Recommendations from the CB Staff about College Education
Before reading or even thinking about a degree in theatre, please take some time to consider this:
If you can envision yourself being happy doing anything else, do that instead. If you must study theatre, consider a marketable, complimentary minor also, like business, management, engineering, graphic arts. Practice saying “Would you like fries with that?”
You will not get rich doing tech theater. You can put together a comfortable living in this career, but it will take you time to get there. It often takes 5-10 years (or more) of experience just scraping by to get a job that does provide a decent living. You will find it very difficult to have a job with “normal” hours. This means your career will always put a strain on your ability to spend time with friends, family, and significant others. There are many people in our industry who have no health insurance, no sick leave, and no retirement benefits. Finally, please read the Collaborative Article: Getting a job in the industry, and the thread MFA designer training. We don’t want to discourage anyone from following their dreams. But we want you to know what you are getting yourself into. Working in tech can be a lot of fun but it can also have a very harsh reality attached to it.
The purpose of college for the theatre person:
You go to college for theatre for two reasons. One, it gives you a place to screw up. Two, it gives you a place to try weird things that will lead to you screwing up. You are paying for the opportunity to work on a stage and learn in an environment where your next meal does not depend on how fast you get the show up. You are also paying for the opportunity to build a portfolio that you can then take out to get jobs and/or continue your education. No one will ever call to get a copy of your transcript; they don't care. What they will care about though is what you have on your website and in your portfolio. You also gain references who know you and can hopefully speak highly of you. They will also possibly be able to set you up with a gig or two or get you connected to people who can help you find work. Within five years after graduation, no one will care where you went to school or what degree you got. They will only care where you have worked.
Factors in choosing a college:
Do any NOT have a graduate program?
Would a change in climate be good? Do you like oceans, mountains, or plains? East coast or left coast?
Do you want to live, car-less, in a large city? Or in the middle of nowhere in a town of twenty-thousand, fifteen-thousand of which are students?
Have you traveled to each campus and met representative faculty and current students?
Which has the best meal plan? Dorms? Non-theatre campus activities?
Cost is a factor to many, but for everyone: don't put yourself in the position of having a to pay back a $100,000 student loan while making $10/hour after graduation.
College should be about needs (education) and opportunities (experience/contacts); wants can interfere with success.
Does the college have an associated professional program? Attached road house with IATSE crew?
Where are recent graduates and alumni working?
On the importance of real world work vs. advanced degrees:
Your degree will not get you a career. Real world work is what gets you a career. However, to get to real world work it takes a degree. Your degree is what gets you your first gig. A program that gives you as much experience as possible to add bullet points to your resume’ will help you more then anything. Also, your professors and alumni should be able to help you to get your first, second, and third gig. It has been said that the networking and contacts you make in college are just as important as what is taught in the classroom. Do not ignore the power of who you know and who you impress (or don’t impress) along the way. There are many careers either made or destroyed by impressions established doing some summer stock or volunteer work in college. You need one big break to start creating real world experience and you never know who will be the person to give it to you.
On what type of degree to get:
BA= A more generalized degree program. You will get a taste of everything including more general education classes. Roughly 50% of classes in major, 50% outside of major. (4 Years)
BS= Similar to a BA. Many universities are phasing this degree out in favor of a BA. (4 Years)
BFA= A degree program that specifies in one area such as acting, musical theatre, technical theatre. You will get a taste of everything but will specialize. Roughly 80% of classes in major, 20% outside of major. (4 Years)
BFA Conservatory= A degree program similar to a BFA but usually involves even more specialization. If you go for scenic design, you will only be doing scenic design. Likely 95% of classes in major, 5% outside of major. (4 Years)
MA= If you want to teach and work in educational theater this is probably your target degree. Not the ideal degree for designers. (2 Years)
MFA= Highly specialized degree. A terminal degree that essentially puts a label on you as either a designer or a technical manager. Almost always 100% of classes in major. (3 Years)
PhD= A degree rarely seen in the technical theatre world. Usually PhDs in theatre are in dramaturgy, theatre history, education, or directing. (5+ Years)
Just found this quote from Tom Skelton's obituary, full text here:
It jives with Gilbert Hemsley's thoughts (previously discussed in this thread: http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/e...tre-major.html ):
...A genial, witty man, he asked his students at the Yale School of Drama to study everything from French to Picasso to cooking.
