By Dale King
Lynn University has amped up its drama curriculum this year with the addition of a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) program – a course of study offering would-be actors concentrated theatrical training that prepares them to work professionally in theater, movies, television and musicals.
Lynn has offered a BA degree in drama for about 15 years, said Adam Simpson, chair of the drama program at Lynn. “The BFA is the next level, a more rigorous degree of training,” he said.
The more intense, theatrical arts program offers instruction in two areas, one specifically for drama and the other for musical theater. Eight students have been accepted in each. To gain entry, all of them had to audition.
The BFA “is something my colleagues and I have been working on for years,” Simpson said. “Theater arts are growing on campus and this is needed.”
The students have already presented two works that were open to the public in the Wold Performing Arts Center on campus.
In October, the BFA students presented The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, which included songs from such musicals as Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita and Sunset Boulevard.
Simpson said Lynn’s production featured songs in their original context with costumes and sets to match, backed by a 12-piece orchestra composed of Lynn’s music conservatory students. This production was directed by Bruce Linser, Lynn’s visiting professor of musical theater and a familiar actor/director at various local performance venues.
“We brought him on two years ago to help develop the musical theater component,” Simpson said.
The school hired popular keyboardist Paul Reekie as music director and choreography was taught by Becky Timms, a Tony Award-winning dance arranger and assistant choreographer for the Broadway production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.
BFA student performers included Braden Alexander, Daniela Barbar, Aurora Colamonici, Laura Cozine, CristaMarie DeVito, Esther Ortis and Brie Ramirez. Also in the show were Kaitlyn Frame, a graduate student from Pittsburgh, and Jonathan Hearn, an oboist and graduate student from Nashville, Tenn.
DeVito, a sophomore, has “always had a passion for the arts,” but came to Lynn last year with the idea of majoring in biology.
“I met Carrie Simpson [Adam’s wife, who is also a faculty member at Lynn] and she cast me in the Celebration of the Arts production last year. They made me the center of the scene in the cabaret, Café de Cave.”
DeVito, who hails from Brooklyn, recalled getting considerable adulation in her musical role. “No one had ever told me I could do this. A lot of arts programs knock you down and then build you up, but in the BFA at Lynn, they work to make you better with knocking you down. It’s a small, intimate program. They encourage you to do the best you can.”
Adam Simpson got her a job this year working five days a week in the scene shop. She sang two songs in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production in October and was assistant director for the December production, Bruce Norris’s play Clybourne Park.
“I live in Brooklyn where there are lots of arts schools I could have gone to,” DeVito said. “But I’d rather be at Lynn. The one-on-one-attention is priceless.”
DeVito is a particularly hard worker as she is majoring in two subjects – bachelor of science in event planning and the BFA in music theater performance.
The BFA students returned to the stage in early December for Clybourne Park, a 2010 play written as a sequel to Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal Raisin in the Sun. Winner of the Pulitzer for drama in 2011 and the Tony for Best Play in 2012, Clybourne Park is set in the Chicago neighborhood of that name; in Act I, it’s 1959 and a white community is trying to keep black homeowners out. In Act II, it’s 2009, and the all-black neighborhood is bristling at the gentrification designs of a white couple that wants to tear down one of the homes.
“Every fall semester,” said Simpson, “Lynn produces a play that addresses social or civic issues that are relevant to our community. The goal is to open a dialogue in the community about issues that are affecting our society today.”
Simpson directed the show and also appeared in the cast. Also involved were Timms, a BFA visiting professor; Allison Brachman, Christion Lewis, senior Faith Thomas, professor Jeff Morgan and freshmen from the BFA in drama program: Colamonici, Cozine, Dove Herd, Cobe Jackson, Jarod Neil and Lucas Oliviera.
The performance tasked the participants with not only understanding the issue, but dealing with the anger, hatred and vulgar language shown by cast members.
Simpson said the students handled the intensity of the issues very well. The instructor himself appeared in the performance. “One of the signatures of the program is to work with professionals,” he said.
A graduate of the master of fine arts program at Florida Atlantic University, Simpson has been involved in South Florida theater as an actor and technician. He has spent seven years working in TV and films.
Student players will be back once more next month for The Real Inspector Hound (Feb. 6-8). They will also participate in Lynn’s eighth annual Celebration of the Arts on April 25-26.