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Musical Theater Gets a Leg Up with Alumnus Support

Giving News

Places, everyone! A new initiative is under way in the College of Fine Arts to incorporate a musical theater production into the performance season of the Department of Theatre and Dance and develop new musicals through a summer workshop. Thanks to a lead gift from Houston’s Allen Becker, a 1954 University graduate, the college has hired two new lecturers to teach musical theater singing and dancing and has already staged a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins.

More productions like 'Assassins' are the goal of a College of Fine Arts initiative.

More campus musicals, like this 2008 production of 'Assassins,' are the goal of a College of Fine Arts initiative.

The department’s history is replete with creation of original works. A late 1950s collaboration between Harvey Schmidt, Tom Jones, and Word Baker, who had been at UT together in the late ’40s and early ’50s, led to The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical on the American stage. In 2001, the department inaugurated the biennial Cohen New Works Festival, a weeklong presentation of student-produced theatrical works.

In this spirit, the musical theater initiative is committed not only to student training, but also to the creation of new musicals that expand traditional forms. The first workshop debuted in June 2009. Rehearsing in the B. Iden Payne Theatre, UT students worked alongside theater professionals to hone an innovative new work by Fine Arts alumnus Kirk Lynn, BA ’93, MFA ’04. Lynn is the co-producing artistic director of the Austin-based theater collective Rude Mechanicals.

The Rude Mechs’ I’ve Never Been So Happy has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts and was selected for the NEA Distinguished New Play Development Program. The “western operetta,” featuring music and lyrics by Peter Stopschinski, BMus ’95, will make its official Austin debut in the spring of 2010. It is booked at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., later that year.

To learn how you can support the musical theater initiative, contact College of Fine Arts assistant dean Sondra Lomax by email or by calling 512-471-6468.

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