Performing Arts Takes Center Stage
The stars are aligned right now to make our program one of the major performing arts programs in the country,” says Jorge Cacheiro, chair of Pace’s Performing Arts Department in Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s not just our new building, which is great. Or our location, which is fabulous. Or the renaissance that is occurring downtown. It’s the talented teachers we have on campus and that we bring in from the city in combination with all these things. For the last few years the department has been the little engine that could.” He pauses. “As all the moving parts including new key programs come together, this little engine has the potential to become a big engine that can.”
Cacheiro is referring to a number of exciting events and initiatives that have happened at Pace that are laying the groundwork for Pace undergraduate performing arts to become one of the premier programs in the country. “Our performing arts program really exemplifies Pace’s commitment to providing professional preparation in combination with a strong liberal arts foundation. It has been incredibly gratifying to watch this program grow over the years fostered by faculty who truly believe in their students and in the ability of the arts to transform lives and help shape our culture,” says Nira Herrmann, PhD, dean of Dyson College.
In January, the department kicked off the new year with the announcement of a new location for its program, signing a 20-year lease for the seven-story property at 140 William Street. The building is being renovated to include classrooms, dance and television studios, costume and design shops, as well as multiple performance spaces. Renovations are expected to be completed by fall 2012 and are supported in part by a $1 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
“This was a rare opportunity for Pace University to secure an entire building of ideal size and layout in a strategic location,” says William McGrath, Pace’s senior vice president and chief administrative officer. “The new space is mostly an expansion due to the success and growth of our Performing Arts Department.”
“The location underscores Pace’s commitment to being a cultural hub for lower Manhattan,” says Cacheiro. “It also provides facilities for the rapidly growing department to introduce new programs including theater design and technology, dance, and performance ensemble.”
The department has plans to continue to grow incrementally. However, Cacheiro emphasizes that with the increased space, courses, and faculty, Pace will still be providing the very personalized, conservatory-style training for which the program has become known.
Pace has already established its reputation in arts education with successful BFA Acting and Musical Theater programs for undergraduates and the renowned Actors Studio Drama School MFA graduate program. The next step, according to Cacheiro, is to build a Performing Arts Department that addresses a much wider field including design, writing, and film and television, and truly responds to the changing needs of the market and demand for professionally prepared artists and technicians.
“I want to make sure that we are training students for the broadest definition of the market,” says Cacheiro. “I want to reexamine traditional theatrical training, so that there is just as much emphasis on film, TV, commercials, and voiceovers. We want these skills to be ingrained throughout, not just an afterthought or add on. I also want to ensure we have a true partnership with the professional community.”
One of the ways that Cacheiro and his team are tackling this is introducing new majors that are based on industry demand, such as the new concentration in Commercial Dance. Launched in fall 2011, it is the only one of its kind in New York City. Headed by choreographer Rhonda Miller, the dance program aims to provide students with every pertinent dance style that is needed to be successful in the market: from ballet and modern, to contemporary, hip hop, tap, jazz, ballroom, and even aerial dance. The program evolved from Miller’s professional experience and repeatedly hearing how aspiring dancers needed a program that would help them make the bridge from studio training to the professional world.
“Most dance programs are predominately ballet or modern driven,” says Miller. “I believe that you need those to have a strong foundation, but if you can’t get a job, you’re in trouble… In order to succeed on Broadway, television, film, or Dancing With the Stars, you have to know a wide variety of styles.”
Another important aspect of the Performing Arts Department is the opportunity for students to learn from and interact with professionals in the field. From Broadway performers, to choreographers, to casting directors—through current faculty, adjunct, and master classes—students learn from those who are working and leading in the field. This gives them both the skills, as well as the inside knowledge, and personal networks to launch their careers.
“One of the things that is very unique about the Musical Theater program is that we allow students to work professionally while they are still enrolled,” says Amy Rogers, head of the Musical Theater program, who notes that four sophomores (of approximately 25) from the Musical Theater class this year have already performed on Broadway. Students in the program will also have the opportunity to work with well-known musical theater professionals on campus next year, due to the establishment of a new Artist-in-Residence program thanks to a generous anonymous donor.
According to Miller, the students’ thirst for knowledge and professional experiences, combined with their true talent, has helped contribute to the department’s reputation or producing graduates who have both the skills and the drive to succeed. “The students at Pace want to know everything. They are very eager to learn. They are excited to be part of a great performing arts program, but they also want to be in the classroom,” says Miller. “They want to be educated about the many aspects of the field. A lot are in the Honors Program, and a lot are getting a minor in Arts and Entertainment Management—it is called show ‘business’ after all.”
