San Diego State University is one of few schools in the United States to offer a Master of Fine Arts degree in musical theatre.
The program is the only one in the country that focuses on both scholarly and artistic curriculum — preparing candidates for performance and academic positions upon graduation.
This selective program enrolls eight versatile students with prestigious professional theatre backgrounds. Students often join the program at the height of their performing career, taking a break from stage work and coming to San Diego from regional theatres, national and international tours, and on and off-Broadway performances.
For this reason, nearly all the students require scholarship support during the academic year, and spend summers working and performing. This summer, the students pursued projects all over the globe as performers, scholars and artistic collaborators.
At the Frederica Theatre in Denmark, Liv Stevns assisted the director and choreographer of an original production, "Shu-bi-dua: the Musical." Stevns, a native of Denmark, supported the creative team early in the rehearsal process as they developed the brand new show.
Similar to acclaimed musicals "Mamma Mia" and "We Will Rock You," "Shu-bi-dua" uses popular music by the Danish band of the same name to create characters and tell a story.
“The coolest thing was that it was totally new work, and everyone on the creative team — including myself — contributed,” Stevns says. “The show was a huge success.”
Meanwhile in Perth, Australia, Bradley J. Behrmann presented research at the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance (MTEA) conference. Behrmann’s research on the relationship between musical theatre and pop music charts, titled "Reclaiming the Top Forty,” earned the President’s Award in Creative Arts at SDSU's 2015 Student Research Symposium.
“It was good to meet musical theatre nerds from all over the globe,” Behrmann said. “We are in more nooks and crannies than I had imagined. I met people from China, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand, the UK and Germany.”
Behrmann also returned to his hometown of Belleville, Illinois, to premiere a show he co-wrote called "Just Pretend."
“Though it was a good summer, I was most excited to simply get back to work with our cohort,” he said. “It's cheesy, but I missed them and missed studying with them.”
The San Diego art community
Locally, at La Jolla Playhouse, Kikau Alvaro originated the role of Captain of the Guard in "Up Here," a musical romantic comedy written by the composers of "Frozen."
"It was awesome to be part of a musical that could potentially have a life in New York City,” he said.
Jessica Humphrey and Julia Cuppy also worked at La Jolla Playhouse this summer as fellows in the theatre’s administrative offices. Humphrey’s fellowship in development led to a part-time position with the Tony Award-winning company. She hopes to eventually apply skills learned on the job to running her own theatre.
Cuppy worked in the education and outreach department assisting with summer educational workshops and planning curriculum to accompany the playhouse’s season of shows.
Humphrey also played Anybody in 78 performances of "West Side Story" at Lambs Players Theatre in Coronado. The role made good use of Humphrey’s singing and dancing skills, and her family noticed a difference in her performance after only a year of graduate work.
“My mom said my voice had changed a lot in just a year!” said Humphrey. “Performing felt easier and even a bit more natural after a year of grad school. I consistently found new things in the piece due to skills and nuggets of information I learned at SDSU.”
Now that the students are back on campus, they are focused on the School of Theatre, Television, and Film’s upcoming production of "Into the Woods" which begins Oct. 30 and runs through Nov. 8 in the Experimental Theatre.