In my continuing series, Women In The Performing Arts, I am spotlighting a handful of remarkable females who lead some of the most successful college theatre programs in the U.S. They discuss the development of their programs, and the impact their teaching is having on young artists.
This second installment features Mariann Cook and Rider University
What is your exact title at Rider University?
I am the Director of Vocal Studies for Rider and am senior faculty in Musical Theatre.
I know the program is fairly new. How did it develop so quickly?
The Musical Theatre major currently housed at Rider University started as a Program at Westminster Choir College and began as a Bachelor of Music degree. In 2009, I was hired to teach voice and to facilitate the transfer of the program from Westminster Choir College to Rider University, which already had an established Theatre Degree and facilities. I was the lone Musical Theatre faculty that first year and only had freshman and sophomores in class. The upperclassmen were finishing out their degrees at Westminster. In 2013, we integrated the BFA in Musical Theatre, phasing out the Bachelor of Music, and those first BFA graduates will matriculate in 2016.
What makes your musical theatre program different from others?
• Since the campus and student population are small, about 4,000, we pride ourselves on being able to serve each student with personal attention and guidance. The full-time and adjunct faculty within both Theatre and Musical Theatre are caring individuals with a huge personal investment into the professional growth of our majors.
• We are only an hour train ride into New York City. This allows the student to experience a typical campus environment and have the luxury of going into the city to audition, take class, and see shows in their off time.
• We are minutes away from the varied theatre offerings in Princeton and Philadelphia.
• Our affiliation with Westminster Choir College affords opportunities to share music faculty and concerts with world-class musicians and teachers.
• We can and do bring in amazing guest artists to interface with our majors, being that we are only a short train ride away. Students meet actors, agents, casting directors, and individuals to help prepare them for the business.
• Rider University as a whole is absolutely committed to the Arts and Arts education.
What is your philosophy about educating young artists?
Students of Theatre performance come to college with visions of stardom and glamor. If we can open doors that expand their perception of craft, then we have aided them in establishing a lifetime love of learning and exploration. It is our job to introduce training that shapes them into creative artists, not just performers.
What does the future hold for your graduates?
• It is my hope that our graduates look to the future with promise and excitement, grounded in the confidence that they have obtained the foundations of good vocal production and can move with freedom as actors and dancers. I am pleased to say we already have many students entering National Tours, Off-Broadway shows and Cruise Ship positions.
• As we continue to grow, it is my also my hope that our graduates will continue to build a strong network of support with and for one another in the New York area.
• As students achieve successes in their future endeavors, I anticipate they will return to Rider to share their journeys and experiences.
What is your greatest professional bliss?
Professional bliss for me now centers itself in my teaching: watching my majors make progress, whether it is achieved quickly or slowly. I often say that progress gauges success, not the comparison of oneself to others. Bliss is seeing a young singer find a rich full head voice for the first time and loving the sound. Bliss can be watching a student leaping out of self-consciousness and connecting to text to the point of tears. Often, bliss is merely a hug from a homesick freshman.
Give me 4 adjectives to describe a Rider grad.
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