O'Neill Center Receives $3 Million Grant for New Music Theatre Program

By Sophia Saifi
June 20, 2013

The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center is about to undertake its largest expansion since its founding in 1964.



The state of Connecticut has approved a $3 million grant to the Tony Award-winning theatre center. The O'Neill will use these funds to expand its prestigious National Theater Institute (NTI) by introducing a music theatre component to the program. The mission of the NTI-Music Theater will be "to train young theatre artists in the art of musical theatre through an intense conservatory style, curriculum taught by working professional artists and master teachers of the field."

The expansion will see the creation of six new living spaces, rehearsal spaces, a new theatre and a cafeteria. Connecticut's largest architectural firm, Centerbrook Architects and Planners, has have been working on the design, which will be in sync with the aesthetics of the O'Neill Campus, featuring Victorian-style clapboard exteriors.

Preston Whiteway, executive director of the O'Neill, stressed the need for specialized training in music theatre.

"Eighty percent or more of Broadway shows are now musicals. When a young 15-year-old thinks he wants to one day star on Broadway, it's musicals he's probably thinking about," he said. "We wanted to address that need in theatre training."

The National Theater Institute was founded in 1970, and ever since then has been hosting theatre students on the O'Neill campus every fall and spring semester. Its graduates include Jennifer Garner and John Krasinski. The addition of a music theatre component to the institute has been in the works for the past five years.

According to Mr. Whiteway the program is "really exciting, with nothing like it in the world of theatre training." The first enrollment will be in the fall of 2014 when, along with learning how to act, sing and dance, students will have the opportunity to "learn to direct for a musical, compose for a musical and book write for a musical."

O'Neill founder and current chairman George C. White said he is in awe of the internationally recognized theatrical community that will be celebrating its 50th year in 2014.

"I can't imagine it's been fifty years," White said. "I'm going to wake up this morning, and it would all have been a dream and I would be back in 1964."

There is a huge buzz on the O'Neill campus regarding the news, as it is currently hosting a series of prestigious summer conferences on Puppetry, Music Theatre, Playwrights and Cabaret. Interns on the campus are alumni of the NTI.

Amanda Connors, who attended the fall 2012 semester, said, "Having a strictly musical theatre semester would be fantastic, and I'm kind of jealous it's happening after I was already there!"

During the semester, professionals from the world of music theatre will be coming to the O'Neill to work with, mentor and network with the students in the program. Rachel Jett, the artistic director of the NTI, is excited about the days ahead.

Citing the current renaissance in American music theatre, she said, "musicals belongs to America. It is how we found a way of expression. For some reason, culturally, musicals are speaking to everyone. Spring Awakening speaks to this new generation in a way Hair spoke to previous generations, speaking to them the exact moment they needed to hear those things."