West Texas A&M University’s Department of Fine Arts was visited recently by Marianne Kyle, a representative and fellowship head for the International Performing Arts Institute, or IPAI for short.
Kyle held auditions for the prestigious international program and 12 WT students, six from the vocal arts department and six from the musical theater department, were chosen to take part in the program based on their audition. In July of 2020, the students who manage to pay the tuition for the program will travel to Kiefersfelden, Germany and spend a month performing for, learning from and be given career advice by world class, internationally-revered performers.
“It’s not just opera, it’s not just the School of Music, it’s not just theater. These are talented students, all going to one place from the College of Fine Arts,” said Matthew Oglesby, associate lecturer of voice, vocal activities coordinate, and the man chiefly responsible for IPAI’s connection to WTAMU. “And that, to me, says a huge thing about the middle of the Texas panhandle; what kind of real quality—not only education but quality students—we attract. And what happens when those quality students choose us as their university.”
IPAI has come to WTAMU for the past two years, free of charge, an unusual yet welcome abnormality, as it does not cost the students anything to audition. The program has affirmed the talent of the fine arts department and its students twice already, and given once-in-a-lifetime, international opportunities to WTAMU students in a field that is lacking in the West Texas region.
The institute was founded to provide a valuable learning environment packed with actual feedback, engagement, and guidance for theater students looking to grow and develop their talent and knowledge. This is unlike many other programs which cost more and offer less. IPAI has shown itself as a connection-oriented, lifelong collaborator for all who participate.
“They really do stay connected to their people. When you invest in IPAI, they stay invested in you,” Oglesby said. “It’s ‘how’s it going?’, you know, ‘how do we get you to that thing?’ At the end, all of the students that go, after the three weeks and they performed… they will sit down with the board and they talk to them about, ‘okay, where’s your next step in your career?… This is what we think is good for you… These are some people you need to know.’”
IPAI sports a diverse and experienced faculty, from opera singers who regularly perform in the Metropolitan Opera House, to Hall of Fame sopranos. They are world class artists willing to share what they know to students from anywhere, even all the way from the Texas Panhandle. And during the program, the opera students will be able to visit the Munich Opera house. And the musical theater students will go to Hamburg and visit the headquarters of Stage Entertainment, the foremost producer of musicals in Europe. Both trips will culminate in all participants meeting and performing in front of highly influential figures in their respective fields. This expands the program from a mere Masterclass to an audition of a lifetime.
“They’ve had people that have been cast right there, or… because of that entrance they’ve been cast later on in shows,” said Oglesby.
The program will be rigorous and time-consuming. The students will be up from sunrise until sundown and beyond, occupied with intensive rehearsals, acting, singing or dance lessons, perhaps all three.
“It’s going to be jam-packed. But they come back with skills. The skills that they already had will be better… they will come back with other skills that… they didn’t know they had… It’ll be a time of discovery,” Oglesby said.
“For me personally, it’s going to get me more comfortable performing in front of others, taking more risks,” said Savannah Poor a senior music major accepted into IPAI. “As a performer, taking risks is just a big part of job, of the lifestyle… And going to a completely different country, that’s already going to be a risk in and of itself. But I’m super excited. And I can only hope that this experience is going to help me grow, not only as a person, but as a performer.”
“This trip is like opening a new door in my profession; a new, exciting door I never thought would exist,” said ShyAnne Peterson, a sophomore musical theater major and hopeful attendee of IPAI. “While there, I expect to be eating, sleeping, and breathing theater and all aspects of it.”
At the end of the program, IPAI hosts international competitions, both for the opera students and the music theater students. The 2019 international opera competition was won by a WTAMU graduate student.
“It was really good for us to be able to say, ‘yeah, on the other side of the world, this is what’s going on at WT… These are our students,’” said Oglesby.
But in order to compete in these competitions, or to even make it to Germany at all, the students chosen must come up with a not-too-insignificant amount of money. Currently, they are planning sponsorships, donations, fundraisers; concerts are in the works for Christmas and the spring. Regardless of what shape the fundraising takes place, attending and generous donors are required in order for these students to make the most of their talents.
“Those that want to nurture and… send our graduates out into the world… every little bit is going to make a huge difference to these students,“ said Oglesby. “There’s nothing better, for a young student to have community and faculty to go, ‘man, you guys are doing great. We’re so proud of you.’”