The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee doesn't have a theater department, but it now has a reputable theater faculty.
A new partnership between USFSM and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training will allow about 100 students at the university to study with selected third-year students from the conservatory's masters program, beginning in the next academic year.
"We'll offer theater appreciation courses that will teach about theater as a collaborative art that involves actors, playwrights, directors and designers, and about theater as a profession," said Jane Rose, the dean of the USFSM College of Arts and Sciences.
In the first year, four of the conservatory's 12 third-year students will teach as part of the new program.
"The benefit to our students is that they'll learn not just through textbooks but by going to plays, through field trips backstage, through
meeting with actor and directors," Rose said.
For students at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory, the partnership offers new opportunities."It's a tremendously important additional resource for us," said Greg Leaming, director of the conservatory. "We have a core group of between two and five students every year who are interested in teaching. We're associated with a professional theater company, which is one of the things that sets us apart from other acting programs that are part of a university."
A lot of professional actors also teach, Leaming said, either in universities or privately. For graduate students to gain teaching experience, he said, "is an invaluable addition to their resume."
The impetus for the partnership, Rose said, came when the university became a four-year institution this academic year. Until this year, USFSM had only offered upper-level courses.
Now that it's accepting first- and second-year students, the university had to start offering general humanities courses. But since it didn't offer a theater degree, it didn't have a theater faculty.
The university will offer two sections of the new theater course in each semester. With about 25 students in each section, that means 100 students can take the course each year. That's about equal to the freshman enrollment this year, Rose said, though she expects that number to grow significantly next year.
Arranging a partnership between an institution that's part of the University of South Florida system and a conservatory that's under the auspices of Florida State University "presented challenges," Rose said. But because the arrangement will also benefit the conservatory students, it wasn't unduly difficult.
"Two state institutions that are traditionally seen as rivals have found a way to work together that is mutually beneficial," she said.
In fact, Leaming said, the conservatory's association with FSU made the partnership easier in some ways. Graduate students who teach in Florida universities have to have at least 30 hours of graduate-level courses. Students at independent conservatories usually wouldn't have that many credits.
The partnership also benefits the Bradenton-Sarasota area in general, Rose said, because the area is so heavily dependent on the arts, and the new course will help foster a new generation of theater-goers.
It will also strengthen the bond between the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and the Bradenton-Sarasota community, Leaming said.
"We've been ranked as one of the top 10 centers for actor training in the country," he said. "We're a hidden treasure of this community. It's a good opportunity for spreading the gospel of Asolo."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.