So you wanna be a theatre major, eh? As this school year winds down, you juniors (and maybe even some of you eager sophomores) are probably beginning the process of looking at and preparing to apply to colleges. But if you’re considering a major in theatre, acting, or musical theatre your road to college admissions will be paved with more than just essays and letters of recommendation. Here are the five questions to ask and the one answer to know as you consider, apply, and audition for schools.
- Do You Want a BA or a BFA?
This first question is for you. Before you start your search, you need to know what sort of program and degree would best suit you, your skill set, and your future goals. It’s important to know the difference between these two degrees.
A Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) is a standard liberal arts degree. This means that in addition to the 60, or so, credits you will take to graduate with a degree in Theatre, Acting, or Musical Theatre, you will
l also be taking 30-40 credits of general education (GenEd) courses that may include English, History, Science, Math, and Foreign Language. Each school differs in what they require each graduate to take and if you are an AP (or IB*) student you may ‘test’ out of many of these courses with a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Exam. *IB students should be asking colleges they are looking at, what scores on their IB exams would count for college credit.
Conversely, a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA) offers a more conservatory style of training. Depending on the school, you may be taking a more limited set of GenEd courses or, in some cases, no GenEd courses at all. Instead, you will be taking a heavy dose of courses in your major. In addition to movement, voice, acting, dance, and singing courses, you may also be required to study theatre theory, history, criticism, music theory, etc. Depending on the school you may be required to take approximately 15-30 credits of GenEd courses to graduate in addition to your theatre courses.
Again, course requirements for a BA or a BFA degree differ from school to school, so it’s very important that you understand the requirements for each degree at every school. You might like the BA program at University of Maryland, but feel that the BFA program at Boston University is a better fit for you than their BA program.
2. Does this program require an audition for admission, and if so what are the requirements to get admitted to the program?
Just as colleges require certain GPAs or test scores for consideration to admission, Theatre Performance Programs usually require some form of audition to be admitted into the major. It’s important to do your research and find out the following about auditions:
- Is there an audition?: Generally speaking, all BFA programs require an audition, but some BA programs do not. For instance, University of Maryland does not require an audition to enter the Theatre Major. However, they do require an audition for every performance class above the 100 level. Be sure to ask if schools require auditions for classes, especially if they don’t require an audition to get into the major.
- Dates: What date will you have to submit your audition video OR come to the school to audition? Some schools participate in Unified Auditions. These are regional events (usually held in major cities) which allow you to audition for many schools at one time.
- Monologues: What kind of monologue/s are required for the audition, and what is the time limit? Sometimes schools ask for contrasting contemporary monologues or one contemporary and one classical, or they want two monologues and a song. Each school’s requirements are different and it’s important to know what they are looking for. Also check what the time limits for auditions are listed. Some schools ask for a monologue to be within 1-2 minutes, other times they want your whole audition to be under 4 minutes. Just check and keep track of which schools want what.
- What else will I have to do at the audition? Depending on the program and major, some schools may ask you to sing or lead you through a dance combination. Some may have you take a ‘sample class’ or work with you on your monologue to see if you can take direction.
3. Do You Have a “Sophomore Slaughter”?
Certain BFA programs reserve the right to review your continuation in their program at the end of the sophomore year. This means that you may have just spent two years of blood, sweat, tears and several thousand dollars on your education and at the end of that second year, your school may cut you from the major. Usually in this case, your credits may not transfer if you try to continue your education elsewhere. It’s an awful situation to be in. These days fewer and fewer schools participate in this ‘ritual’, but it’s still a question worth asking.
4. What Do You Do To Help Me Get Work After Graduation?
The end goal of getting a college education is to get a better job than you would have had you not completed a degree. Theatre is a tough enough business and any assistance your university can provide in helping you bridge your way from academia to the “real world” is a point in their favor. Some schools host a Senior Showcase or send their soon-to-be-graduates to New York to audition for casting directors and agents. Some schools participate regularly in SETC, NETC (Southeastern Theatre Conference and New England Theatre Conference), or StrawHats auditions, which help students get cast in summer stock productions around the country. Perhaps your professors also work in professional theatre or are resident actors, directors, or designers at a certain theatre company and help to get you internships? Ultimately it will be your job to secure employment, but you want to make sure your school is supportive of making opportunities available to you.
5. What Are Your Recent Graduates Doing Now?
A good predictor for whether or not a program is right for you is to ask what recent graduates are currently doing. What percentage of graduates are currently working in the theatre? How many are touring or working on or off Broadway or in regional theatre? How many are pursuing internships at professional theatres, Disney, or other arts institutions? How many are currently pursuing a Graduate degree in a theatre related field? Ultimately you want to be at a place that can get you where you want to go. If your goal is to be on Broadway and one school has a 75% rate of graduates working on the Great White Way, that’s a strong indicator that they have the tools in place to help get you where you want to go.
ONE ANSWER: Do I Need a Coach?
In a word: Yes.
Okay, I may be biased, but hear me out. Auditioning for college Theatre, Acting, or Musical Theatre programs is extremely competitive. Thousands of students are vying for hundreds of spots across the country. Most BFA programs don’t accept more than 15-20 freshmen a year, BA programs usually accept around 20-40 freshmen a year. Most of the students I coach have been taking voice lessons, dance lessons, and some form of acting class for 2-10+ years before heading off to college. They are already at an advantage because they have experts training them. So why would you not want to give yourself the same advantage?
Secondly, a coach will help you select material that is appropriate and shows you off. Even if you’ve sat home every night since you were six playing cast albums of every Broadway show, you likely don’t know every monologue or song that is out there. Perhaps you know every musical, but you’re not as well versed in plays? You might not even know what pieces are over-done or frowned upon by college programs. Having a professional work for you to select a range of pieces for you to choose from will help open you up to more options than if you just headed to the Barnes and Noble or the local library and checked out a ‘Monologues for Teens’ book.
And finally, a coach can help simulate what the actual audition will be like. Working through a monologue, studying a character, and beating a piece will help you to know it inside and out. When you get to the audition and the auditors want to work with you on your piece you will be able to answer questions and discuss the direction coherently. You will also have performed your piece for someone a number of times before you have to do it for a panel.