCATION: Nashville, TN
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA/BM Musical Theatre, BFA Performance, BFA Directing, BFA Production Design, BFA Theatre Education, BM Commercial Music & BA Theatre & Drama
AUDITION FACTS: The BFA Programs will require an audition for admittance into the program, though as of the 2019-20 season, there was no prescreen requirement.
ALUMNI FACTS: Because of its location and world-class department of music, it is not coincidental many famous music industry professionals went to school at Belmont. People like Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Womack, and Trisha Yearwood, to name a few, called Belmont home during their college years. Other alums have found great success both regionally and professionals in the theatrical and music industries.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: The Department of Theatre and Dance is very proud to be the home for three professional companies in residence. These three resident theatre companies – Pipeline-Collective, The Nashville Shakespeare Festival, and Verge Theatre – along with the many other professional partnerships listed below, offer a unique professional training ground for student actors, directors, and designers. Belmont Theatre & Dance students have the ability to work side by side with exceptional professionals in the entertainment industry.
MY EXTRAS: The Belmont College of Music & Performing Arts offers numerous degrees through their Department of Music & Department of Theatre and Dance. Belmont offers a degree for everyone, no matter what emphasis you want to focus on, they have a degree program designed to meet those needs.
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Lubbock, TX
DEGREES OFFERED: BA & BFA Dance, BA Theatre, BFA Acting, BFA Design, BFA Musical Theatre
AUDITION FACTS: Both the BFA Acting and Musical Theatre require a prescreen audition if passed students need to audition in-person to gain admittance in the BFA performance degree programs.
ALUMNI FACTS: Many amazing people in the entertainment business called Texas Tech home during their college years. Barry Corbin, G.W.Bailey & Brad Leland all graduated from TTU with degrees in Theatre and have had long-standing careers in both TV & Film!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Their small and intimate class sizes allow for a lot of individualized training and attention. The School of Theatre and Dance annually produces two seasons of productions consisting of a Mainstage Season comprised of four plays and one dance, a five-show Lab season that uses students and faculty to direct and design, and a summer performance lab in which students develop plays and devise works. So, there is no shortage of opportunities to put your new skill to the test!
MY EXTRAS: I love how personalized this program is; they select a minimal class not just to be selective but to ensure that each student is getting the one-on-one training and mentorship they need to maximum growth. I also love the opportunity for travel and study abroad training. TTU is one of only two schools that have been given membership to the International Theatre Institute (ITI).
EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Greenville, NC
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Dance with a concentration in Performance and Choreography, BFA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Professional Actor Training, BFA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Theatre for Youth, BFA in Theatre Arts Education, BFA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Design and Production, BFA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Stage Management, BA in Theatre Arts
AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season the BFA Musical Theatre program requires a prescreen to be passed before you can audition in person. You do not need to send in a prescreen for the BFA Acting, Dance, Theatre Education, or Youth Theatre degrees, but you do have to audition. The BFA Design & Production, BFA Stage Management, and BA Theatre Arts do not require an audition.
ALUMNI FACTS: While ECU Alums can be found on Broadway, the West End, national tours, cruise ships, and regional theatres across the country, there are a few that have made quite a splash in the entertainment business. Most notably are actresses Sandra Bullock and Connie Ray, as well as, Filmmaker Kevin Williamson.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Musical Theatre students take acting courses within the concentration; however, many auditions for the Professional Actor Training concentration in the spring of their freshmen year. The Professional Actor Training concentration can provide additional training skills to students drawn to the Meisner technique, and many choose to complete both programs for a double concentration.
MY EXTRAS: I love that students are given so many opportunities to train and work during their four years. ECU opens a student up to gaining the skills to becoming a “triple threat” and gives attention to each area equally.
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Harrisonburg, VA
DEGREES OFFERED: BA Musical Theatre, BA Theatre Arts & BA Dance
AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season, there were no pre-screen requirements. However, you must audition and interview for all three programs in order to gain admittance. You can audition for more that one program, and they encourage that you do that on the same audition day.
ALUMNI FACTS: Trey Ellet, Michael Minarik & Niki Lindgren all received their degrees from JMU as well as countless other professionals actors and singers!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: There is no lack of performance opportunities for JMU students. The season consists of four theatre and three dance productions, including a musical produced with the School of Music. They have an Experimental Theatre season with 8-12 student-produced shows. Furthermore, they produce 10-15 Directing Class One-Acts each Fall and Children Theatre productions for youth and families in the summer!
