FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Although it may be the new kid on the block, when it comes to performing arts curriculums in the greater New York area, Sacred Heart University's Theatre Arts Program has quickly established itself as the place to be for performers looking to combine education, employment and real-world experience.
As early as the 1960s and 70s, Sacred Heart boasted a robust performing arts program. Students were heavily involved in area theatres and performances were commonplace. However, the program ultimately fell out of favor and dwindled near extinction as recently as a decade ago. It wasn't until with the hiring of Jerry Goehring in 2006 that SHU's Theatre Arts Program really took off.
Originally hired to help book outside acts at the school's Edgerton Center, Goehring had a background in performing arts. “As Sacred Heart changed from a commuter to resident school, I was approached to start a student theatre program based on my previous work,” said Goehring, director of SHU’s Theatre Arts Program. “I chose ‘Rent’ as the first show, and kids just came out of the woodwork. We had an amazing show that won best event on campus, and the rest is history.”
From its inception as a club of a dozen students in 2011, to today, the program has expanded to include 180 students involved in all aspects of theatre, including writing and production to acting. Five years ago, the University launched a Theatre Arts minor, and in 2015 unveiled two Theatre Arts majors, which currently have 25 students enrolled. “The goal was to have 10 majors per class," said Goehring. "We’re almost growing too fast!”
For majors and minors, the curriculum is a combination of classroom learning and on-stage practice. “Students can solely focus on bookwork with a goal to one day teach, or they can take the classes to learn the process and then apply the techniques in shows,” said Goehring. “We’re here to give students the opportunities, but they create their future.”
Being a fledgling program hasn’t daunted Goehring and the faculty at Sacred Heart. In fact, they're using its newness to each student's advantage. “At some established theatre schools, there is a hierarchy, and students must be a certain class before they can even audition,” he said “Students may only do two or three shows before they graduate.” At Sacred Heart, that's not the case. “You can study all you want, but practice is the only way you get better,” said Goehring. “By producing more than a dozen shows annually and removing class-based casting requirements, students are able to learn more and faster than they would at most other schools.”
Come graduation time, Theatre Arts Program students at Sacred Heart are also experiencing a surprising boost. According to recent labor studies, the field has seen job growth of 4.2 percent in the greater New York area. “It used to be Broadway or bust, but now the sky is the limit,” said Goehring. From Netflix to YouTube and more, online media has a need for people with the background SHU establishes, he said. “The arts are entering a new golden age, led by the freedom that digital medium gives artists.”
To learn more about the Theatre Arts Program at Sacred Heart, click here.