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For School, a Theatrical Switch in Dramatic Fashion
The theater department at Oklahoma City University has reached several goals over the past couple years – number of student majors (quadrupled), number of full-time faculty (doubled) and the creation of a distinctive performance and production wing called TheatreOCU. But the most obvious goal came during a trustee meeting this month when the department was officially granted the status of a school. David Herendeen, interim director of the newly-ordained Oklahoma City University School of Theatre, said the new title is a badge of honor and a promise fulfilled for a department that has worked hard to recruit students and train them to be successful in the career field. “The things our graduates have achieved in the performing arts go without saying,” Herendeen said, mentioning the other performance-related departments at OCU – Wanda L. Bass School of Music and the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management. “We have had many students graduate and find success in those fields, and we’re proud to be part of that.” Herendeen said some of the theater program’s success is due to the way the school is organized, which creates a life-after-college atmosphere and has partnerships with professional theater companies in the area. “The school is structured like a professional production company, and it shows in the students’ ability to jump into professional theater as soon as they graduate,” he said. A quick look at the numbers shows the quick rise in the theater department. The OCU Board of Trustees established goals in 2004 that charted the path from department to school. Those goals were exceeded within a few years of the five-year timeframe. The number of theatre majors went from 32 students in the fall 2003 semester to the current semester’s 170 students, which Herendeen pointed out currently holds an average ACT score of 26 and includes three National Merit Scholars. And the number of full-time faculty jumped from four to 10 members during the same time period. Production values have also been on the rise, as evidenced by nationwide recognition. For instance, the OCU department was one of 17 schools in the country nominated this year as a finalist for the Kennedy Center American College of Theater Festival. Herendeen noted that the designation as a school instead of a department gives the program a stronger voice in the university with its own dean, a more direct say in how to spend its budget and looks better on the transcripts of graduating students. Other than that, he said the program will run very much the same as it has for the past couple of years. “The students and faculty like the fact that the administration recognized their hard work. The administration was willing to make a bet on us,” he said. “We knew our job was to make that good bet a reality – not a possibility, but a probability. With the help of good students, good faculty and a good administration, we’ve realized our goals.”