Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 4, the Western US Schools

Written by Michelle J. Evans

April 8, 2020

This spring has definitely thrown us some major curveballs, and because of those, we have all found ourselves with much more “free” time on our hands. An upside to all this extra time is that you can finally really dive into getting to digitally know some of the wonderful collegiate performing arts programs that the US has to offer. I am in the process right now of helping my Juniors navigate and select the schools they want to audition for next year. Deciding where to continue your education, and thusly the start of your career is a daunting decision. Many factors should be put into consideration, such as -location, budget, environment, school size, degrees offered, as well as what you want out of a program- all before considering whether or not it is on a “top” of list.

I can not stress enough the importance of making sure that you are only putting programs on your list that fit YOUR needs and desires, no matter what the name of that school may or may not be!

To aid in your search for some great programs, we come to the final article in this series. We are now bringing our attention to the Western US. For this article, I wanted to include some programs that might not be musical theatre based and even some programs that have some great non-audition options.
I hope that these articles have helped you broaden your perspective on what programs exist around the US. So, now it is up to you to start your research. If you take the 40 programs that I have covered in these four articles and add in those 30-40 programs that we see published in “top” list all the time, that gives you 70-80 schools to start researching, I think you will be able to find the right program for YOUR top list!

And if you missed parts 1- 3, here are links on the other 30 schools we covered:

Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 1, the Southern US Schools

Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 2, the Northern US Schools

Top College Theatre Programs You Might Not Know, but Should; Part 3, the Midwestern US Schools

And if you still need help or have questions, I am always here to help!



DEGREES OFFERED: BM Musical Theatre, BFA Theatre Arts, BFA Design & Technology, BFA Ed. Theatre and Communication Education, BFA Dance, and BFA Ed. Dance Education

AUDITION FACTS: Students are required to audition or take part in an interview/portfolio review to be considered for admittance into the program.

ALUMNI FACTS: UCO alumni can be found throughout the professional performing arts world. 2011 grad Erin Clemmons can be found in Hamilton, where she has taken the stage as all 3 Schuyler Sisters. Other UCO alumni have been on Broadway. Some amazing shows including Mary PoppinsMamma Mia!Beauty and the BeastCabaretThe Boys From SyracuseCatsFootlooseGood Vibrations, Off-Broadway in Nunsense A-Men!, The Magdelene, and Broadway National Tours like Addams Family, Anything Goes, Les Miserables, Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia!CabaretCatsFootlooseState FairA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the ForumOklahoma!CarouselSpamalotBeauty and the Beast

DEPARTMENT FACTS: Musical Theatre students will get specialized and rigorous training by leading arts professionals in areas such as Music Theory, Aural Skills, Piano, History of Musical Theatre, Musical Theatre Directing, Stage Make-up, Stagecraft, Production/Performance, Major Ensemble, and Applied Voice. The Theatre Performance B.F.A. degree is designed for the student who is interested in a career as a professional actor in theatre, film, and multimedia. UCO houses beautiful facilities like the Mitchell Hall Theatre and offers student organizations that help add to the overall student experience.

SIDE NOTE: At UCO, the Theatre Arts and Musical Theatre degrees are housed out of the College of Fine Arts & Design. In contrast, the Theatre Arts Degrees are one department, and the Musical Theatre degree is a BM because it is housed in the Music Department. Don’t let this throw you. This Musical Theatre degree is still the same rigorous training that you will receive in any BFA program, different letters, same fantastic training!

MY EXTRAS: UCO’s Musical Theatre department regularly collaborates with local professional companies, offering students professional credits and Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) credits with the Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) Union. They also have frequent collaborations with City Rep, which have included area premieres of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and Zombie Prom. Students can also participate with an on-campus celebrity series that offers Workshops, Master Classes, and even Integrated Performance Opportunities with entertainment legends every semester. In the past, UCO has hosted Tommy Tune, Olympia Dukakis, Andrea McArdle, Shirley Jones, Carol Channing, Patrick Cassidy, Donna McKechnie, Carole Cook, Betty Garrett, Deidre Goodwin, Mark McVeigh, Betty Buckley, and John Bucchino to just name a few!

Explore Theatre UCO Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BA Musical Theatre, BA Theatre Arts ( Acting, Design & Technology, Theatre Education, and Theatre Studies concentrations), Minors in Dance and Theatre Arts, and Arts Entrepreneurship Certificate.

AUDITION FACTS: You must audition for the performance-based degrees or concentración and complete an interview and/or portfolio review for the education and design degrees.