Responding to that thirst for knowledge, Pace’s variety of degree programs give students a range of options, not only in different areas of performing arts, but also in style of study—from the conservatory-style BFA to a more flexible BA, which allows students to add a second major and take classes in other areas. “The BA Acting Program is quite a bit different from the BFA Acting Program because students have an additional 30 credit hours that they can spend studying things other than acting,” says Ruis Woertendyke, PhD, associate chair. “For many actors, this is an advantage because they gain a good deal more information about the world around them.”
In addition to more concentrations, courses, faculty, and space, Cacheiro is looking at more institutional and formal ways to attract industry professionals to Performing Arts, not just as guests, but as core players in creating the next generation of artists. One of those ways is the New Works Initiative. The Initiative uses a model similar to Pace New Musicals, which was launched five years ago to both nurture the creation of new musical theater and provide students the opportunity to take part in the development of new materials with up-and-coming writers and top professionals. The series has included new works from composer, lyricist, and playwright Zoe Sarnak and the world premiere of a musical by legendary country music star Larry Gatlin.
The New Works Initiative, launched in fall 2011, is dedicated to developing and producing new original works for the American theater and dance world. Each year, through a national submission process, one New Works Initiative project will be chosen for workshop development on the Pace campus. The professional creative team of the selected project is supported through artist fees, dedicated rehearsal space, stage management support, and an auditioned student cast. The principal artist may also be invited to teach as an adjunct instructor during the semester he or she is on campus developing the work.
“This kind of initiative is crucial to training in the performing arts,” Cacheiro says, “because that is the world they will walk into. Most of their work will be new work—be it a TV series, an HBO movie, soap operas, or new plays—not necessarily the revival of a hit Broadway show.” The inaugural New Works Initiative featured Rachel Chavkin, an Obie Award-winning director, who is founder and artistic director of New York City based theater company TEAM (Theater of the Emerging American Moment). Together with writer Molly Rice and composer Stephanie Johnstone, Chavkin developed a new musical theater work based on James Agee’s and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men that launched on April 27, performed by Pace students.
The event was a unique experience for the students, as it not only gave them an opportunity to work closely with the acclaimed director and network with major theater artists, but it also pushed them to take their work to another level. “The New Works Initiative isn’t tailored for the student. It’s asking the student to step up to the professional level,” says Cacheiro. “The artists who are creating it are creating it for a general audience, the public. The students who perform in it have to be able to work at that level.”
Pace’s existing relationship with world-famous experiential theater group La MaMa also offers students additional opportunities to learn from and collaborate with professionals in the field. Each spring the Performing Arts Department honors a playwright by presenting selected works with La MaMa in the East Village.
Another new approach to bringing the professional performing arts community to the Pace campus is the performing Arts Masters series launched in winter 2012. The Masters Series invites leaders in the field to participate in an intimate conversation with students, faculty, and the general public.
“The Masters Series enhances our mission to provide the new generation of students and artists with the opportunity for interacting with well-established, outstanding professionals that have developed new voices and ideas,” says Ion-Cosmin Chivu, director of the BA Theater Arts/Directing Program, and host of the new lecture series. “Students will benefit from being in the same room with powerful artists who have developed strong voices in various modes of theatrical expression. We also need to reinvigorate the theater’s ancient role as a public forum by focusing on the social and cultural context for the works of the American theater of today and tomorrow.”
In its inaugural semester, the department hosted three lecture series: one featuring three visionaries from some the most influential American theater institutions—Anne Cattaneo of the Lincoln Center Theater, Maria Goyanes of The Public Theater, and Joe Melillo from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM); one featuring three leading Broadway theater producers—Gregory Mosher, Amanda Feldman, and Alexander Fraser; and an evening with Tony Award-winning actress Zoe Caldwell.
New Success Stories
Of course, the ultimate goal of the program is to take the talent that students walk in the door with and expand upon it—honing their artistic skills, introducing them to new skills, and providing them with professional insight and opportunities—while at the same time preserving each student’s uniqueness. “We want to teach students how to be the best version of themselves. We want to teach students how to apply what they are getting in the classroom immediately,” says Grant Kretchik, director of the BFA Acting Program.
If the students are any measure, with a number already performing on Broadway, in TV shows, and movies, the program is doing a good job of providing those opportunities and training while still nurturing individuality. “They say that people in Balla [Brazil, where I’m from], they’re not just born, they debut,” says Nabiyah Bashir, one of the students in the program. “Pace enables that.”
For more information about Pace’s Performing Arts Department, video highlights, and faculty bios, visit: www.pace.edu/performingarts.