"These are all things that make it possible to communicate with the other people you are going to be working with," he said in an interview in Theater Crafts
magazine in 1989. "And I certainly don't think you should be studying amps and volts. I don't know very many designers who know very much about amps and volts. You hire an electrician who does."
The lighting designer is expected to communicate with directors more and more. I don't deal with somebody who majors in theatre as an undergraduate. I want a history major, a communication arts major, or an English major. I want somebody who can talk about the history of the 19th century. It is crucial that students have a sense of time and place. It is impossible to do opera unless you understand the 19th century. Or the 20th. Thank God I had taken a lot of classics at Yale before I talked to Martha Graham. ... You can't get into those wonderful, fantastic conversations unless you do have a knowledge of the world behind you. One foot in the humanities, the other in the technical side. It's no longer Leko, Leko, Leko. A broad education is needed not only of the real world but of the humanities, finances, art, and architecture; then they can be a lighting designer or a person in the theatre.
Which degree do you need? How much can you afford? As established above, education is important to get your first job, but quickly becomes insignificant compared to the work you will do after school. Do NOT say, “I have to get an MFA and I’m going to go in debt $100,000 to get it.” You will never pay it off. Get as much education as you can afford then work. Work anywhere and everywhere.
When to specialize:
How many employers do you think will say, “I have a need for a widget-fitter. I plan to hire someone who has studied only widget-fitting in college, and has done nothing else besides widget-fitting in her professional career.” Specialization can be an attribute, but also a hindrance if it detracts from one’s well-roundedness. A show needs only one lighting programmer, but many electricians. Being hired as an electrician is an excellent path to becoming a programmer. As you move through your career you will naturally become more specialized. You might want to consider a college that will give you a strength but also allow you to view what other areas offer. You do not want to be a one trick pony when you are twenty-two. Be sure you take a costume class, a makeup class, scenic class, be a prop assistant on a show, try as many different aspects of theater as you can as an undergrad.
What is important on a resume ten years from now:
After ten years in the business, one shouldn’t even be concerned with one’s resume. A C.V. perhaps (required if in the Education field), but if you haven’t made enough contacts after ten years, consider an exciting career in the growing field of Multi-Level Marketing. Most professionals get their jobs by being personally recommended or by knowing someone. Ten years from now no one will care what university you attended or what degree you received, but if you don’t listen to our advice you could be still paying off that degree.
Be financially very conservative when planning for college. Don’t get more education than you can afford. It’s very likely that you will spend the first 5-10 years after college scraping together work from a variety of locations, many of which will pay very little. It’s very unlikely that you will be making $60K anytime soon. The latest figures show that recent BA graduates earn an average of $33,540 per year; it’s likely much lower than that for theatre majors. So don’t count on being able to pay off a huge student loan, buy a house, have a family, and race yachts in your spare time. If you are good, you’ll be able to put together a decent middle class living over time, but it’s not going to happen right away. If you are looking to get rich, you are in going into the wrong field.
Apply for all the free money that you can get. If the scholarship/grant is only $50, that may still be a textbook that you no longer have to find the money to purchase. Do not take out more money than you need. If you are going to a public institution and you are offered in loans more than what you need for tuition/fees, books, and housing, we recommend against taking it. In the long run, it is better to get a job to pay for your extras than living off the loans. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so if you have difficulty paying them off when you are out of school, then you are out of luck. If you can go to school without needing to take out any student loans - which may mean going to a less expensive school - then it will make your transition into the workforce much easier. The less burden that you have after school opens more opportunities. Going to a less expensive, less prestigious school might not sound as impressive on paper initially, but it could make your life much easier in the long run.
A collection of thoughts on the importance of equipment, facilities, and faculty
Choose an institution of higher learning not by the quality or newness of its equipment or facilities, but for its faculty and program. All the state-of-the-art whiz-bang gizmos don't mean squat if the professors don't know how to teach, or don't know how to use the "toys" themselves. Besides interviewing potential professors and current students, a campus visit should also include seeing a performance. Now while it's possible a HS student will be impressed with any college production, it's not always a given.
