Bringing the Broadway Musical to the Eastern Townships

The Music and Drama Departments in the Bishop’s University Faculty of Humanities have combined their talents to create the Musical Theatre Concentration, the only Musical Theatre curriculum offered in English in the province of Quebec. Dr. Art Babayants, the concentration’s director, describes it as more flexible and accessible than a conservatory program or a larger school’s musical theatre program. Typically, at a conservatory program, the student would spend their entire days in classes, for instance, an acting class alone taking up to 15 hours a week. There would be little to no opportunity for them to continue working and earning their living, which is a necessity for a lot of students. It would also be difficult to find time to pursue their unique interests as a student and learning artist. At the end of the program, they would typically graduate with a diploma – not a Bachelor’s – limiting their opportunities in the fields of music and drama with the accreditation of a singular skill.  

Bishop’s Musical Theatre Concentration was born out of passion for musicals and a desire by faculty in the Drama and Music Departments to collaborate. Previous musicals at Bishop’s brought together the university and the local Eastern Townships community in a rare opportunity to see English musical theatre without travelling to New York or Toronto. Though the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the development of the program, it is now in its third year, with its second Broadway-style production scheduled for the Spring 2023 semester. 

The concentration accounts for the gaps in skills that a Drama or Music major might have in relation to musical theatre. Music students must take acting and movement. Drama students take classes honing their music theory and voice. Students can also learn various skills, including tap dance, modern jazz, and ballet at the level they have, while also studying another field. Most enrolled in the concentration come from the Drama and Music Departments, but Bishop’s musicals and musical theatre courses also include people from across the academic community at Bishop’s including psychology, computer science, neuroscience and education. 

The beauty of this concentration is how it allows students of any field to discover their own challenges. A student in neuroscience, for example, turned out to be an amazing singer and actor. If you had asked the audience, “did you feel that that person was from a different department, and they are actually a neuroscientist?”, they would have never noticed because the program supports all students and guides them according to their talent and skills.  

Art Babayants

While certain musical theatre students can indeed thrive in the highly competitive environments of conservatories, others prefer Bishop’s supportive approach, which also reflects the small and passionate Bishop’s community at large. The program is also open to students coming from various first language and cultural backgrounds, including those who speak English as their additional language. It welcomes unorthodox casting choices that resist stereotypes and favour certain body types over others. In addition, Bishop’s students always help one another grow and evolve as performers and academics in a way they would be unable to in a competitive environment.  

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