For many theatre students, their undergraduate career comes and goes in the blink of an eye. With so many classes to pick from and only four short years to take them, it’s hard to imagine students actively choosing to enroll in a class twice. However, that’s exactly the case with Professor of Practice Miles Wilkin’s Broadway masterclasses.
This past spring, Broadway producer and University of Florida alumnus Miles Wilkin (BSBA ‘71) returned to the School of Theatre + Dance to lead the “Theatrical Producing” masterclass as a follow-up to last year’s Broadway and Beyond masterclass. In collaboration with Dr. Jerry Dickey and newly appointed Professor of Practice Lisa Dozier King, Wilkin invited students to learn about the history and intricacies of producing American theatre straight from professionals currently leading the industry.
“The takeaway is to learn a lot of the specifics and the process of producing so that it’s demystified,” Wilkin said. “Whatever pursuit the students have, I’m hoping they learn enough to feel comfortable and self-confident in pursuing their goal or dream so that they don’t walk into an interview or audition process and freeze up.”
Wilkin designed both masterclasses so that students spend the first few weeks of the semester studying dense and detail-orientated material that serves as a foundation for the rest of the semester’s guest lecturers.
“It may be the first time students are hearing about the process so I think getting it out there in advance of having any guests is beneficial,” he said.
Together, these guest lecturers—13 in total—brought decades worth of professional experience from a variety of leadership roles and perspectives in the Broadway community. UF alumnus Scott Sanders, an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning theatre, television, and film producer, visited the class in early February to speak about his experience producing The Color Purple alongside Oprah Winfrey.
For students, enrolling in this masterclass felt like a no-brainer, especially to those who took part in last year’s Broadway & Beyond masterclass.
“It’s absolutely incredible. A lot of the lecturers are people that I read about all the time,” said Leah Vicencio, a general theater student. “It’s easy to think that producing at that level is unattainable, but meeting these professionals, hearing about their experiences and asking them advice firsthand is truly inspiring, and I’m so grateful.”
Vicencio said the class made an immediate impact on her understanding of the theatre landscape especially because she independently produces projects and works in the local and New York theatre community.
“Just being able to learn and meet these leading figures is enough to make anyone interested in the theatre industry want to take this class,” she said. “However, once you are in the class, Miles, Lisa, the class’ teaching assistant Marissa, and Dr. Dickey facilitate an open environment in which you are free to ask all the questions and learn at your pace.”
With assignments like budget and contract reviews, students were able to immediately apply the lessons they were learning into the context of a potential professional task. As the class transformed into a digital space, Lisa Dozier King also led a class on personal “elevator” pitches to better prepare students for virtual interviews and working remotely.
The apex of these masterclasses is a trip to the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Florida, where students can see how the principles they’ve been learning in class are put into practice at a prominent performing arts center.
After an exclusive tour of the facilities by Katherine Ramsberger, President and CEO of the Dr. Phillips Center, students were introduced to Jack Eldon, the Vice President of Domestic Touring and Regional Engagements at Disney Theatrical Productions. After leading a class-like lecture, Eldon invited the stage manager, company manager, wardrobe head and actors from Disney’s Aladdin to answer questions about their creative processes and unique journeys to Broadway hours before a matinee performance.
Students experienced the magic of Disney’s Aladdin on stage and ended the day with a backstage tour to see up-close the dazzling costumes and intricate set designs they had just witnessed come alive.
“The interaction between the students with participants from the show—and then seeing the show—ties it all together in a way that can't be done in the classroom,” Wilkin said.
Dr. Peter Carpenter, director of the School of Theatre + Dance, was also in attendance for the trip to the Dr. Phillips Center. He was amazed by this intimate opportunity and the access to professional theatre, as well as the generosity of those who made this opportunity possible.
“One of the things that I just think is so fantastic about what Miles has done is that he’s leveraged an entire career's worth of connections and contacts for the benefit of our students,” he said. “I’m continuously impressed by the kinds of speakers he’s bringing either in person, via Zoom or in some cases bringing the students to the event.”
Wilkin has been equally impressed with the resources of the University of Florida and rigorous academic culture of the School of Theatre + Dance.
“The quality, academic performance and interest of the students is greater than I've experienced teaching anywhere else,” he said. “When you’re trying to establish masterclasses involving many people from the New York community, you want to establish a positive reputation of an institution, and I think with our students we’re really doing that. I think the New York community is eager to participate and that’s important for continuity.”
Wilkin hopes to support this continuity through the establishment of a theatre management track, coming to the School of Theatre + Dance in the fall of 2020. Students earning a bachelor’s degree in general theatre could add this track to their course plan, which is not typically seen in higher education at the undergraduate level. Aside from specific theatre management courses, this track would set up students with an exclusive New York intensive, a professional internship and a senior project that sums up their learnings, experiences and ambitions for the future.
“My hope is that a lot of students will be interested and that the totality of it will be really valuable in preparing students for that next step after graduation,” Wilkin said. “We’ll be excited when we can begin.”