In Defence of BFA Technical Theatre

UPDATE: Thanks for all the tremendous support for the program, I have received plenty of great response. The decision to suspend the program has been officially reversed:

Cormack said she received letters and e-mails from students, alumni, staff and program chairs concerned about their programs, and she ultimately decided to remove four programs from the chopping block.

“It turned out that the way we were counting the students gave a false sense of how few students there were in the program. In fact there were many students in the technical theatre program so it is no longer under threat of suspension.”

Cormack said there are actually 31 students in the technical theatre major.


An image from one of many moments of my University experience.

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You may have heard of the recent plans to suspend the BFA Technical Theatre program at the University of Alberta, from which I graduated.

The Journal has an article describing the cuts, and there’s some great discourse on ArtsSquared, including the memo from Lesley Cormack. I believe there is some confusion as to what the BFA Tech program offers and represents, and for this reason I wrote a letter.

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Re: Suspension of small enrolment programs

Dr. Lesley Cormack
Dean of Arts
6-33 Humanities Center
University of Alberta

Dear Dr. Cormack:

I am writing to defend the proposed suspension of the BFA Technical Theatre – Maj program as outlined in your memo dated August 16, 2013. As a graduate of this program, I would like to emphasize the program’s significance in Canada’s theatre training offerings, its extraordinary success at creating well-rounded sector leaders, and its essential role in the operation of the Department of Drama.

The BFA Technical Theatre program has streams in both Stage Management and Technical Production. As a rigorous conservatory program, its key advantage is its small program size. Students are trained in lighting, sound, projection, construction, costuming, and stage mechanics, along with theatrical design and a suite of other dramatic arts courses. This comprehensive approach creates individuals who are well versed in every aspect of theatrical and event production, and who possess extraordinary creativity, ingenuity, and problem-solving skills that are in high demand in our technology-driven society. Each stream’s intake has been limited to 6 per program in the past, and is currently 8 as of this writing. Unlike training programs across the country whose enrolment often exceed 20 students per year, the BFA in Technical Theatre provides unprecedented and unmatched leadership opportunities in every area of production.

Graduates from the Production stream are today’s technical directors and production managers. As leaders and managers of cultural hubs across the province, these students have entrepreneurial spirits, creating their own companies and realizing the visions of creative professionals in all kinds of venues. BFA Tech grads are Technical Directors at Theatre Calgary, Workshop West, and The Edmonton Fringe Festival, to name a few. Other graduates step into lead positions as department heads on cruise ships or travel to their home provinces to bring high quality production skills to their community. These students achieve high honours in their studies, and have been recognized with Green & Gold Professional Development Grants and Roger S. Smith awards. These are highly skilled interdisciplinary workers who are tackling industrial and cultural challenges across our country.

Graduates from the Stage Management stream join the Canadian Actor’s Equity to become certified for work on stages across the world. They are equipped with outstanding skills to become Production Managers, Event Planners, Arts Administrators, and many other essential cultural service workers across all art forms. These are the individuals who work to plan, present, and honour the work of artists of all kinds. Notable graduates have gone on to become founders of local production companies, and planners for cultural institutions.

While outcomes are important, it is critical to note the work being done by students who are still studying. The benefit BFA Tech students provide in direct economic value to our institution is astounding. In their fourth year, BFA Technicians carry out 200 practicum hours, or about $25,000 of labour in DRAMA 495 alone. Accounting for all practicums in their fourth year, BFA ’13 students exceeded $50,000 worth of labour in their practicum courses[1]. Construction, lighting, and sound practicums of second and third year students are responsible for realizing the visions of our world-renowned MFA Directing program. This is in addition to the countless volunteer hours logged by tech students involved in Abbedam, New Works, and community events. In fact, it does not even consider the fact that BFA Technicians regularly exceed or even double their hourly requirements in their practicum courses. In suspending the BFA Tech program, the Faculty of Arts will be at a loss to support all other BA, BFA and MFA programs without significant financial investment in additional production labour.

I trust the Faculty and staff of the Department of Drama are preparing the case for maintaining this essential pillar of the Drama department, and I would be very glad to discuss and defend this world-class program with you. Most importantly, I want to emphasize that students in this major did not stumble into this program, but are a group of dedicated and passionate leaders who are the future operators of every cultural venue in Alberta.


Joel Adria

BFA Technical Theatre (Production) ’13

[1] Based on standard University wages for casual labor, six students working 400 hours at $20.00 per hour.