The Big Island university turned an administrative challenge into a challenging opportunity for students
Just when it seemed that dwindling enrollment in music might silence the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s remarkable theatre, a small but extremely talented and dedicated group of faculty members responded with an innovative new degree program that consolidates music, dance and drama. Success was evident in the graduation of the first performing arts graduates in spring 2004.
December’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors
Students from the dance concentration
Performance of Handel’s Messiah, conducted by maestro Ken Staton
Drawing on similar baccalaureate programs at Iowa State, University of San Francisco, St. Mary’s and Fairfield, the program offers a major in performing arts with an emphasis in music, dance or drama as well as technical theatre.
"Students have the opportunity to get a degree in performing arts in which they are required to take a certain minimum number of credits as a core in all three disciplines," says maestro Ken Staton, associate professor of music and chair of the performing arts department.
"It was a huge honor for me to be a part of the first graduating class," says Lani Anderson, who received her BA in performing arts with a music emphasis in piano in May 2004. "The degree required a well-rounded educational experience, and I feel that its ʻinterpersonal’ qualities better prepared me for the real world." Anderson is a paid church pianist, piano teacher and an accompanist—"all of which directly relate to my area of study," she says.
One of about 40 declared majors, Chris Ramos is a talented young tenor taking the vocal music emphasis. "This program is awesome because no matter your emphasis, you still have to take core classes in dancing, drama, music and technical theatre," he says. "You don’t get bored here. There are always things to do. And as this program grows, so will the opportunities."
UH Hilo performing arts majors hone their chops in the many community performances staged in the 600-plus seat facility soon to be renamed the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Performing Arts Center. They also take their show on the road with a performance tour of Big Island high schools.
"We put on a little show, very upbeat, and recruit—specifically for the performing arts program, but also for the university at large," Staton explains.
In addition, Staton is working with Hilo-based videographer Lynn Richardson to create a DVD about the program for distribution to high school guidance counselors. "We’re cutting it down and putting the finishing touches on it," he says. "It’s short, about six minutes long; it’s flashy and it has the quick-cut MTV video style that young people gravitate to."
Staton believes the performing arts degree is a great base even for students who aspire to law school, graduate school in a non-arts discipline or even an entry-level white-collar professional position.
"Students not only learn specific performance skills, their confidence and self-esteem are strengthened," he explains. "They learn both how to work within a group and how to lead a group. They learn how to work in front of people and to give presentations without being intimidated by the process of public speaking. These are skills that employers and grad school recruiters value in applicants."
Spring 2005 Performances
April 9–10: 100 Years of Broadway, featuring the University Chamber Singers directed by Ken Staton, University Dance Ensemble directed and choreographed by Celeste Anderson Staton and members of the University Drama Program directed by Jackie Pualani Johnson
May 1: Spring choral concert production of Beethoven’s Mass in C performed by the combined singers of the University Chorus, University Chamber Singers and Hilo Community Chorus, vocal soloists and the Hoʻulu Pila Chamber Orchestra, directed by Ken Stanton
May 4: Great Leaps, a performance featuring students from the UH Hilo dance program and UH Hilo Dance Ensemble, directed and choreographed by Celeste Anderson Staton