The best equipment means little to nothing if you are not correctly trained in how to use it. Also, there are so many more venues that don't use the most up to date equipment and there are many that are not fully equipped. The ETC Source 4 is probably one of the most used lighting instruments in the theatrical world, yet it's been around for some time now. As a lighting designer, I'm going to want an electrician who knows how to hang, focus and repair one of these instruments over someone who only knows how to program the most high-tech movers. Make sure the school has the basics before worrying if they are the most up-to-date. And even at that point, make sure that the work is quality with the high-tech gadgets. Go and see a show, take a tour, speak with both professors and students. That's the only way to really know what the program is like without actually attending it.
The real red herring here is often facility, in that whiz-bang facility doesn't always make a whiz-bang program. Both times I was a theatre student it was in less than state of the art venues and in some ways I think that actually enhanced the experience.
I would say it really is about the faculty, and to a lesser degree about the classes. Who are they, what have they done, what will be your access, and what are they actually going to offer in terms of education. At this point I don't think I could possibly recommend a program where there isn't an established, specific curriculum they can discuss with you.
With respect to gear, in the more technical specialties you likely do want to be sure you will have some experience on contemporary equipment. So again, having it doesn't mean for sure it is the right place, but different from facility, not having it does make a difference. Keep in mind though that there are many avenues at school to using cool gear. Where I work now we own a good chunk, but we also rent often, and there are other organizations on campus with a good inventory as well. So if the answer to "Do you have the newest shiny thing?" is no, ask about other opportunities to get the exposure before writing them off.
What about schools like Live Production Institute and Full Sail?
These schools don’t have a great reputation in the industry. The general feeling is that they produce technicians who are book smart but not well prepared for the real world. If you do go to one of these schools be sure you spend a lot of time outside of school volunteering at a community theater or doing summer stock, building your real world experience.
I want to be a_____ . What kind of education do I need:
Producer- Gain valid experience by selling used cars, or working as a politician or lobbyist. Since you'll be writing/negotiating contracts, pre-law classes are beneficial.
High School Tech Director (a VERY Rare position)- Make sure you get your primary degree in English or some other field so you can teach full time, in addition to your one or two “drama” classes per semester. See the thread Thinking of becoming a teacher.
Community College TD- You need a Master's degree. Doesn’t really matter which one. You need to be able to handle every aspect of tech and be a good teacher.
Arena Stagehand- Need to know the right “guy”. Possible meeting places are halfway houses, cell block C, or rehab facilities. Call your local IATSE office to find out more.
Broadway Scenic Designer- MFA or possible luck designing for a show that gets picked up and taken to Broadway.
Tenured College Professor- MFA and a lot of very impressive experience.
Production Head Rigger- (Warning: Language) Video: Local Production Riggers. Get as much training as you can from places like NAAFED, Jay Glerum, and Ropeworks.
Rock and Roll Roadie- Quit school now and get a job coiling cable for a touring company. These companies like to train their own people and promote from within. See this post.
Community Theatre Designer/TD- No degree needed, but you need to prove you know what you are doing. A BA/BFA helps but isn't necessary. This is a position that often is open to the most experienced volunteer. Sometimes paid, sometimes not.
Professional Theater Technician/TD- BA/BFA are very helpful to give you the broad background you need to start. An MFA for the TD job is sometimes helpful but, you need to prove yourself and those two extra years for the degree are years you could be working, building a track record. Many people get a part time job doing summer stock or over hire work and work their way up from within.
Work for Cirque du Soleil- Try to get an internship at Cirque. Check the Cirque Jobs website. They like to hire people who are fairly recent graduates and have one or two really impressive gigs on their resume, having a Cirque internship makes this even easier.
Please post requests below for additional jobs to add to this list.
This post was created by Gafftaper, Footer, DerekLeffew, and Ruinexplorer with additional advice from other members of the CB staff. The rest of the CB community is invited to share their thoughts below.