Is San Marcos the Next Broadway Training Ground?

Texas State University's 2009 production of Bat Boy-The Musical, directed by Kaitlin Hopkins
Texas State University's 2009 production of Bat Boy-The Musical, directed by Kaitlin Hopkins

Updated Friday, September 17, 11:10 a.m.

When we think of San Marcos, we think of the Texas Hill Country, the river and those roadside signs for Wonder World. (Has anyone ever actually been there?)

We don't think "Broadway."

But Texas State University is on it way to becoming one of the country's top schools for musical theater training, thanks to its open-minded faculty and the head of its musical theater program, Kaitlin Hopkins. The 25-year Broadway veteran has crafted a curriculum that's attracting students from across the country, for both the quality of training and the price. Now in its second year as a B.F.A program, Texas State could become the next premiere school for professional performing arts training.

We talked with Hopkins about her vision for the program.

You gotta have connections.

"I'm very passionate about teaching and directing. I felt strongly that one of the things missing in musical theater education right now is a sense of it being current, and transitioning the kids into the professional industry as it exists today. I felt I was in a unique position to offer that. All of our faculty are working Broadway professionals. The relationships we have in our professional careers enable us to bring down the top directors and casting directors to work with the kids in master class situations. This fall we have Andrew Lippa, who is a big Broadway composer--his show The Addams Family is on Broadway right now. He's coming down to spend a week with the students as our composer in residence, and we're actually commissioning him to write a new musical for our students that will be developed and premiered here. There's an opportunity right now for the professional theater and academia to work more closely together in preparing the students for professional careers in the industry.

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Update: Texas State University announced yesterday that the Award-winning Broadway lighting designer Sarah Maines (Jersey Boys) and scenic artist Sara Lee Cely (former studio assistant to Tony Award-winning costume designer Gregg Barnes) have joined the college's Department of Theatre and Dance faculty.

Conservatory approach

"I built this curriculum from scratch. I researched the other schools in Texas and what they had to offer. We're not technically a conservatory. It's a BFA in musical theater, and we run it like a conservatory. Texas State is a liberal arts institution, so students are getting a conservatory-like program with a liberal arts education. Basically, out of 130 hours, approximately, that are in the degree, about 85 to 86 of them are performance-based classes. And the other 40 some-odd hours are liberal arts courses. They have to take an English, a science and a math. It's a curriculum that's based on the business of the business as well as the musical theater training itself. I went to Carnegie Mellon and I learned a lot from it that I would do differently. When I designed this program, I was interested in artists that have a broader picture; that are interested in other things. I have two kids this year who want to be musical theater performers, but ultimately they want to be choreographers. We can tailor the curriculum to those kids' interests. We only accept 10 students a year, and I can cater each degree to the individual. I've got songwriters; I've got a kid that's interested in directing. I'm providing them with the opportunities they need to do other things. It's a more realistic view of what they need to work."

[To put that in perspective: the University of Houston doesn't offer a BFA in musical theater.]


Bang for the buck

"It's one of the lowest tuitions in the country--under $10,000 a year with everything. We get 60 percent in-state applicants and 40 percent out-of-state, and I'm able to offer out-of-state students in-state tuition. At this moment in our economy, when it costs $53,000 to go to Carnegie Mellon for an out-of-state student, I don't know how you don't look at my program."

San Marcos?

"I'm from Manhattan; I know rats and cockroaches. What's a river? There are deer here. It's really freaky. But I have to say, I love it here. It's beautiful; the Hill Country, the river, the campus is beautiful, and they're building me a brand new $80 million-dollar performing arts facility. It'll have a 400-seat, state-of-the-art theater and a 300-seat recital hall. And we'll still have the two theaters in the current building."

Hopkins and Texas State musical theater faculty will be teaching master classes at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts this Friday, and Hopkins will also conduct a college audition workshop at Cypress Academy of Performing Arts on Sunday, September 19.

For more information, you can contact Hopkins at (512) 245-2147, or via email.

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