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Fort Lewis College and the performing arts

It’s a trend.

All over the country, college and universities are merging music and theater departments. Fort Lewis College is already interviewing for a new position in musical theater with an eye to a combined Department of the Performing Arts.

“Over the next year, we’ll still be two departments, but we’ll be under one umbrella with me as the leader,” said FLC Music Chairwoman Charissa Chiaravalloti. “We’re searching for a musical theater specialist to develop a new degree program and a new curriculum.”

Several things had to happen to propel FLC to a new vision of a Department of Performing Arts, FLC Theatre Department Chairwoman Ginny Davis said.

“For one, I’m leaving,” Davis said. “I’ve been here 25 years. My decision is a family matter. The merger, however, is a great thing for our theater department.”

Davis said she’ll be moving to the Denver area where her elderly parents are, and she’ll pursue some kind of work in theater. If she weren’t leaving, she would be a prime candidate for the new position. An actor-director with a spectacular singing voice and stage credentials to prove all three skill sets, Davis has also ably served as department chairwoman through many trying times. I’ve known Davis for two decades and have covered every one of her productions.

But life intrudes, and Davis’ departure to Denver, along with Theresa Carson’s exit to Albuquerque at semester’s end, has set the platform for change at FLC.

“It’s just time,” Carson said. She has taught at the college on two different occasions and served as director of theater at Durango Arts Center. Like Davis, Carson has professional acting and directing credentials and has brought to the local stage many memorable productions.

Davis as chairwoman of the Theatre Department has seen it though some droughts, most notably when Dennis Elkins suddenly resigned as chairman to resume his professional acting career only a few years ago.

“We’ll miss Ginny,” Chiaravalloti said. “She’s awesome. There are many things she did which no one else could. I will only assume her administrative duties until the merger happens. And I’m not sure when that will be – perhaps by fall of 2022. Everything depends on who we hire and how it goes.”

Felicia Meyer, senior lecturer in theater, heads a search committee largely made up of Theatre Department people, Chiaravalotti said – Suzy DiSanto (dance), Andrew Brackett (theater tech-design) and Wes Dunnagan (music).

“The focus will be on the directing role in musical theater,” Chiaravalloti said. “I will only come into the interviewing process at the end for one-one interviews with the finalists.”

The other big component for any Department of Performing Arts to succeed, Chiaravalotti said, is appropriate space.

“There is no orchestra pit over in the Theatre Building,” she said. “But the COVID situation has opened up the Concert Hall. The college has access to the Concert Hall all day 8 to 5 and some evenings. We’ve already scheduled some recitals and concerts there. So, the idea of the college having preferential selection for use is advantageous for us. The Concert Hall continues to house events and will do so, but the success of our program depends on the venue as well as the curriculum and teachers and students.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.