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Hobbes's avatar

Should I go to acting school?

Asked by Hobbes (7311 points ) March 15th, 2009

I’m currently a freshman at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and while it’s a great school, I’ve begun to believe more and more that an intensive academic program isn’t really my path. I’ve had a deep love for the stage since the middle of high school, though I’ve been pretending to be other people since I was old enough to walk =] The point is, I really can’t imagine anything better than working on a play all day, and have never found anything I enjoy as much as working on one.

I had never seriously considered the possibility of acting school until recently, however, when a friend of the family mentioned it to me. The more I thought about it, the more the idea made sense for me. The problems I now face, however, are that I know very little about the world of professional acting, and that I’m keenly aware that graduating an acting school would result in a far narrower range of options than I would have with a 4-year University degree.

The schools I’ve found in the US that seem the best are Julliard and SUNY Purchase, but the one I’ve really set my sights on is the Oxford School of Drama, in England. Is pursuing professional training a rash move? Am I foolish to seek a place in such incredibly selective top-tier schools when I have no real training save a love for the theatre and two freshman-year acting classes? How does a degree from an English arts school translate into US terms? I realize that you don’t know me or the specifics of my situation, but any advice you could give me would be very helpful and very much appreciated.

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11 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Is your small, LA, college in PA part of a college consortium? (Gettysburg, Lancaster, Dickinson, etc?) If so, you may find another school with a strong drama program where you can spend a year without the mess of transferring. I would also suggest you join or organize an extra-curricular drama club and put on dozens of productions, with you in the lead.

Many terrific actors got degrees from liberal arts schools – John Lithgow and Jody Foster come to mind. I’d discount Brook Shields.

willbrawn's avatar

I would suggest taking seminars, and workshops and doing a lot a lot a lot of auditions. Most actors didnt persue acting in school, it was a hobbie. I say go for it full force if your going to do it at all.

DrBill's avatar

If you do what you love, you will never have to work the rest of your life.

Sounds like you have the passion it takes.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

Well, acting school and the arts are really awesome. But be realistic about your future finances. I am not saying don’t be an actor, but before you go to acting school you need to think of how you will pay for it now and after you graduate. If you can nail down a scholarship, or can afford most of it, then no problem. Other wise consider the consequences if an acting career just doesn’t take off and you are buried under student loan debt. Like now, you are at least working toward a degree that is more likely to support the cost of the degree you are getting. Anyways just be smart about your financial choices, you will regret those mistakes more than most other ones you make. And many amazing actors came from different backgrounds anyways like willbrawn mentioned.

Darwin's avatar

I suggest getting a four-year degree in theater or drama from a university simply because it will allow you to be a teacher of theater or drama instead of being forced to be a food server while you pursue opportunities to act. It will also expose you to other aspects of acting which you may discover are just as engrossing or even more so than the acting itself. Then you might consider post-baccalaureate study at Julliard or somewhere else.

In my case, I have found that while I purely love acting, especially on the stage where I can inhabit a character for weeks and months during the run of a play, I also love other aspects of acting. I am a capable costumer and have also done set design, special effects, and props work for movies and stage both. I have not gotten rich at acting because I have deliberately chosen not to go to the “centers” for acting, such as LA or New York or even Dallas or Chicago. However, I had a decent day job with benefits that gave me the flexibility to work in theater and indie films, so I never needed to make money at acting. Instead, I have acted purely for the joy it gives me.

While it is true that many “movie stars” do not have degrees, many more actors than most people realize do have four-year degrees. These are often the character actors who last for years and years in theater, TV and movies, because they have the ability and depth of knowledge to work with a huge range of people and roles. The “stars” can and do burn out and disappear, especially those with more beauty or charisma than talent, but character actors seem to thrive.

I have several friends and also know of people from my town who have gone the professional route, or tried to. Only a few have been notably successful in a Hollywood sense: Pepe Serna, Eva Longoria, Farrah Fawcett, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Stacey Keach.

Several friends of mine went to New York, and most came back home, either out of money or, more importantly, disgusted at what people were willing to do to succeed. Several had good, long-lasting roles in various shows but disliked the constant need to protect oneself and one’s reputation from nefarious tricks by other actors. One was doing well in a revival of Oklahoma! but realized soon after 9–11 that it wasn’t worth it because all of her family was elsewhere. Another started off in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” as Tintinabula, and then continued to work with George Abbott as a choreographer and dancer, but she chose to come back home after her studio was destroyed in a fire. She spent 20 years on Broadway and so could be considered the most successful of my friends in the world of professional acting.

However, I also know a number of people who love acting and are thoroughly enjoying themselves by teaching theater in middle school, high school, junior college and university. They make decent income, have good benefits, work with plays and acting all day long, and then go off and audition for community theater and independent film roles in their free time.

Thus, I recommend you stay at a university but either switch majors or simply take classes in theater and audition for university productions. Then, once you have a degree that can serve to make you employable, go on from there.

andrew's avatar

I was exactly in your position. I’m in a conference right now, but I’d say if you’re interested at all in your current college, finish it and then apply to grad school and get an MFA. I’ve known way too many actors who burnt out at tisch undergrad because of 1. The program and 2. They’re not at the point in their lives where they can appreciate the training.

If you’d like more perspective from my experience as a working actor, shoot me a pm.

lifeflame's avatar

I’m going to repost what I said earlier :
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As a director/actress/dancer/choreographer myself, I’d say: don’t specialise so early.

If you do so, you will surround yourself only with a certain type of people, and close yourself off to a very specific type of world. That is the danger of theatre, you can rehearse so intensely that for a while you just exist in a black box in a reality that is slightly different from the one outside.

Ultimately, I think that we want to make theatre about life; that can resonate with the issues of today. So I would say, don’t specialise so early.

I see this problem in Hong Kong, we have only one performing arts school at BA level. It’s competitive, it’s great for networking, but at the same time I feel that as artists, they are really lost when they come out and actually quite similar in colour. Because all they have done for four intensive years is rehearse and learn techniques.

There will be opportunities to create in most normal high schools (and colleges); and you should take advantage of those. But actually the best education for a performing artist is to live more fully as a person, to go to new places, to meet different people. For example, I taught in a village in China (volunteer work); I went to Poland to study with a dance-theatre company; I came to the States from my degree in Peace and Conflict Education; and then finally, finally…. I went to graduate school in Paris (Lecoq – physical theatre), and London. Now I know what I want and I’m creating back home.

The music director I’m currently working with never went to college, or pursued a formal music education, and yet he is one of the most sensitive musicians I’ve worked with because he involves himself with social activist work. So the best education as an artist is society; and finding ways + structures to help you live more fully.

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So in short, I don’t think you should hesitate applying because you question you have enough talent and experience, or worry about limiting your own options financially. Rather, I would first look at all the opportunities to do theatre in your current situation, and also opportunities to be creative in all sorts of ways. Then ask if specialising right now is the smartest thing to do.

crisedwards's avatar

Only if you like to spend lots of money. I have an MFA in acting and would caution any actor interested in going to school. Find a mentor and work a lot. That is the best way.

Judi's avatar

my daughter majored in English and minored in Theater. She has worked as a drama teacher. A double major may broaden your employment options.

adreamofautumn's avatar

I went to Marymount Manhattan. They’ve got a strong theater arts program and you could double major in something that might be “useful” (though really who decides what’s useful?) just in case acting doesn’t work out.

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