Cinematic arts and theatre program established at UNA


Alex Hopper, News Editor

The Department of Cinematic Arts and Theatre degree program has been established at UNA, with Associate Professor Michael Johnson being named department chair. 

The new program hopes to bring together film and theatre students to better prepare students for the reality of their industry. 

“The merged program will make Cinematic Arts and Theatre students better prepared for the professional realities of their industry,” said Michael Johnson in a statement to UNA. “The collaboration between these dramatic disciplines is already showing great rewards.”

Johnson explains that the newly merged program has been years in the making. 

“This has really been in the making for almost a decade,” said Johnson. “Faculty members that were here at the time had this idea this idea to bring these two departments together to help with artistic collaboration.”

Johnson credits “many moving parts” that helped develop this program. 

“Jason Flynn, Charlton James, and Dr. David Ruebhausen originally conceived the idea of bringing the two programs together,” said Johnson. 

After the original idea, COAS Dean Carmen Burkhalter tapped James to lead the effort of creating the new degree program. 

“It was really a lot of work from faculty members, and the students,” said Johnson. “There’s always been a really strong core of students in the theatre and the film program.”

With the world of film and theatre always adapting, especially during COVID-19, Johnson believes this program will be mutually beneficial to both film and theatre students. 

“It’s always changing, you have to stay on top of that,” said Johnson. 

“On the theater side, we have students who are really great and talented on the stage, but the reality is in the industry, a lot more of the jobs are coming out of film and television,” said Johnson. “And the film students get a little bit more experience working with like trained actors, instead of just casting their friends on film.”

One theatre student, Kellee Willis spoke about her experience with theatre at UNA. 

“My experience at UNA through the theatre department has been amazing,” said Willis. “I think the BFA is going to be beneficial for me because it’s going to help me get into a Master of Fine Arts program.”

The BFA will have three concentrations: Acting, Production Design and Tech, and Film Production. 

Johnson explains that along with coursework students will also be involved in experiential projects for their disciplines. 

“That gives students the opportunity to work in a professional environment,” said Johnson. “As much as you can learn in the classroom in these fields, you really can’t master it without getting the reps.”

“We’re trying to get them ready for that,” said Johnson. “So that when they go off into the industry, they’re not being dropped on a film set for the first time or on a major theatrical production.”

Along with the new degree program, a multi-use production space, and screening room has opened in downtown Florence. 

AlleyCAT, will act as a dedicated space for students to partake in workshops, screen their films, and attend discussions with industry professionals. 

“The space is also used for photography, and for theater courses, primarily in acting. It’s also a screening venue so hopefully, students will be able to screen their films in the environment that they should be seen in,” said Johnson. 

“In addition to that we have all of our equipment housed in that facility,” said Johnson. “We have new computer labs with the most up to date, editing software and post-production tools.”

One major draw of this new program for prospective students and current majors is the exposure to industry professionals from major production areas such as Hollywood. 

“Recently, we’ve done a lot of workshops with working Hollywood professionals,” said Johnson. “Professional cinematographers and professional directors that students can work directly under and see how a professional goes about using their craft.”

“It’s a really good chance for students to land internships and jobs after graduating because they’re already establishing relationships with working professionals,” said Johnson. 

Willis explains that the visiting professionals have already benefited her education.

“We’ve already had a few masterclasses,” said Willis. “We had a masterclass a month ago, with Yoko. We got to do like a movement class with her.”

“It’s so exciting that we’re actually having people come in and teach us things that we that our professors are not technically trained to do,” said Willis. 

Johnson says that in addition to UNA students finding connections in other states, he believes Alabama may be ready to become part of the wider film industry and hopes UNA students will be considered first. 

“The hope would be that as the industry starts to spread, and we can get competitive and have trained professionals coming out of UNA to take those jobs,” said Johnson. 

The department already has productions in progress. This month, a theatrical performance of “Chat Room” is being performed by current students. 

Willis is the Assistant Director for the production. She explained that the play by Edna Walsh is about cyberbullying and manipulation on the internet. 

“When Jim makes friends on the internet and starts to speak about his depression the other teens start to take advantage of him,” said Willis. “The rest you’ll have to find out by coming to the show!”

The show will be from Mar. 4 through Mar. 9. Due to COVID-19 tickets will be limited and must be bought before attending, and are available on the department’s website. 

“Social distancing will be taking place. While only two people who have been quarantined together can sit together in isolated boxes. Masks are required in the building and during the performance,” said Willis. 

The new Department of Cinematic Arts and Theatre degree program is already underway with upcoming projects and a plan for increasing UNA’s reach in the exciting worlds of film and theatre.