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SUNY Cortland To Offer B.F.A. Degree In Musical Theatre Starting Fall 2020

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SUNY Cortland will launch a bachelor of fine arts (B.F.A.) degree program in musical theatre starting next Fall, a major addition for students aspiring to perform professionally.

Cortland’s offered a traditional bachelor of arts (B.A.) in musical theatre since 2000, and had a record 65 enrolled majors last year.

The new degree distinction will add greater emphasis to studio training and creative work for students.

“The B.F.A. program is what most prospective musical theatre majors are looking for,” said Kevin Halpin, associate professor and chair of the Performing Arts Department. “It’s very much focused on training students to go out and be professionals in the theatre upon graduation.”

Come next fall, Cortland’s B.F.A. program will become one of only three of its kind in the SUNY system. Buffalo and Fredonia are the other two that offer it.

It will include seven semesters of ballet training and working with a voice teacher, plus course requirements in acting, spoken voice, theatre history, jazz dance, tap dance and theatre dance.

Ninety-three credit hours of the 125 required for the new B.F.A. will be earned within the Performing Arts Department. The focus will continue to be preparing students to be working creative artists.

More on the new program from SUNY Cortland below:


SUNY Cortland graduates have gone on to be actors, singers, dancers, choreographers, directors, theatre technicians and educators. Halpin noted that several alumni are performing in lead roles on national tours in productions such as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Miss Saigon,” while many others are working in regional theatres, summer stock shows and on cruise lines.

SUNY Cortland continues to host musical theatre industry showcases in New York City and on campus during the spring in an effort to highlight current seniors and young alumni.

“We’re looking at the whole actor-scholar,” Halpin said. “It’s not just about getting students through their classes, but moving them forward in a way that they’re truly resilient and prepared for what’s ahead in their careers.”

Halpin explained a special quality of Cortland’s training is that musical theatre is the only major offered within the department.

That means all performances at Cortland are planned intentionally to expose students to a variety of experiences, from musicals to classic plays to modern dramas. In a music school, for instance, larger roles in more serious musicals may be reserved for students specializing in vocal performance.

“Because musical theatre is our only major, all performance opportunities are available to all students,” Halpin said. “Everything is for them.”

Musical theatre majors also perform in new facilities, which came as part of a $22 million renovation of the Dowd Fine Arts Center in 2014. That project included a 400-seat theatre, private practice rooms and many other modern features.

Even more important are the genuine and direct relationships that students share with 18 faculty and staff members within the department. Areas of expertise are far-reaching and include skills such as acting, ballet, piano, voice, technical theatre and more.

In addition to earning admission to SUNY Cortland, prospective musical theatre majors must audition for the program. Three auditions are planned for 2019-20: Nov. 16 on campus, Jan. 18 at Pearl Studios in New York City and Feb. 15 at Ripley Grier Studios in New York City. More information about scheduling an audition can be found online.

Major campus productions for the 2019-20 academic year include a new adaptation of “Lysistrata,” an ancient Greek comedy; “Head Over Heels,” a musical comedy highlighting the catalog of The Go-Go’s; “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a play based on the mystery novel of the same name; and “Holiday Inn,” a modern musical inspired by the 1940s film.

Those productions, coupled with the introduction of the B.F.A. in Fall 2020, should lead to an exciting year of musical theatre at SUNY Cortland.

“It’s nice to be a hidden gem, but we don’t want to be a secret anymore,” Halpin said, referring to SUNY Cortland’s inclusion on a 2018 list of the five most underrated theatre programs in the Northeast. “The B.F.A. is going to help us achieve the goal of being a nationally respected and recognized program.”

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