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Wednesday February 7, 2001

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Theater arts department elevated to school status

By Angela Orlando

Arizona Daily Wildcat

It's one small step for the university and one profound development for the Fine Arts department.

On Jan. 26, the Board of Regents officially proclaimed the University of Arizona theater department the School of Theater Arts.

A school, as opposed to a department, must have a multi-disciplinary curriculum. For example, schools of music occur commonly in universities because of the assorted instruction they offer. Should classes in marimba arrangement and opera singing be classified in the same department? Maybe not, but they do fit into the same school.

The School of Theater Arts offers students more than 300 majors. Courses range from acting theory to set design and theater technology.

"We teach 20 different sections of acting every semester," said Albert Tucci, director of the School of Theater Arts.

Available degrees include traditional liberal arts bachelor's degrees, minors and both undergraduate and graduate-level professional majors.

Jacqueline Mok, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, emphasized the relevance of multi-disciplinary education.

"(Being recognized as a theater school) gives recognition to our theater arts department for the variety and depth of the degrees that they offer," Mok said. "The school of theater gives students an academic and historical approach to their art. Not only is (the school's curriculum) intellectually stimulating, but also contextually (complex)."

The new institution boosts the number of UA fine arts schools to three - the School of Music and Dance, the School of Art and now the School of Theater Arts - which "raises the stature not only of the university but also of the department," Mok said.

Tucci said he is proud of the program's advancement.

"The application process took one year from beginning to end," he said, though he initiated discussion of the idea as early as 1992.

A series of committees had to approve the application before it went to the Board of Regents.

"We had to justify our department and compare ourselves to other schools of theater," Tucci said.

Fewer than 20 American universities boast schools of theater, though several others are currently in the application process. Carnegie Mellon, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles have some of the more-established schools of theater.

Master of fine arts candidate Bryan Simmons studies costume design through the UA School of Theater Arts.

"I think this (institution) will make the department even more prestigious," he said. "It takes a long time to build a nationally recognized program - now our quality is really getting noticed."

Organizations like the United States Institute for Theater Technology and other career-advancement groups are likely to notice the development of a school of theater, Simmons said.

Some of this new-found recognition of both the school and the enrolled students, he said, comes from faculty encouragement.

"The faculty has always been very accessible to me," Simmons said. "They continually create opportunities for students in the program to take advantage of."

Simmons eventually wants to teach theater and design costumes on a freelance basis.

"The school of theater really tries to tailor courses to individual students' needs," he said.

The implications of having a theater school at UA are not exclusively status-oriented.

"Now that the program is larger, we might get more funding," Simmons said. "It just adds an element of prestige."

This new institution could attract undecided freshmen, transfer students and graduate students looking for a diverse program to the UA.