Introduction to the Musical Theatre Program
Thank you for your interest in the BFA in Musical Theatre program at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). The competitive nature of our program recognizes excellence, and in turn is nationally recognized. Many of our graduates secure work on cruise ships, in national and international tours, on Broadway and in regional productions, and at theme parks. We are truly a successful professional training program, one geared toward individuals who wish to make a career of performing.
The BFA in Musical Theatre is a "professional training component" offered by the CSUF Theatre and Dance program (recently joined by a BFA in Acting). The program is designed to prepare the student for a career as a professional Musical Theatre artist, and focuses on developing skills in the areas of acting, singing, dancing, auditioning and performance.
The BFA in Musical Theatre at CSUF is unique, in that all program courses are housed in the Department of Theatre and Dance. In other words, instead of traveling to separate Music, Dance and Theatre departments, the student studies music (voice, musicianship/sight-singing), dance (jazz, tap and ballet), acting (voice and movement, beginning, intermediate and advanced acting), and musical theatre technique all in one department. This is done to better facilitate and personalize the professional development of the individual artist.
No student can be "declared" a BFA in Musical Theatre until successful completion of the “core curriculum” and a successful audition (“jury”) at the end of their sophomore year with admission invitation to the BFA. Until then, students are declared on a “Musical Theatre track.”
All prospective BFA in Musical Theatre majors must successfully complete the prescribed "core curriculum": two semesters of voice and movement, three semesters of acting (ALL aforementioned with a B- or better); and one semester of script analysis. Additionally, in order to remain competitive, BFA hopefuls take two semesters of musical theatre, one semester each of musicianship skills and music theory for the non-major, and four semesters of dance classes (two classes your first semester, three every semesters thereafter), as well as ongoing and regular private voice lessons (the latter is NOT provided at the school's expense until the student is accepted into the BFA MT program).
All the above requirements are taken in addition to the general education requirements of the university. It is a very heavy load - requiring 19 units per semester. Students have severe scheduling and unit-cap challenges in attempting a double major or minor. Also, students find it extremely challenging to work outside of school. Furthermore, sports, clubs and/or sorority/fraternity involvement cannot interfere with the student's progress in program...therefore, students are rarely able to afford the time and effort required for these "luxuries." Also, it is very challenging to find a job with such flexibility as needed to accommodate the BFA classes and production schedule.
BFA Program: Beginning Study, Assessement Auditions & Juries
Any incoming freshman who desires will be permitted into a BFA MT track: a set schedule of required lower division theatre and dance courses. Students’ class schedules are assigned by the department, allowing ample breaks of time in which to schedule their GE courses. The department-assigned “track” of classes comes with a guarantee of space in those sections for the student (so you are sure to get your department coursework completed in four years); however, this means that the student cannot request any change to any schedule – tracking is the only way we can accommodate all department majors’ course needs.
Placement assessments occur throughout the freshman and sophomore levels of training, in order to let students know as early as possible whether they are viable in our highly competitive BFA MT program, as well as to help us ensure a low student-teacher ratio in performance courses. The first theatre assessment occurs at the end of the freshman year (for placement in the sophomore level MT curriculum), and one more assessment halfway through the sophomore year (for advancement in both in acting and musical theatre), with then the “jury” (the audition for formal BFA program admission) at the end of the sophomore year. Conversely, level II dance classes are all by assessment audition only – however, a student may repeat level I courses up to four times, refining foundation technique until they are able to assess into level II classes.
Specialized performance courses like dance classes (which are required only of MT and Dance majors), musical theatre and sight-singing (required only of MT majors), and Acting II (required only of MT and Acting majors) are reserved for only students in tracks requiring those courses.
Once students have met all prerequisites and completed their sophomore curriculum, BFA MT candidates must audition for acceptance into the program (“jury”). Juries are held only at the end of each spring semester (in May). If students do not pass their jury, they cannot re-jury – they must select an alternate Theatre degree/emphasis (thus graduating with a Theatre degree, but not with the MT emphasis) or transfer to another department if they wish (e.g., Communications or Music).
BFA MT placement assessments and juries require that students prove proficiency in all three areas of performance: acting, singing and/or dancing. Specifics on individual assessment and jury requirements will be discussed in classes, well in advance of the respective auditions.
All BFA juniors are admitted on a probationary status. BFA MT juniors and seniors must jury for retention evaluation at the end of each semester until completion of curriculum. If satisfactory progress is not met in all three areas of the degree emphasis (singing, dancing and acting), the student may be released (cut) from the program. If that were the case, they would select a non-performance Theatre emphasis as their degree, or could even transfer to another department if they desire.
Performance & Crew Requirements
All BFA MT juniors and seniors will be cast each semester, are thus are required to audition each semester for the season productions, and accept any/all performance assignments. Additionally, Musical Theatre juniors and seniors must participate for at least three semesters in a touring revue performance group, the Preeminents (this is in addition to their fall and spring production casting assignments). All theatre students must also satisfy a stage crew assignment (for either a show they are NOT cast in, or via 60 hours of Dept. office/shop service/teacher’s aide) for six semesters before graduating.