ALUMNI FACTS: John Buscher, Scott Foster, Greg Germann, Patty Goble, Beth Malone, and Aisha Jackson are just a few of the 25+ alumni that have appeared in more than 60 Broadway productions that UNCO Alumni have been cast in over the years. Even more, UNCO alums can be found off-broadway, in regional professional tours, Hollywood, and throughout the performing arts industry worldwide.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: With the beautiful landscape surrounding them, UNCO has a lot of offer students. Named a Colorado Program of Excellence by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, UNCO provides pre-professional training for students who plan to pursue careers in professional theatre, or as teachers of theatre arts. They are also The National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) program. Beyond the fantastic opportunities they offer in the classroom, they are also home to many student performance organizations like Alpha Psi Omega, Barely Shakespeare, Chaos, DTSA (Design and Technology Student Association), Dance Alliance, Hello, My Name Is… , Jukebox Collection, Manifesto Theatre, SOAPbox Productions, The Playground, The Underground Theatre Project.

MY EXTRAS: UNCO hosts a NY and LA senior showcase for their students to be able to connect with the industry and launch their new careers. They also host a guest artist program, where they bring in industry professionals to work with the students—allowing students to go beyond the classroom and learn new skills and gain insider knowledge from professionals that have had long successful careers in their field. UNCO is also home to The Little Theatre of the Rockies, which is a professional summer stock theatre that produces ten weeks of performances from June to early August.

Explore UNCO Theatre Here


LOCATION: Salt Lake City, UT

DEGREES OFFERED: BFAs in Actor Training, Musical Theatre, Performing Arts Design, Stage Management, Theatre Teaching, and a BA in Theatre Studies

Students looking into the BFA Actor Training and BFA Musical Theatre degrees will have to audition for a spot in the program.

ALUMNI FACTS: Claybourne Elder, Timothy McCuen Piggee, Leo Geter, Klea Blackhurst are just a few of the many alumni that are taking the skills learned at the University of Utah and making a name for themselves in the performing arts industry!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: The U of Utah programs are selective, rigorous, and filled with opportunities to help develop a students’ craft. Their production schedule includes six mainstage productions (two musicals) each academic year. Also, students and faculty produce various shows each year, including New Play Workshops, senior projects, and faculty-led projects. They hold workshops and visits by different renowned actors, directors, choreographers, designers, dramaturgs, producers, and playwrights. Because they are minutes away from downtown Salt Lake City, students are continuously working at local theatres, including Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, Plan-B Theatre Company, The Grand Theatre, Utah Opera, and other local theatre companies.

MY EXTRAS: The Department of Theatre has a healthy working relationship with the celebrated Pioneer Theatre Company, a professional repertory Lort-B theatre located on the campus of the University of Utah. Seniors will be eligible to audition for an internship program.

Explore University of Utah Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BMUS Musical Theatre, BA Theatre, BA Acting, BA Production & Design, BFA Dance, BFA Dance Education, BA Film & Media Production, BA Filmmaking

AUDITION FACTS: Students will have to audition for the Musical Theatre degree and participate in an interview day for the BFA Dance major as well. The BA degrees do not require an audition process.

ALUMNI FACTS: Recent grad Caelan Creaser just joined the tour of Broadway’s Frozen. She joins many other ASU grads that have found industry success after graduation!

The Herberger Institute offers a wide variety of arts-related degrees. Students can select from many majors and minors in theatre, music, art, film, and dance. There are also some great certificate programs that students can choose as well to add to their time at ASU. The music theatre and opera program are unique in that students are provided with professional training in both opera and musical theatre and training in a wide variety of musical theatre styles from traditional to contemporary. Two musicals and two operas are produced each year, plus new works and student-led productions.

MY EXTRAS: I love the fact that Musical Theatre students get the opportunity to participate in several showcases and professional collaborations during their time at ASU. There is the annual showcase in New York City and Phoenix as well as collaborations with Arizona Opera and The Phoenix Theatre Company, which provide additional performance opportunities and valuable career immersion experiences for all students. And for a bonus, students can see Broadway National Tours at the Gammage Theatre; students can even get 50% off rush tickets!

Explore Herberger Institute Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre, BFA Theatre Performance, BFA Screen Acting

AUDITION FACTS: All degrees will require an audition, and the BFA degrees will first require a prescreen video audition. If a student passes the prescreen audition, they will then be invited to audition again in person.

