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Musical theatre beyond the classroom

| Rachel Mueller, Theatre Arts & English, '22


'Company' 2019

UW-Eau Claire’s musical theatre major, formally established in 2018, focuses on holistically training students for a competitive field. Dr. Ken Pereira, who has served as director or musical director for numerous musicals and operas at UW-EC, including Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Company, Sweeney Todd, and Urinetown, stresses the breadth of skills required of these students. Pereira notes, “These students engage with all parts of the department: theatre, dance, and music, as each of these areas is essential for the comprehensive training of a singing actor. We develop complete storytelling skills, through dance, acting, and history courses, voice lessons, production rehearsals, and costume fittings. Our students who move on to careers on the musical theatre and opera stages not only know how to act convincingly, dance gracefully, and sing beautifully, but they also understand how the cultural context of a show and how costumes inform their movement and choices as a character.  It takes a village to prepare these students for the professional performance world.”

Cassie Klinga, a fourth-year musical theatre major with a dance certificate, chose UW-EC because of the commitment to the art she witnessed first-hand. “I watched [UW-EC’s production of] Sweeney Todd and saw there was just so much effort and talent and detail in everything that’s happening in front of me right now and I want to be a part of it… And part of it was the friendliness and kindness of the staff and watching any of their productions - the effort and detail and talent that is put into them is just astonishing.” Opera/Musical Theatre Workshop, or “Op Shop” to the students, taught by Dr. Pereira, along with Dr. Mark Mowry, is where Klinga says you truly get to develop as a performer. “In Op Shop, you learn everything you need to know about going into the real world.”  The skills acquired in Opera/Musical Theatre Workshop have helped students be successful in top graduate programs, competitions, and opera companies.

The Music and Theatre Arts Department recently hired a new instructor, Phaul Fishman, to contribute to the Musical Theatre Program. While the musical theatre program is challenging and comprehensive, it isn’t a conservatory - and in Fishman’s opinion, that’s incredibly valuable. “I don’t think that it’s a competitive program like a conservatory, where everyone's competing for that one role or that one spot in that particular class. It’s more communal, and we all work together to create art instead of an individual effort.”

Phaul Fishman

Phaul Fishman

While there are many ways to develop future skills within the program, Klinga says that the classes are the best part about studying musical theatre. “Taking theatre classes makes it not class. “Oh, I have to go to geology and learn about rocks. I get to go to THEATRE. It’s just such a different energy from your classic class, because you can just walk in and start screaming at people and they’ll scream right back at you.” 

Their best advice for incoming musical theatre majors? “You’ll get out of it what you put into it,” Klinga says. “This is your time to make sure that you know what you’re doing and you can handle this. The first time I was a props master, I went to James [Zwicky], the technical director on faculty, and told him that I wanted to dabble in props but I wasn’t sure how to do it, I don’t have experience. And he said, ‘this is your experience. This is the stuff you’re gonna put on your resume to get actual jobs.’” Fishman agrees, saying, “Take risks. Even if it looks scary, just give it a try. You will never know unless you get out there and try. If you’ve never done a musical before, but you want to just come and play for a semester, do it!”

Musical Theatre Faculty
Ariella Brown, dance
Diana Cataldi, music
Jennifer Chapman, theatre
Julie DeBoer, music
Phaul Fishman, musical theatre
Arthur Grothe, theatre
Erin Hisey, theatre
Mark Mowry, music
Kenneth Pereira, music
Amanda Profaizer, theatre
James Zwicky, theatre
Jennifer Zwicky, theatre