Performing Arts Department

View of Dowd main stage from the back of the theater

With a BFA in musical theatre, our Performing Arts Department provides a foundation in music, theatre, dance, and technical theatre, resulting in thorough professional training for a career in this exciting field.

You’ll work with the finest teachers of voice, acting, dance, theatre history, music history, and theory, and gain a liberal arts education at the same time..

In addition, you’ll have opportunities to perform in main-stage musicals,  classic and contemporary plays, student-directed one-act plays, workshops and readings of new musicals, and choral and instrumental ensembles. A 386-seat theatre, a recital hall, a lab theatre, a dance studio and practice and rehearsal rooms will support your study.

Whether you pursue a career as a performer, work behind the scenes or become a teacher, your experience at SUNY Cortland will serve you in a variety of career options.


Sweet Charity brings iconic song and dance numbers to Cortland



Everyone could use a little charity from time to time. Thankfully, SUNY Cortland has it covered with two weeks’ worth of the classic Tony-winning musical “Sweet Charity” at the Dowd Fine Arts Center Theatre. 

The comedy, put on by the Performing Arts Department, follows dance hall hostess Charity as she looks for love in 1960s New York City. 

Her search is set to the tune of standards like “Hey, Big Spender,” “Rhythm of Life” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Original choreography was done by the late Broadway legend Bob Fosse. 

Tickets for the show are on sale at Cortland’s Box Office website. Performances will take place over two weekends. 

Friday, April 5 – 7:30 p.m. 

Saturday, April 6 – 7:30 p.m. 

Sunday, April 7 – 2 p.m. 

April 12 – 7:30 p.m. 

April 13 – 7:30 p.m. 

April 14 – 2 p.m. 

A soundtrack to love gained and lost 

Last 5 years


“The Last Five Years” is ready to prove that the best musicals don’t always need the spectacle of big sets and deafening dance numbers.   

The show, a collaboration between SUNY Cortland’s Performing Arts Department and Cortland Repertory Theatre, uses basic sets and award-winning songs to tell a bittersweet tale of love lost.

The curtain comes up at the Cortland Repertory Theatre’s downtown location at 24-26 Port Watson St. Thursday, Feb. 22, and the show will run through Sunday, Feb. 25. Showtimes are: 

  • Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 24, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. 
  • Feb. 25, 2 p.m. 

Tickets are available at SUNY Cortland’s online Ticket Office, with discounts for seniors, students, faculty and staff.  

Emily Brontë unplugged 

Emily Brontë unplugged cast


Oscar Wilde once said that life imitates art. A new play inspired by another successful Victorian novelist suggests that the opposite also is frequently true.  

The life of Emily Brontë, the groundbreaking author of Wuthering Heights, is the subject of a stage musical being developed with the help of SUNY Cortland students. 

In Emily's Words: A New Musical

In Emilys Words

An opportunity to impact a new musical!

SUNY Cortland Performing Arts Department and CreateTheater continue their College/Professional Theater Partnership with a new musical, In Emily's Words, based on the life and work of groundbreaking ,Victorian era novelist, Emily Brontë.

With Music and Lyrics by new theatre artist Jessy Tomsko and libretto by Ms.Tomsko and including material from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights , the musical brings out the story of Brontë’s creation of the internationally successful, groundbreaking novel. woven through the story of the Brontë sisters and the challenges they faced as women writing in the Victorian Era.

The two-week development workshop will give our Cortland Musical Theatre students the opportunity to work with the writer to bring these characters to life and be a significant part of the play’s development.

The workshop culminates in two staged readings for audiences, Thursday, February 1st at 7:30pm and the second on Saturday, February 3rd at 3:00pm.  Both presentations will be followed by a “talk-back” with the audience, cast and creative team. These sessions provide the writer and team with invaluable responses from an audience about the play and how it impacted them. That information will significantly shape the revisions and growth of the piece as it moves forward.

