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UCI Drops Graduate Curriculum in Music Theater : Performance arts: The decision, spurred by an outside evaluation, means that no new students will be admitted.


IRVINE — UC Irvine's theater department--which long has touted its performance program as one of the nation's best--is quietly dropping its music theater curriculum at the graduate level.

Although currently enrolled students working toward a Master of Fine Arts in music theater will be allowed to continue toward their degree, UCI won't be taking any new graduate students in that area of specialization.

The undergraduate program will not be affected, nor will existing programs in acting, directing and theater design, according to UCI drama chairman Stephen Barker.

The cutback comes as the result of an evaluation by the National Assn. for Schools of Theater, Barker acknowledged last week. He said evaluators had told the department that if it wanted accreditation for its performance program it would either have to beef up the commitment to music theater or drop it altogether.

"They said we would have to make it real or float it free," Barker said. "To make it real would cost $150,000 to $200,000 the way we would want to do it. We don't remotely have that kind of money, particularly in these times."

Drama professor Robert Cohen, the former chairman of the department, further noted that musical theater "always was a pilot program at the graduate level and was far and away the smallest of all of them."

Barker said the decision to drop the graduate music theater curriculum was "well-discussed over a long period of time" with the entire drama faculty and had the full support of Robert Hickok, the dean of UCI's School of Fine Arts. Indeed, Hickok recommended the move in the first place.

"I recommended it because the resources have become so limited that we can't support everything," he said Monday. "That seemed to be a part of the drama program that could be cut off without destroying the overall program."

Barker bristled at a suggestion that the decision diminished the department's commitment to performance. He argued that it "actually strengthened the undergraduate program" because the head of the graduate music theater curriculum, Dennis Castellano, now will be able to devote more time to undergraduate performers.

"This doesn't mean we won't do musicals or have a musical-theater presence," Barker added. "We will continue looking for actors who can sing as well as act."

He noted, moreover, that dropping the graduate curriculum "is by no means a fait accompli. The university administration could come back to us and say, 'Don't cancel.' This thing has to be approved at many levels higher up." However, the decision not to take new students already is in effect.

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