Drama’s second act

A play’s second act usually pulls together all the disparate storylines of the first act, and tries to make some sense of the matter. Sometimes, it even leads to a happy ending. For the University of Montana drama program, that’s exactly how things have transpired with their national accreditation process.

This time last year, the department received a letter from its accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST), revealing UM had not passed a recent review. Specifically, NAST noted the program did not meet minimum requirements regarding faculty-to-student ratio and that some of its production equipment was out of date and unsafe. The news was expected—NAST’s standards are clearly stated prior to reviews—but nonetheless was a discomforting blow to the program.

Mark Dean, chair of the Department of Drama/Dance, called the review “a good thing,” and then immediately set to work with the administration to address NAST’s concerns.

Two weeks ago, a year’s worth of adjustments paid off when NAST sent a letter confirming that UM was back “in good standing.”

“I still think the process was great for us,” says Dean. “It gave us an opportunity to really look at the program and see where we were deficient against national standards…And how we’ve addressed those deficiencies are going to make us better in the long term.”

Specifically, the program purchased a new lighting system inside UM’s three main student performance venues: the Montana Theatre, Masquer Theatre and Open Space. The system features state-of-the-art dimming capabilities, automated gear and new light boards, and will be installed over the summer.

“It takes our production sophistication to a new level,” says Dean.

To address the student-to-faculty ratio, the program created a new position—Assistant Professor in Drama, with a directing specialization—that begins in August. The new hire was one of five concurrent searches inside the Department last semester, meaning almost one-third of the 14-person faculty will be new next year.

“This is one of those once-in-lifetime opportunities where you can really look at your program and make sure you’re doing what you need to be doing,” says Dean. “Am I excited about the future? Absolutely.”

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