Thirteen talented freshmen will appear on stage this fall as the IU Musical Theatre BFA class of 2020, which was selected by the department’s staff from a pool of over 200 applicants last spring.
This class, representing a spectrum of performers, started the year strong, said Assistant Professor, Choreographer and Co-Head of the Musical Theatre BFA Program Liza Gennaro.
“We’re all very excited about the class,” she said. “They’re very well-rounded. We’ve got a lot of very strong voices, and at the same time, very strong dancers. I don’t think we’ve ever had a class that is so versatile. They seem very focused, intellectually curious, eager to learn and open to new ideas.”
In addition to proving the high levels of talent required of Broadway hopefuls, the members of the new class exemplify a range of diversity, Gennaro said.
From Dominic Pagliaro of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, to Nina Donville of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, students come from all coasts and from various backgrounds to pursue the same thing — a passion for theater.
Head faculty members are in the process of drawing students from more communities to the program by implementing additional recruitment efforts across the country.
“We’re doing everything we can to diversify,” Gennaro said. “It’s essential that we do that and a very big priority for us.”
Several of the 13 mentioned the broad scope of personalities and flavors each of their fellow BFAs brings to the table.
“What is so beautiful about the arts, and our musical theater class especially, is that we are so much more diverse than many other groups of people out there,” said Broderick Balsley of South Bend, Indiana.
While in other programs such levels of diversity are never reached, Balsley said his classmates celebrate the differences between them.
“No matter race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, our class is more than willing to accept you and love you for who you are,” he said. “We have a plethora of minorities within our band of freshman BFAs, just about every minority you can think of. The fact that the completely unique 13 of us can come together to make art that relates to so many others is mind-boggling in itself and I couldn’t be any more thrilled to play my part within it.”
Beyond the basic demographics, members of the freshmen class also said they see promise in the diversity of skills their fellow classmates have to offer, and they intend to use that diversity as a learning tool.
“Our freshman class is extremely diverse in terms of our performance styles,” said Katie Swaney of Greenwood, Indiana. “Some of us are better singers, some are incredible dancers and some are interested in costuming and lighting — it just varies with every person.”
This semester, IU Theatre will present the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which ran on Broadway with a cast of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In addition to the cast’s visual differences, the show mandates male singers, in particular, whose vocals vary from the tenor, baritone and bass ranges.
By creating a class of differences, both in aesthetics and in capabilities, the department can count on students who match the diversity of these roles and characters.
Though the close-knit group gladly celebrates the differences between them, the students also mentioned their bond. Sam Sanderson of Minneapolis, Minnesota, said it’s more than just a program, but a family. They hope to embrace the idea of diversity and inclusivity.
“We have several students of color, several students who are members of the LGBT community, myself included, and we all come from all over the country,” Sanderson said. “I have faith that we will continue to see more and more students of different walks of life enter our program.”