Kaite Engelhardt knew she wanted to sing, dance and act from the time she was 10 years old and was being home-schooled in the Northwest suburbs.
Now the 20-year-old Arlington Heights native is taking a giant step toward making her dream a reality as a new Roosevelt University undergraduate and member of the inaugural class of a new musical theater program that emphasizes dance.
Engelhardt is one of 17 students from 11 states and Canada to be selected competitively for the new Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre program, with an emphasis in dance, that started as the new fall semester got under way at Roosevelt University.
"I've always wanted to be a performer, and it is exciting for me to be a part of this new program that I believe will provide opportunities and open doors for me in performing arts in Chicago and beyond," Engelhardt said.
Engelhardt was among more than 60 aspiring performers who applied for admission to the new Roosevelt program, which is the first of its kind in the Midwest, as well as one of the first in the nation.
"We have created a new kind of program that will provide the most comprehensive and well-rounded musical theater education available to actors, singers and dancers," said Sean Kelley, director of the Theatre Conservatory at Roosevelt University.
"It will give us a reach like never before, putting us in a category to become the premier musical theater program in the country."
Engelhardt has appeared in more than 20 local productions with the Northwest Cook County Chapter of Spotlight Youth Theatre at theaters in Palatine, Des Plaines, Schaumburg, Lake Zurich and other Northwest suburbs.
She received drama education through the Christian Homeschool Arts and Music Programs co-op in Mount Prospect and training in performing arts with Spotlight Youth Theatre.
"My early training really gave me a foundation in the arts and taught me how to handle the ups and downs of theater with grace," she said.
A transfer student from Harper College in Palatine, Engelhardt chose the Roosevelt program because of its national reputation and its proximity to home.
"My journey with performance has been driven by my faith in God. I know it's the profession I need to be in, and when I came to Roosevelt for the first time for an audition, I knew it was the right place for me to be in pursuing a performance career," she said.
The dance-focused program complements the theater conservatory's existing BFA in Musical Theatre degree.
"Today's theater professionals need more and more skill," said Luis Perez, a choreographer, Joffrey Ballet principal and Broadway star who is director of musical theater at Roosevelt and designer of the new program.
"With this new component, we are creating a triple threat of acting, singing and dancing, which we believe will pave the way for our graduates to succeed in any one or all three disciplines."
Program amenities, including a new 13,000-square-foot studio in the heart of the Loop, as well as new faculty members from Broadway and the theater and dance scene in Chicago.
This semester, Engelhardt is taking courses in dance, acting, ensemble singing, musical theory, technical theater and stage makeup. She will appear in the new dance program in the Theatre Conservatory's fall 2013 and spring 2014 freshman showcases at the university's Chicago campus.
"I've been incredibly impressed with the faculty and the students. They are incredibly talented and I can't wait to see what we will be able to do together over the next four years," Engelhardt said.
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