By M. Yvonne Taylor, University Marketing
A Show Business Baby
Born to acting, producing and playwriting parents, Texas State’s new musical theatre director Kaitlin Hopkins was a show business baby. The art of acting, the songs of the stage and the business of Broadway run through her veins. And it’s that familial connection with the world of musical theatre that helped her give birth to one of the most innovative, challenging and relevant musical theatre programs in the country.
“One of the things that’s so exciting is that we are creating this program from the ground up. Between Robin Lewis, Jim Price and me, we have over 60 years of combined professional Broadway experience in the industry. I think that informs our program in a way that is really unique."
Laying the Foundation
Something else that Hopkins feels is unique about the program is the fact that the entire faculty are working Broadway professionals. “I spent a lot of time researching all the other programs, and there are professionals at other universities,” she explains, “but not the entire faculty and not working on a Broadway level the majority of their careers.”
In her research, she also looked at what other programs are doing and how they are doing it. She also interviewed Broadway casting directors and professionals who have come out of the top programs in the past five years, wanting to find out the things they learned — and what they wish they had learned.
She found the responses consistent: Most wanted more real-world experience and knowledge to use when entering a demanding and dynamic career.
So she took that information and used it to create a boutique musical theatre program — a small program that focuses on quality over quantity. She also decided to help students learn about the business of Broadway through the expertise of the professional faculty, as well as the contacts and relationships she’s built over her years growing up in a professional performing family. Students receive the practical and relevant knowledge they need to succeed in a highly competitive creative arena.
The Business of Broadway — A Family Affair
“Theatre arts, in particular, has to be passed on from generation to generation,” explains Hopkins. “What I love about Texas State is that they get that. Everyone here has been so supportive in creating what young artists actually need to succeed in their profession. We teach both the business and the craft.
“So much of what we do is dependent upon passing the torch, sharing our life experiences, telling students what it’s really like to be a professional performer rather than leaving them with the romantic notion they have in their heads. I was raised by and among the people who virtually ushered in a new level of artistry in the theatre, and I want to continue that tradition.”
For example, Hopkins designed a whole series of business labs for juniors and seniors. “I can teach them to sing and dance their faces off,” she explains, “but that does them no good if they don’t know how to read a contract or what to expect in terms of how to behave as a professional or what the expectations are when they walk into a Broadway rehearsal for the first time. And how would they know all that unless we pass it on?”
The Guest Artist program helps students learn from the pros. “Because I’ve been fortunate enough to work in and grow up in this industry,” says the director, "I bring a lifetime of relationships with me, which allows me to create unique opportunities for my students. Transitioning them into this industry is an important aspect of what they get at Texas State, but they also get to work with some of the top Broadway creative teams in developing new musical work.”
Nurturing the Top Talent
Because the program only accepts 10-12 students a year, Texas State’s program can do things larger programs can’t.
“Our small size allows us to customize the curriculum, designing it specifically to the individual artist,” Hopkins says. “Every artist is unique. Some candidates are highly experienced in an area like dance; others have had very little dance, but have incredible voices. I can’t stick both those kids in a beginning ballet class. It makes no sense.”
So the program she’s designed will help nurture the strengths of individual students and will build expertise in the areas that need more development.
“I’m really interested in the artists who are going to define the musical theatre of the future. I’m interested in the kid who says, ‘Yes, I want to perform, but I’m also interested in being a choreographer, or I’d love to direct, or I’m a composer too.’ They need to be trained in every area of the industry — film, television, recording — and we are covering it all.
“And I want the people who are thinking bigger picture — not just about themselves.”
To that end, Hopkins is looking for exceptional qualities in the students she’s recruiting for the program. She believes what theatre does best is serve the community at large. “I feel very strongly as we continue to define the program that part of its mission involves the community and how we serve it. I’m attracted to the artists who think globally, the kids who by their nature and character are people who are of service.”
A Star is Born
Thanks to word of mouth, the Internet and people plugged into the theatre world, the program is “getting slammed” with applicants — a good thing, Hopkins says. “My goal was to make this program the top musical theatre program in the state by the end of our first year and keep the talent in Texas from going out of state, but word got out, and we are already being hailed as one of the top programs in the country, and the top talent is following.”
So how is Hopkins handling her new bundle of joy?
“This is far more exciting to me than anything I’ve ever done in my life, and that’s saying something. My husband says that I’m talking in my sleep every night. I think it’s just my subconscious trying to process it all,” she says, beaming.