Opera director Dennis Jackson recommended for musical theatre professorship

CULLOWHEE – Dennis C. Jackson, long-time director of the critically acclaimed lyric theatre program at the University of Colorado, is the first Carolyn Plemmons Phillips and Ben R. Phillips Distinguished Professor in Musical Theatre at Western Carolina University.

Jackson, who has led Colorado’s lyric theatre program for 20 years, was recommended to fill the new endowed professorship by the Western Carolina board of trustees during its recent quarterly meeting. His appointment, effective Aug. 1, is subject to the approval of The University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

“Dr. Jackson’s program is the only arts program in the Colorado University system to be officially designated ‘a program of excellence’ by the Colorado State Legislature. He has been described by his current department head as one of the finest directors in the United States,” said Robert Vartabedian, dean of Western’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Dr. Jackson also has numerous former students appearing in leading roles on Broadway, as part of national touring companies, and with the New York Metropolitan Opera,” Vartabedian said. “We are very pleased to have him joining the university community in this important position, which we believe will help us develop one of the best undergraduate musical theatre programs in the country.”

Jackson was recommended for the position by a campuswide committee following an extensive national search. The professorship was made possible by a $233,000 gift from the estate of the late Carolyn P. Phillips of Waynesville, $100,000 in matching money from the C.D. Spangler Foundation, and $167,000 through a General Assembly program designed to encourage private support of public institutions of higher education.

Established in 1996 and hailed as the first such commitment to musical theatre studies in The University of North Carolina system, the Carolyn Plemmons Phillips and Ben R. Phillips Distinguished Professorship in Musical Theatre focuses on an interdisciplinary area of study anchored in the department of communication and theatre arts and department of music.

As the first to hold the distinguished professorship, Jackson will lead a program of study designed to provide students with practical work-related experiences, build skills needed in both music and theatre, and provide an interdisciplinary foundation. He also will work on developing on- and off-campus opportunities for undergraduate students to gain training in musical theatre traditions, practices, culture and history.

At the University of Colorado, Jackson built a musical theatre program with only one or two shows a year attended by a few hundred people into a thriving program with five multi-show productions a year, attracting thousands of theatre-goers. He also started a voice theatre degree program, created a Vocal Advisory Board within the College of Music, and launched a “song symposium” concept widely adopted by other conservatories and schools of music.

Jackson holds a doctoral degree in music from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in music from Wichita State University. He has directed more than 30 musicals and operas, and has 25 solo appearances and recitals and 23 public performances to his credit.