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Why There’s No Stopping the Theater Students at Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University’s theater department produces working actors, even before the students receive their degrees.

Located 70 miles north of Houston, in Huntsville, Texas, the department offers two BFA tracks: one in musical theater, and one that emphasizes acting and directing, design and technology, or teacher certification. The population is small; Department Chair Penelope A. Hasekoester estimates that the department has 80-90 incoming students a year, including transfers, with about 230 majors total, roughly 60 of whom are in musical theater.

The department immerses students in real-world experiences and skills from the outset.  Musical theater majors must audition for all of the department’s shows (eight-10 a year, including two musicals). The musicals are optional for acting and directing majors, who must turn out for the all the straight show auditions. (Design and technology students must audition as well, during their first year.)

Musical theater majors must also take a workshop that drills them in practical skills, related to both business (résumés, head shots, designing promotional materials) and auditioning (including intensive training in current dance combinations that students are likely to encounter in calls). 

All students are eligible for internships, some of which involve being cast, on a show-by-show basis with companies in Houston, such as Stages Repertory Theater, Classical Theater Company, Texas Repertory Theater, and Main Street Theater.  Upperclass musical theater majors may also apply for a semester-long internship at Theater Under the Stars, also in Houston, which combines an acting component with administrative work and what Hasekoester calls “kid wrangling.”

Other casting opportunities include on-camera work in student films with the university’s mass communications department, as well as independently auditioning for theaters in Houston and other nearby towns, such as Unity Theater in Brenham, Texas.

Musical theater majors may also try out for out-of-state summer intensive programs that have a long-standing relationship with the department, the Broadway Theatre Project and The Performing Arts Project. 

A new, immersive resource is opening this fall, an arts-only dormitory called The Fine Arts and Mass Communications Creative Community. Open to students in art, dance, mass communications, music, and theater, the facility offers a black box theater and other spaces for rehearsing, editing, and working all hours of the day without disturbing other residents. Another benefit, says Hasekoester, is fostering relationships that might not otherwise happen.

The department’s track record is solid. Its alums have a strong working presence onstage and backstage, clustering particularly in Houston, Dallas, and New York (including Broadway replacement casts). Haskekoester knows of graduates currently on national tours and cruise lines, while a few are in Austin, Texas and L.A.

“We have students who work regularly. Our alumni work all the time,” she says. “If they really want this as a career, we equip them well enough to get their foot in the door, as long as they have some perseverance.”

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