DANBURY, CONN. — Western Connecticut State University has earned accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Theatre, a prestigious recognition of the university’s commitment to a quality theatre arts program that offers a comprehensive curriculum, academically and professionally experienced faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities meeting the association’s rigorous standards for theatre education nationwide.
The NAST Commission on Accreditation notification of the university’s acceptance for association membership, received in March 2017, marked the successful completion of a process that began with the WCSU submission of its accreditation application in fall 2014. Pam McDaniel, professor and chair of the WCSU Department of Theatre Arts, said that the peer review of the university and its theatre program represented the first time that Western has sought NAST accreditation. WCSU becomes just the second Connecticut higher education institution, along with the Hartt School of the University of Hartford, to be granted accreditation by NAST.
“One of the important benefits from accreditation for Western is that it affirms our program meets national standards for theatre schools,” McDaniel observed. “We can always say that we have a good theatre arts program. But with this accreditation, we now have our peers in the theatre profession saying that we truly deliver what we say we’re delivering, after looking at every aspect of the university — curriculum content and structure, faculty and students, theatre programming and funding, and much more.”
The university underwent a wide-ranging NAST review that included an accreditation team site visit to Western and exhaustive study of theatre arts courses, degree programs, faculty experience, play productions, technical facilities, funding sources and other factors to determine compliance with NAST standards. The opening in fall 2014 of the Visual and Performing Arts Center on the university’s Westside campus provided the necessary teaching and performance facilities to achieve NAST accreditation, McDaniel noted. “It’s important to have this facility to deliver what we promise in our theatre program,” she said.
Even before the NAST application process began, McDaniel said, the Department of Theatre Arts initiated a thorough review and overhaul of the theatre curriculum to bring courses and degree programs into alignment with the association’s national standards. “We realized as we were preparing to apply to NAST that our curriculum was dated, so we went through every course in the department and revised and updated it before we applied for accreditation,” she said.
One area that required further restructuring during the accreditation process was the development of a new degree program for the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre, which the Board of Regents for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system approved in December to replace an existing Bachelor of Arts program that did not meet NAST standards. Course revisions to create the B.F.A. program have been implemented under the supervision of Musical Theatre Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Tim Howard, a Broadway veteran who joined the WCSU faculty in 2015 and earned Best Director honors for WCSU productions presented in 2016 and 2017 at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
In addition to the new B.F.A. in Musical Theatre, the department offers the B.A. in Theatre Arts with options for concentration in Performance, Design/Technology, Theatre Arts Management or Theatre Studies. The arts management concentration has been introduced in collaboration with VPAC Coordinator Sarah Renninger, while the theatre studies option has been designed to streamline the pathway for community college theatre students to transition into the WCSU bachelor’s degree program.
Western’s full-time theatre arts faculty, along with more than 20 adjunct professors and guest artists, bring a wealth of professional experience to the theatre program ranging from acting and directing to stage management and technical skills. McDaniel said that the theatre arts program seeks to provide students with broad-based training in performance and production skills so that they will leave Western with the diversified portfolio needed to break into a challenging profession.
“While we have grown to about 150 theatre arts majors today, we remain very student-oriented,” McDaniel remarked. “We are always focused on how we can best train our students and guide them in starting a career in the entertainment industry. This is not an easy career to pursue, and many of our graduates break in with management jobs at regional theatres. I advise my students that, even if their goal is to perform, they have to acquire a broad base of skills so that they will find other opportunities for work when they are not performing.”
McDaniel and other faculty members maintain strong relationships with regional and national theatre companies that keep them in touch with the training and skills that prospective employers value in graduates entering the workplace. “They are looking for students prepared in the way we are preparing them, with a strong background in how you make theatre happen,” she said.
“We have found there is a great need for technical directors in educational and regional theatre, and there are many opportunities for technical crew with carpentry, lighting, scenic arts and costume design skills,” she added. “We look to keep a balance in our program and we find that our Design/Tech students can get work immediately in the industry.”
Achievement of NAST accreditation is only the beginning of continuous monitoring and review of Western’s theatre arts program, through annual reports to NAST and in the next round of comprehensive on-site review for renewal of accreditation during the 2021-22 academic year. “This process of incremental review means that we will constantly be staying on top of our curriculum to stay current and in compliance with NAST guidelines,” McDaniel said. “The accreditation process also supports our movement at Western to a competency-based curriculum, which will require our students to gain certain skills in oral communication, writing and other areas as they go through the theatre arts program.
“Accreditation is not just about the health of our program,” she observed, “but also about how our program thrives within a healthy university.”
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.