The cast includes: Olivia Celis as Emily Brontë, Heather Hayes as Charlotte Brontë, Jessie Karlin as Ann Brontë, Harry Sperduto as Heathcliff, Ann Marie Thorell as Cathy, Ryan Rodrigues as Hindley, Louis Bianco as Edgar, Nick Webster as Earnshaw, Bethany Griffin as Isabella, Emily Reilly as Elizabeth/Young Hindley, Olivia Goodman as Frances/Young Heathcliff, Allie Fried Maria/Young Cathy

Jeff Cox, the Musical Director from last year’s inaugural production, The Bone Harp, return as music director and Kevin Halpin is directing.

For more information contact Kevin Halpin


Dragon duo take home thousands on new game show

Swenson and Ray in lighted mirror


A network audience of more than 2 million viewers on CBS primetime this month watched a Red Dragon alumni duo compete on one of TV’s hottest new game shows and walk away with almost $40,000. 

For Kevin Rayo’ 17 and Billy Swenson ’15 it was a far bigger audience than the 386 seats in SUNY Cortland’s Dowd Fine Arts Theatre. 

Becoming Cher: New alum gets lead role in national tour

Ella Perez with her script binder


Sonny and Cher sang “I Got You Babe” to the top of the charts in the 1960s. Now, Ella Perez ’23 gets to be Babe — the 19-year-old version of a future superstar — in a life-changing chance to perform across the country in “The Cher Show.”

Perez will star in the national tour as “Babe Cher,” a character that represents the early career of the cultural icon, and one of three lead roles in the musical. Rehearsals began Oct. 23. 

A famous tale of tragedy sells out all shows at SUNY Cortland 

Scene from the play


The 1906 death of Grace Brown, made famous through her love letters and the fictional retelling in An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, is steeped in the history of Central New York.  

Now, Mark Reynolds, costume designer for SUNY Cortland’s Performing Arts Department, and Crystal Lyon ’09, a Cortland artist and university alum, found success with a new version of the tale at Dowd Fine Arts Center’s Lab Theatre. 

Comedy classic “Blithe Spirit” kicks off theater season

Blithe Spirit poster

Want a little fun and fright this October? Prefer a bit of poltergeist in your plays? Then SUNY Cortland's Performing Arts department has you covered with its first show of the semester, “Blithe Spirit,” at the Dowd Fine Arts Center Theatre. 

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5, Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 7, with a final matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8. Tickets are available at SUNY Cortland’s online ticket office. Discounted prices are offered to students, faculty, staff and senior citizens. Ages 13 and above will enjoy the show the most.

Student showcase impresses show biz pros

A group of students posing at a showcase

Students went to this year’s SUNY Cortland Showcase in New York City with dreams of launching a career in the theater. They delivered one stellar performance after another, and every single one of them caught the eye of someone in a position to give them a big break.

A big break on Broadway

Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, musical theatre major

Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, a SUNY Cortland musical theatre major from Staten Island, N.Y., heard the siren’s call of show business by the age of 7. For her, there was never a doubt about choosing a career.

Campus Champion

Ruben Fernandez

Ruben Fernandez(He, She, They) is a queer, Afro-Latine musical theatre major born in the Dominican Republic. The 2019 transfer from Long Island is building an impressive resume. He earned a lead in the performing arts production of “Proof,” with five performances from Oct. 6 to 9 downtown at the Cortland Repertory Theatre. Also, he’s directing a production titled “Nuestra Cultura: A Love Letter to Latine Heritage Month” set for Oct. 26. “Acting is not for the weak of heart, especially for a person of color, but there is no time to mope. Something else always comes along,” he said. Read more about "Proof."

SUNY Cortland actors to perform psychological drama

SUNY Cortland’s Performing Arts department is set to raise the curtain once more, as another theater season begins Sunday, Oct. 6 with the award-winning play, "Proof." It will run through Sunday, Oct. 9.

SUNY Cortland's Musical Theatre Major Named a Hidden Gem recently named SUNY Cortland as one of “The 5 Most Underrated Theatre Colleges” for the Northeast, lauding the College for its contemporary training standards, facilities and past performance

Broadway Performer’s Visit Inspires SUNY Cortland’s Aspiring Actors

Jonalyn Saxer, who has performed in "Cats" and "Holiday Inn" on Broadway and will be part of the cast of "Mean Girls" later this year, shared her experience and took plenty of questions on Friday, Feb. 2.