MY EXTRAS: Beyond the excellent training, I love the extra experiences this school offers for its students. Things like their Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, Secondary Theatre Institute, JMU Arts Integration Summer Institute, and Theatre in Our Schools Month Event programs offer students more opportunities to take what they have learned in the classroom and reach beyond the stage and into the community.
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI
LOCATION: Coral Gables, FL
DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre Arts, BFA Acting, BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Theater Management, BFA Stage Management, BFA Design/Production
AUDITION FACTS: Students interested in the BA in Theatre Arts do not need to audition. Those looking at one of the BFA programs will need to Audition (BFA Acting& Musical Theatre) or Interview (BFA Theatre Management, Stage management, or Design/Production). International students will need to submit a prescreen before auditioning.
ALUMNI FACTS: The University of Miami has an impressive list of alumni (you can find a compiled list on their website). Undoubtedly, the biggest name in the industry that graduates from UM is Jerry Herman, whose name now dons the University’s Theatre. Besides Jerry, there are numbers of actors, directors, casting directors, musicians, and more than once called UM home. Dave Clemmons, Joshua Henry, Ernie Sabella, and Tim Gulan are just a few of many that have made quite a splash in the industry!
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Students are provided knowledge from some of the biggest names in the industry through workshops and masterclasses. The Department of Theatre Arts even offers a course every spring called “Broadway Leaders at the U” hosting guest speakers on campus from the Broadway industry.
MY EXTRAS: This program offers conservatory training, which means that students are getting a full immersion experience in their desired area. So, for students that want more time in their major and less time in the standard core classroom, UM might be a great fit!
WESTERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Bowling Green, KY
DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre, BA Dance, BFA Acting, BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Theatre Design & Technology
AUDITION FACTS: No audition is required for admittance into the BA or BFA programs. However, those wanting to pursue a BFA will be admitted as a “pre-major,” star their BFA courses and then audition during their 3rd semester for full admittance into the desired BFA program.
Find out more here: https://www.wku.edu/theatre-and-dance/auditions/bfa-auditions.php
ALUMNI FACTS: Desiree Hall, Darron West, Becky Ann Baker, Matt Long & Bently Caldwell are just of few of the WKU alumni that have made their mark on the entertainment industry. WKU grads can be found in all aspects of the arts and entertainment world using the skills and knowledge they gained while attending WKU.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: The WKU department offers a Study Abroad/Study Away program for students. The Study Abroad program is with England’s Harlaxton College, which offers semester (12-15 credits) and summer opportunities (3-6 credits). The Study Away program is a 10-training in New York City where students can gain two class credits in Theatre Appreciation and Culture & Performance.
MY EXRAS: I like that students can enter in the BA program and then decide to audition for one of the BFA concentrations. Not every student is 100% sure what specialized area they want to get their degree in, and WKU allows them to go ahead and enroll, start their training and then decide after their freshman year, without going backward or losing time or college credits.
SAM HOUSTON UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: Huntsville, TX
DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA in Theatre—Acting and Directing Emphasis, BFA in Theatre in Theatre Studies, BFA in Theatre with Teaching Certification, BFA in Theatre—Design and Technology Emphasis,
AUDITION FACTS: As of the 2019-20 season prescreens were not required but auditions and
interviews are required.
ALUMNI FACTS: SHU boasts numerous alumni that have had successful careers in the arts. Traci Jai Edwards, Scott McCarrey, Greg Graham, Destinee Rea, & Katie Clarke are just a few of the many that got their training at SHU.
DEPARTMENT FACTS: Our department has professional internship programs established with Theatre
Under the Stars, Stages Repertory Theatre, Classical Theatre Company, and Texas Repertory Theatre in Houston. Qualified student actors are exposed to the professional world of theatre while continuing their studies through our department. We enjoy strong relationships with the Broadway Theatre Project (BTP) and The Performing Arts Project (TPAP).
MY EXTRAS: I like that SHU gives students some hands-on experience in the professional world while still training. Their partnerships with reputable professional theatre around the Houston area opportunities
Here are a few more programs in the Southern US you may want to check out!
University of West Georgia:
Kennesaw State University:
Western Carolina University:
Abilene Christian University:
University of Montevallo:
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