The Grad School Dilemma
You have been pounding the pavement, making strides in auditions, taking classes, meeting agents and casting directors and moving – however slowly – ahead in this wild business – but the bookings just aren’t happening.
You take a step back and look at your life, your 9 to 5 or restaurant job that keeps you afloat and you think, “What am I doing? I’m better than this. Maybe I should apply for grad school.” It sounds cliché, but it happens – which is to say, that that was me three years ago.
I was freelancing with an agent and getting many callbacks for good jobs, but wasn’t booking and couldn’t get seen for film or TV castings. Although I started as a dancer in primarily musical theater jobs, I had taken many classes to refine my technique as an actor and beef up my resume for more legit acting work at NYC studios, but it wasn’t paying off. In a last minute, somewhat desperate move to re-ignite my career, I made the grad school push – applying to 3 major Tri-state MFA programs, and one international program. Luckily, I was accepted to two of the programs, and ultimately chose Rutgers.
I will never regret that decision
I came in to grad school with two goals: to legitimize myself as an actor through intensive training and performance experience, and to equip myself with tools for teaching in the performing arts. All debt and typical grad school grumbling aside, I definitively achieved both of my goals and many more. Quite simply, grad school made me a more complex artist and a devotee of self-love and of love for the theater – a person who apologizes less and reaches ever higher to unforeseen artistic goals.
Though the industry I have re-entered encompasses the same challenges as when I left, I feel revitalized, enlightened and much more versatile with a full actors’ toolbox. Although it seems that training is not always rewarded in the business of casting, it certainly never hurts, and when you do book the job, it is the foundation that leads to enduring and quality work in any forum.
- In the program I learned the principals of Sanford Meisner’, Michael Checkhov’ and Uta Hagens’ acting techniques.
- I explored Fitzmaurice and Alexander voice work, Williamson and Suzuki movement disciplines, Stage Combat, Classical Text, Dance and Yoga – all with master teachers in their prospective disciplines.
- I worked with amazing up-and-coming directors in the NY scene and collaborated with seasoned professionals.
- I became a Knight-Thompson-based speech and accents tutor for my TA and have gone on to continue this work as a Co-Adjutant professor at the University with the intent to become certified in this game-changing technique.
- I wrote lengthier research papers than I ever had in undergrad about subjects that stirred my soul while reading a variable library’s worth of plays and articles about playmaking, theater and the avant garde.
- I learned on-camera, commercial and voiceover techniques from industry professionals, while honing my career skills, look and marketability. I now have the confidence to know that I can build a satisfying life as an artist and teacher in NYC or beyond.
If you do decide to pursue an MFA, be choosy and go after the program that fits your needs
My program was and is in a major transition at the moment. It just so happens that the old and the new both fit my needs as a student perfectly. Do not put all your bets on showcase and getting that agent you want right away – it is likely that it won’t happen, or certainly how you planned it. For me it didn’t, but I have put at ton of energy into my career in the months since graduation, and am now in meetings with exciting new representation and having fabulous, empowering auditions. I am also beginning a secondary career as a teaching artist and setting up a home vocal studio.
Although I can only write about the program I attended, I know there are many solid graduate acting programs in the area. If you have a strong feeling that you need in-depth training, don’t already have a terminal theater degree and are considering teaching as something to fall back on, grad school might just be your savior. The loans will be the price of your boon.