Rose State Theater Program Helps Students Hit the Ground Running Published May 15, 2019 by Daniel Beck

RSC theatre student during performanceDon’t let Emily Berghom’s freshman status fool you. The Rose State College theater major has racked up some impressive on-stage roles just one year into her college career.

The Midwest City native starred as the ingenuitive, striped-shirt-clad Pugsley Addams in Rose State’s rendition of “The Addams Family: A New Musical”; she wowed the crowd as she transformed into Belle and helped Ebenezer Scrooge see the error of his ways in “A Christmas Carol”; and she brought Shakespeare’s words to life as she became the Duke of Burgundy in “King Lear,” while also preparing as the understudy for Edgar.

While first-year students at other area colleges can only dream of seeing that kind of stage time, it’s a reality for most students enrolling in Rose State’s theater program. Rose State’s affordability, small class sizes allowing for more hands-on experience, and personalized attention from professors, is a huge draw for central Oklahoma students meant for the stage.

“Here, it’s not as scary to go up to the professor and ask him a question,” Berghom says. “They know you by name. They know your face.”

In fact, the budding actress used to be intimidated by talking to people, avoiding any kind of attention in her early high school classes and any opportunities that put her in the spotlight. After witnessing a stellar performance by her high school’s show choir, she was inspired to give the performing arts a shot, first turning to her school’s theater program as a stage crew member, then finally auditioning for an on-stage role.

“Now I can be on the stage and go out of my way to talk to people, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says.

“Hit the Ground Running”

Rose State theatre student dramatic performanceBerghom’s experience landing roles is the norm for Rose State theater students. “Students generally get more experience in two years at Rose State than in two years at a major four-year institution,” says Rick Nelson, theater professor at Rose State.

“Students get hands-on experience from the get-go,” he says. “One of our pitches is students hit the ground running. They’re working on productions immediately. They don’t have to wait a year or two like at some four-institutions — they can get right on stage.”

The theater department puts on four musicals and plays each year (two performances each semester), giving students plenty of opportunities to show off their acting chops. The largest performance takes place at the Rose State College Hudiberg Chevrolet Center, which seats 300, while the other three are hosted at the on-campus Atkinson Theater, which seats 256. In other words, the performance venues provide ample opportunity for central Oklahomans to view local theater productions.

“We really treat the program not just as an educational training program, but as a professional training program, in that we’re assuming the students are literally going to be working in the theater after graduation — so why wait?” Nelson says. “We treat the productions like they’re ones you’d be seeing or participating in in the community.”

Theater Program Overview

Four Rose State theatre students during performanceThe multi-discipline program offers students the chance to pursue dance, including ballet, tap, and jazz; musical theater; technical theater; and stagecraft. It provides an eclectic array of classes, including classes for stage lighting, voice and diction, stage makeup, acting, and acting on camera, just to name a few. One of Berghom’s favorites was the beginner’s acting class in which her professor emphasized the fundamentals.

“We learned how to stand, how to lose who you are as a person and become a blank slate,” she says. “It was something I didn’t expect to be able to learn in college. I thought I’d have to find somewhere else to learn the basics or play catch-up in class. But everyone was on the same playing field.”

The program connects students to internships at theaters and performance outlets in the metro area, including the Pollard Theatre in Guthrie, and Oklahoma Children’s Theatre and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, both in Oklahoma City. Students also get to work with guest artists from those entities, the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, and more, and hone their skills alongside people who turned their passion for the arts into a profession.

“It gives them encouragement and confidence that they can do it as well,” Nelson adds.

The extensive hands-on experience coupled with high-quality internships helps students build successful careers in theater. As far as success stories, Nelson has seen past student Paul Kim win a Jefferson Award, the second-largest theater award next to the Tony, for costume design. Nelson also has seen an acting student gain employment with the Groundlings Comedy Group, an award-winning improv and sketch comedy group in Chicago. Rose State theater students also have gone on to other colleges, such as the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City University, with the most common being UCO.

In fact, Rose State makes it simple to transfer to four-year institutions in and outside of Oklahoma. 

“We have a reciprocal transfer agreement with UCO that basically says if you get a two-year degree at Rose State, you can transfer into UCO as if you did the two years there,” Nelson says. “It’s literally equivalent, not just metaphorically equivalent.”

Berghom, who intends to transfer to a four-year institution to pursue her bachelor’s degree, envisions a career as a film actress, making movies in Canada. She’s confident her decision to give theater a try and then enroll in Rose State’s theater program will help her land a career she loves.

“Even though theater doesn’t always seem like a good idea for a major without a backup plan, it makes you well-rounded. You have to learn to respect all sorts of people and do all sorts of things and be flexible, but also be in charge of yourself,” she says.

“After this, I’ll probably transfer to UCO. I’ll have that experience — and definitely a lot more confidence — and then I’ll probably try to do more community theater work.”

Visit the Rose State College theater program page to learn more and see how the two-year program can kickstart your career in the arts.