"Empire" actor Trai Byers directing a theater scene in a master class at Buffalo State College.

Certificate Program in Theatrical Directing Geared toward Educators, Teacher Candidates


Buffalo State College teacher candidates, Western New York educators, and employees in amateur theater and community settings have a new way to stay competitive in the job market.

Starting this fall, the college will offer a new undergraduate certificate program: foundations in theatrical directing. Recently approved by SUNY System Administration and the New York State Education Department, the 12-credit certificate program housed within the Theater Department provides working teachers or students majoring in a program within the School of Education or the English Department, including English education, the opportunity to gain the necessary tools to successfully direct a theatrical production in a school or other setting, according to Ann Emo, chair and associate professor of theater.

“Directing the school play or musical often falls to the English teacher.”

- Ann Emo, M.F.A., Chair and Professor, Theater

The certificate program includes three required courses—Acting I, Introduction to Theater Design, and Directing I—and one elective. Emo said she’d like to see about 12 students a year enroll in the program, with an even mix of students and current professionals.

It is not a certification for teachers, Emo emphasized. The college, rather, is offering an undergraduate certificate that will provide additional knowledge to students, teachers, and those working in settings that include theater.

“Because most middle and high schools in New York do not have a theater teacher on staff, directing the school play or musical often falls to the English teacher,” said Emo, who began working in 2016 with School of Education Dean Wendy Paterson and the English Department to create the certificate program. “We think this program could also be attractive to individuals working in settings outside of schools, such as children’s theaters, community centers, and camps.”

“It involves a complementary skill set. Understanding theatrical concepts will contribute to teachers’ success in the secondary classroom.”

- James Cercone, Ph.D., Associate Professor, English Education

James Cercone, associate professor and coordinator of the English education program, said the certificate will help Buffalo State teacher candidates and will help make the English education program more competitive.

“It involves a complementary skill set,” Cercone said. “Understanding theatrical concepts will contribute to the teachers’ success in the secondary classroom.”

However, teachers from kindergarten through high school need to know how to direct plays, both Emo and Paterson noted. Paterson added that all classroom teachers, even those who will never direct a play, could benefit from learning theatrical concepts. After all, the classroom is its own kind of stage.

“Teaching is really 90 percent theater. You’re on a stage for a whole day, every day, trying to engage students.”

- Wendy Paterson, Ph.D., Dean, School of Education

“I often tell my students that when I was a teacher candidate, I had a hard time deciding between teaching and theater,” Paterson said. “I decided to go into teaching and found that it’s really 90 percent theater. You’re on a stage for a whole day, every day, trying to engage students.”

Likewise, Emo said that many of Buffalo State’s theater graduates often go on to earn a master’s degree in education.

The certificate program comes at a time when teachers need an infusion of creativity, Paterson said.

“In the current environment, teachers have to focus so much of their time and energy on core competencies,” Paterson said. “Helping them add to their creative toolbox is crucial for job performance and satisfaction, not to mention distinguishing themselves in the job market. Great teachers are creative teachers.”

Pictured top: Empire actor Trai Byers teaching a master class at Buffalo State College in 2017.

Photo by Bruce Fox, campus photographer.