The projected enrollment numbers for the MT BFA degree are dependent on state resources allocated to the Department. Typically, we have: freshmen MT hopefuls = 50 - 75; fall sophomores = 36 – 48; spring sophomores = 18 – 24; juniors (BFA admits) = 10 – 12. This is an EXTREMELY competitive environment, as you can see. Further, the MT BFA program strives for equality in gender distribution. Traditionally, women far outnumber men in numbers, so a promising male student could be prioritized over a stronger female student.
Lower division BFA MT students can expect varying student teacher ratios, based on subject matter, and classroom and faculty resources available. Lower division performance courses are typically from 14:1 up to 24:1, but dance ratios may be higher (as more students can be accommodated in larger studios).
Once a student is accepted into the BFA program at the junior level, student/instructor ratio reduces drastically, down to 10:1 for performance courses. Further, each junior and senior student is assigned a faculty private voice instructor at no charge to the student. Also, upper division acting, musical theatre, dance and practicum classes are restricted to only the highest caliber student, those students admitted by BFA jury – so you will be studying with only our finest students in the department.
New York City Senior Showcase
Since 2007, we have funded a trip for our graduating senior BFA MT students to New York City over spring break for a senior showcase. We pay for plane, hotel, theatre, and reception – all the student has to provide is their pictures/resumes and a boatload of talent. We perform in a Broadway theatre such as the Snapple Center, New World Stages, Westside Theatre, etc., and invite industry professionals and NYC alums. Our students are regularly securing both work and representation through this showcase, and industry folks are consistently impressed with not only the singing/dancing skills of our students, but their acting as well.
Each May, the senior MT BFA students each produce a 30-minute cabaret, performed at our Grand Central Theatre for invited friends and family. It is a wonderful capstone experience, always in popular demand.
There are many performance opportunities at CSUF. Theatre students are eligible for casting from the second semester of their freshmen year forward. The Department of Theatre and Dance has made a commitment to musical theatre training, and offers many opportunities for performance. Typically, the Theatre and Dance season consists of 12 to 14 productions, including two fully produced musicals each year with additional intimate/studio musicals offered most semesters. In addition, other musical theatre opportunities include:
• The Preeminents (a musical theatre revue touring company that performs all over the southwest);
• Concert Under the Stars (where working alumni and current students are brought together to perform in a huge gala serving as the President’s community welcome);
Additional performance opportunities are available each year, such as experimental/new theatre works produced in our “studio season” at the Grand Central Artist’s Village Theatre in Santa Ana (a department satellite facility). Additionally, CSUF enters every season (mainstage and studio) production in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, offering cast members an oral response by a professional theatre artist, as well as scholarship nominations in each area of theatre production. The department finances a large group of student scholarship nominees to attend the annual regional KCACTF festival, to compete for scholarships and the opportunity to advance to the national festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
A source of great pride and a testament to the success of the program is the fact that many recent CSUF graduates are working professionals. CSUF alumni successes include: leading roles in Broadway’s The Drowsy Chaperone, Lion King and A Chorus Line, along with numerous understudy leads; featured roles in Broadway’s In the Heights, Shrek, The Producers and Ragtime; the leading role in the UK tour of Cameron Macintosh's Miss Saigon; leading roles in the US tours of Miss Saigon and 42nd Street; a featured role in the US- tour-to-Broadway production of Kathy Rigby's Peter Pan; featured roles in the US tours of In the Heights, All Shook Up, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Happy Days (the Musical), Peter Pan, Grease. Starlight Express, Fosse, Camelot and Mama Mia; understudy leads/swings in national tours of Wicked, Hairspray, West Side Story and Mary Poppins; numerous engagements in regional and dinner theatres; cruise ships (earning approximately $1,800 to $3,800 per month, depending on cruise line); and in numerous entertainment-related industries. What better mark of accomplishment can be offered than prominent and continuing employment in such a challenging profession?
CSUF has been fortunate in developing relationships with major Broadway talents who have been willing to share their expertise and experience in master-classes. Some of those who have recently graced our campus:
Jason Robert Brown - Tony Award winning Composer (Parade, Songs for a New World, and The Last Five Years)
John Bucchino - award-winning American composer, lyricist, pianist and teacher
Kristin Chenoweth – Tony Award winner for You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown ; Tony Award nominee for Wicked ; television versions of The Music Man and Annie
Mara Davi – CSUF alum; Maggie in Broadway’s A Chorus Line revival; replaced Sutton Foster in The Drowsy Chaperone ; Daisy on Smash ; Bianca Sanfino on Blue Bloods
Jane Lanier - Tony Award nominee for Fosse; original cast of Sweet Charity
Joe Mantello – Director of Broadway’s Wicked
Matthew Morrison – Tony Award winner for Light in the Piazza ; original Link in Broadway cast of Hairspray ; original Broadway cast of Footloose; Will Schuester on Glee; J.M Barrie in Finding Neverland
Marni Nixon – famous for dubbing the singing voices of the leading actresses in films including The King and I, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady
Eric D. Schaeffer – Director of Broadway’s Follies revival
Dana Solimando – prolific regional director/choreographer; Broadway performer (Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, Rumpleteaser in Cats, Country Feature in Swing!)
Georgia Stitt – Composer who workshopped her production of The Water here before its Theatreworks’ production