ALUMNI FACTS: Chapman Alumni can be found all through the TV and Film industry. Many alums find success as actors, directors, screenwriters, and technicians. Alums like Casey Adler, Robin Thorsen, Daniel Emmet, Ricky Courtney, and Lauren Nowicki, have all used the skills they developed at Chapman to propel their careers both in front and behind the camera.

DEPARTMENT FACTS: The BFA in Theatre Performance & BFA Screen Acting curriculum focuses on acting technique, movement, voice and speech, text analysis, and preparation for the actor after completion of the core curriculum and is focused on those students who wish to pursue acting careers primarily in theatre. The BFA Theatre Performance program includes a course in The Business of Acting and a showcase opportunity to present students to industry professionals at the end of the senior year. It prepares students to begin their acting careers after graduation or to apply to graduate programs in theatre.BFA in Screen Acting, offered in collaboration with the Dodge School of Film and Media Arts, is designed to serve students who know that their goal is to act primarily in television and film. The degree can be personalized through choices of electives. 

MY EXTRAS: Location is great, especially for students that know they want to pursue a career in the tv/film industry. The program is small and undergraduate-focused, which means that the students are not competing against MFA candidates for opportunities in the department. 

Explore Chapman CoPA Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Theatre Acting Concentration, BFA Theatre Musical Theatre Concentration. Students in their third year of study that are interested in playwriting and directing can apply for the Original Works program. Since this is an arts school, there are a variety of majors in Production and Design fields as well.

Students will have to audition for the BFA Acting & Musical Theatre programs.

Cornish alums are doing it all, writing, acting, directing, you name a part of the industry, and you can probably find a Cornish grad. Jeanette Mavs, Quinn Armstrong, Skye Borgman, Drew Highlands, Andrew Creech, and Diana Huey are just a few of the grads that are making a name for themselves in the industry!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: Students in both the Musical Theatre and Acting degree programs will find rigorous and exploratory training during their time at Cornish. The faculty each bring years of professional experience, with many of them still actively working in the professional arena both in the Seattle area and nationally. Students will receive a very hands-on learning experience at Cornish. Actings students will dive into and explore many acting techniques and methods, and Musical Theatre students will explore not only acting but also vocal techniques and dance.

MY EXTRAS: Cornish is a unique school environment that is solely arts-focused. With around 700 students and a 1:7 faculty/student ratio, students at Cornish are getting a purely arts-centered education. Seattle has tons of theatre and arts recourse for performers to work. Students also get to perform and attend professional productions produced at the Cornish playhouse.

Explore Cornish Theatre Here

LOCATION: Greenville, NC


LOCATION: Valencia, CA

DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Acting. Cal Arts also has many degrees in Design, Production, and Management.

Students will have to take part in a live audition to be considered for this program.

ALUMNI FACTS: CalArts has no shortage of alumni that have taken the industry by storm. Some alumni that you may have seen include Don Cheadle, Ed Harris, David Hasselhoff, Michael Cudlitz, Paul Reubens, and Eliza Coupe. Cal Arts also has a long list of graduates that go onto long and successful careers with Disney, like VP of Theatrical Development with Walt Disney Imagineering Michael Jung!

The intensive BFA Acting Program prepares students for the demands of a professional acting career across a variety of media. The objective is to nurture visionary actors who can work on stage, film, television, and in the exciting world of new-media platforms. The classical actor training being its base, the CalArts BFA Acting program focuses on the tools needed to succeed in the shifting landscape of the 21st century. Rigorous classes in acting, voice, speech, movement, and theatrical production are augmented by a wide range of performance and production experiences—each tailored to the individual needs of the student.

CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) is the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts, established to provide a unique artist- and project-driven framework for the development and realization of original theater, music, dance, and interdisciplinary projects. It also enables CalArts students to work shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrated artists and acquire a level of experience that goes beyond their curriculum. Also, CalArts is the brainchild and vision of Walt Disney himself. Walt wanted to create a place for artists of all disciplines to come and train that was different than a standard academic setting.

Explore CALArts Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BFA Musical Theatre, BFA Performance, BFA Design/Tech, BFA Dance, BFA Dance Science, BFA Theatre/English


ALUMNI FACTS: Chris Lang, Billy Higgins, Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, Noelia Antweiler, and K.Harrison Sweeny are all alumni of UW, who are finding music success in all areas of the arts industry!

