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Theater education in motion:

Sitting down with asst. chair of Xavier’s Department of Music and Theater

By Patrick Phillips
On September 5, 2012

A growing, new installment to Xavier University is the creation of a Department of Music and Theater. Dr. Thomas Merrill is the chair of the department, with new faculty member Stephen Skiles as the assistant chair in charge of classes and curriculum organization. With such a fresh, new arts department, I took the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Skiles and gauge what this new program was all about.

  • Xavier Newswire: What does the Department of Music and Theater have to offer interested students?
  • Skiles: Well, I am in the process of writing a new curriculum for two degrees. One would be a Bachelor's in Arts for theater. The other would be a Bachelor's of Arts and Sciences for Theater Education, where recipients would receive their license to teach theater for students, grades Preschool through twelfth. I'm hoping to have some type of approval by the end of the academic year.
  • XN: What would set Xavier's Department of Music and Theater apart from other college theater programs?
  • Skiles: My primary goal has been finding how theater would fit the Xavier education. Therefore, I think the best opportunity the program will offer students is multiple collaborations with professional theaters in Cincinnati. The most exciting thing about this is that I want these collaborations to be built-in to the curriculum. This would mean that students have the ability to spend a semester doing an internship at local, professional theaters, such as Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Ensemble Theater Cincinnati or Playhouse in the Park, and receive real, professional experience in their field as well as credit hours for class. In this way, students are seeing theater up-close and building relationships at these professional outlets.
  • XN: Would the program cater solely to students studying acting?
  • Skiles: No. What I set out to do is create a generalized degree that students can choose an emphasis. It offers a well-rounded education for all facets of the stage. It offers a solid core foundation of theater, while allowing specific area involvement through the internships and electives. Students will be able to take ownership of their discipline and always have a say in what they want from the program.
  • XN: What drew you to teach Theater at Xavier University?
  • Skiles: The students. I was an adjunct professor here in 2002. A lot of my students had little to no experience in theater, and I was struck by the level of commitment and intelligent approach they took towards the material. It really spoke to how capable the students here at Xavier are. Since then, I just always thought Xavier would be the place I would want to come back and teach.
  • XN If you had to describe what the Department of Music and Theater had to offer to interested students, what would you say?
  • Skiles: You will come into a situation where you will be challenged, have a multitude of experiences, work with lots of people and bridge the gap between educational and professional theater. You will leave with skills to jump right into educational training and be ready for jobs in the theater world. And have a great time doing it. 

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