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A Poor Player » Theatre Education - The Big Lies

Tom over at A Poor Player has a post up called Theatre Education Part 2 - The “Big Lies” and it is spot-on, as far as I’m concerned.

Tom outlines the 5 Big Lies about Theatre Education. You should read it . . . here’s an excerpt.

“But when you have students who invest $75,000 and more in their undergraduate and graduate education, as well as 4-7 years of their lives, and come out substantially in debt, don’t you think you should be telling them the truth about what they’re getting into and what you really have to offer them? Take that same $75,000 and 7 years, don’t go to school, and use it as a stake to move to LA or NY to begin finding work and making connections, and what might you have after that? It could be exactly the same thing, but as an educator, that question alone often keeps me up at night and makes me feel guilty as hell. It’s why I think about and talk about reforming theatre education every chance I get. Truth in adverstising; that’s all I ask.”

I should note that some of my successful friends in the arts have degrees in areas other than theatre . . .

. . . and that I myself have a four year theatre degree (B.A.) and three years of graduate work to my credit, and I could have saved the money and spent it on experience.

I wish I had, I really do . . . I can honestly say, I didn’t learn anything in college, at least about theatre, that I couldn’t have learned working in New York for free.

Not only that, of all the people I knew during my theatre training at the three universities I’ve been at, a scant few have been able, from what I know, to support themselves primarily with money they earn from the arts.

I’m speaking specifically of actors, since that’s what I studied in graduate school. I was one of many actors in a bunch of acting classes, at a high level, too.

One is a fairly well-known television star (who dropped out of Iowa to go to Yale, simply because they prepare their people better . . . it could be he was right, if you judge how he’s done with his career). I know three or four more make a nice living doing theatre, regional shows and the like. The rest work at real jobs or teach. Those are the grad students (those I’ve kept track of) and my memory is almost all were very talented.

I don’t know of any of the actors from my undergraduate days who work in the arts. Most work in other fields, that I’ve been able to determine.

I also know a few people, here in New York, who didn’t train at college, signed up for a couple acting classes, did some shows for free, found an agent and then when onto to successful careers.

Experience is a great teacher, it’s true. We don’t always have to pay tuition for it, though.

I learned more just doing shows in New York on my own than I ever did doing shows at college.

I think there are a few great conservatory programs (the Samurai Lady works at Julliard, and they definitely do right by their students, it seems to me) but most, if not all, of the theatre programs around the country seem to be primarily producing more theatre educators than they do working theatre people.

That’s the process myself and many people have done . . . you get into debt going to college, then you move to the city and get a real job for years while doing your craft for free.

It seems you can skip the debt part. I think so, anyway. I wish I had.

4 Responses to “ A Poor Player » Theatre Education - The Big Lies”

  1. Carlo Says:

    Wow, that was horribly worded (thanks to cutting and pasting sentences). I meant ‘I can be both a teacher and a writer if I go to university (which I currently am right now), but I cannot be both a teacher and a writer if I do not go to university.’

  2. Carlo Says:

    I can be both a teacher and a writer if I go to university (which I’m currently doing right now), but I cannot be both a teacher and a writer if I do not go to university.

  3. Carlo Says:

    I ask that you don’t mind me and my shannanigans… my internet is screwy.

  4. Joshua James Says:

    Right . . . you can be both a writer and a professor, which is one of the advantages of writing fiction (and plays) . . . you can do it almost anywhere (TV and film may be a slightly different matter) . . .

    It’s much harder to be a professor and a professional actor . . . I focused mostly on actors, for one reason . . . it’s what I studied both as an undergraduate and an grad student, and two . . . most theatre programs have more actors in them than they do writers or directors, a lot more actors . . .

    To be fair, quite a number of the people I knew at Iowa who studied writing went on to very successful careers in writing . . . part of it is the program is excellent and focused on writing professionally . . . the Playwright’s program at Iowa is one of the best in the country, from what I heard and witnessed, and regularly brought in outside pro’s to share their real life experiences . . . not only the grad writers, but several undergrad writers went on to significant reknown as playwrights.

    But I wasn’t in the playwright’s program, I was in the MFA Acting program . . . I’d say that the actors have a different barrel of monkeys to deal with . . .

    For me, I didn’t even know I was a writer until well into the Acting program . . . I wish now I’d gotten an undergraduate degree in Literature or the like, or just traveled the world . . . it would have been worth more than my BA in theatre, that’s for certain.

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