DEPARTMENT FACTS: UW’s production season consists of 6 shows every year, which includes two main stage dance shows. Main stage productions involve undergraduates at every level of training in acting and dance performance, technical theatre and design, playwriting, and stage and house management. They also produce several smaller events and can include student-directed one-acts, student-written one-acts, benefits, senior thesis projects, and festival offerings. All of these allow additional creative opportunities for student directors, playwrights, and designers. The Associated Students of the Performing Arts (ASOPA), often helps facilitate student productions and special projects. Each summer, UW produces the Snowy Range Summer Theatre and Dance Festival, including three shows with both Equity and student actors and designers and two dance concerts featuring festival participants of all ages and professional companies.

UW hosts an annual Guest Artist Series and, every third year, the Eminent-Art-ist-in-Residence, thanks to an endowment established in 2008 by the Wyoming State Legislature. They are allowing students to get quality, hands-on training from industry professionals, outside of what they are already gaining in the classroom.

Explore UW Theatre Here



DEGREES OFFERED: BA/BS Theatre, BFA Theatre Design/Technology/Management, BFA Theatre Performance. Students must audition or submit a portfolio and have been studying as a BA/BS theatre major to pursue the BFA in theatre arts. 

AUDITION FACTS: You do not have to audition for the BA/BS degree program. However, to gain admittance for the BFA program, you must audition or submit a portfolio and have been studying as a BA/BS theatre major.

ALUMNI FACTS: University of Idaho alumni are finding great success both in front and behind the spotlight. Recent grads have turned their skills they learned at U of I into professional careers in acting, playwriting, directing, tech design, and more. 

DEPARTMENT FACTS: The BA/BS degrees are available for students interested in the study of theatre within a liberal arts background or as part of a teacher education program. The BFA degrees are a rigorous, competitive program of study for students interested in pursuing careers in professional theatre. A core of theatre work is required of all theatre majors. Specialization is available in performance or design at the undergraduate level, and students enjoy flexibility in shaping their studies according to particular goals or interests. U of I also offers minors in Performance or Design/Tech for those students wishing to expand the focus of their degree program. U of I offers many performance opportunities for students each year through mainstage and student works.

MY EXTRAS: The U of I Department of Theatre Arts offers an exclusive connection with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through the Rex Rabold Fellowship. Each year, one U of I graduate is selected by audition to perform with the prestigious theatre company. The fellowship recipient receives an acting stipend and housing for one year, and many are invited to return to the company for two or three years following their award.

Explore U of I Theatre Here


LOCATION: Stillwater, OK

DEGREES OFFERED: BA Theatre Arts, BA Arts Administration. New Musical Theatre courses coming Fall 2020, Theatre and Dance Minors are also offered

Currently, students do not have to audition to enroll in the BA programs at OSU. This makes OSU an excellent program for students that want to skip the stress of the audition process and head into a comprehensive BA performance or design/tech degree program.

Did you know that Gary Busey was only one credit away from graduating from OSU? Even though he didn’t officially graduate, he still credits the OSU faculty for instilling in him the love of performing and giving him the foundation he needed. OSU grads can be found in all areas of the arts, thriving in their careers with skills they developed while being at OSU.

OSU’s theatre department annually produces four main stage and studio productions for the campus community. Acting, design, and technology opportunities are available to you starting in your freshman year. The OSU faculty are working professionals who are devoted to mentoring and educating, as well as maintaining their own scholarly and/or creative work off-campus. OSU is home to The Seretean Center for the Performing Arts, which houses the Departments of Theatre and Music. The Center’s 75,000 square feet include the 600-seat Vivia Locke Theatre and the 800-seat Concert Hall, as well as teaching studios for theatre and music, a variety of classrooms, the theatre scene lab, computer and design labs, a specially-designed choral room, a rehearsal hall for band and orchestra, and a well-equipped audio center.

OSU’s budding program offers students an excellent opportunity to try their hand at numerous areas of the performing arts. Starting in fall 2020, they will be adding a series of Musical Theatre classes with the pursuit of adding a Musical Theatre degree. This program is growing and evolving, with all of the right elements that make a high training ground for future performing arts professionals.

Explore OSU Theatre Here

Michelle is the owner of MJE Acting Studio where she offers her services as a private acting and audition coach to students around the nation both online and in person. Her students have been accepted to top universities around the world as well as professionally on Broadway, National Tours, regional theatre and TV/Film. She is also Co-Owner of CAP: College Audition Project, which host the CAP United Auditions as well as premier college audition coaching website with online navigation tools to help students through the college process. You can find out more about Michelle at or CAP at