there is a fairly lengthy discussion between myself and zac850 on the topic of schools and tech. theatre programs in the student feedback section under the title "what schools should I look at". It mainly concerns boston university (where I go to school), which is also, suppsoedly, one of the top theatre conservatory schools in the country.
Here is everything I have to sum up from my visiting Purchase College. I have not included the names of any of the faculty with whom I dealt in visiting the college. To give you some background I visited Purchase twice; once on a Monday without a personal appointment, and again on a Tuesday for a portfolio interview. I will start with details on the interview:
Interview: I was interviewed by a professional lighting designer who, throughout the interview, seemed fairly disinterested. In looking at my portfolio he asked why I used warm and cool colors to light a space; upon replying that it mimics the qualities of natural light he commented something like 'I wonder who told you that' as if I were too ignorant to know something like that. We were also 'required' to read Tennessee William's play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and be prepared to answer questions about it. I read the play and took notes on it for the interview. The only question he asked about it was if I would have done the play the same way Tennessee Williams did; I seriously doubt he would have asked me that question at all if he hadn't seen my notes in the pocket of my portfolio. Finally, to conclude the basics of the interview, I asked him about internship opportunities in the program. He told me your only opportunities are in your senior; he also said that as a freshman you don't know anything, as a sophomore you don't know anything, as a junior you don't know anything, and as a senior you don't know anything but you do know more than when you came into the program. He also made a comment about professional theaters not wanting some 'snivelling' freshman working in their space. Maybe the only purpose of the interview is to collect the interview fee? That basically sums up how the interview went.
Faculty: The two faculty members I dealt with most were the lighting designer that interviewed me and another woman that works in the Design Technology department. From my comments about the interview I think you can kind of see what his attitude was. The first time we met the other woman she was initially very rude to us (to an extent is understandable because we didn't have a personal appointment) and cited her personal problems and agenda for us. After getting past that I find that the most she was interested in everytime we talked to her was what alumni of the program have gone on to do. I must have three lists of alumni and what they have done. That was all she was ever talking about; telling us to look at this board and see what the alumni are doing, look over here and we can see what the alumni are doing. Overall, the attitude of the faculty members we talked to was not the slightest bit promising, it was basically; 'Well, if you want to come here I guess you can come here...' It just seemed like very little effort on their part.
Program: The Design Technology program for a freshman is basically rotating between different introductory positions such as electrics, scene shop, costuming, etc, for the shows of your first year. After that you go in a specific direction. There are also portfolio reviews in which students must present their accomplishments in the program to a group of faculty for review. If a student's accomplishments do not indicate professional potential a student is removed from the program. The most information I got regarding the program came from curriculum sheets and a student we talked to. The student's basic emphasis was that the program was very intense; he said students worked in the studio in the morning and in the theater in the afternoon and evening. He also said there is no time for a Design Technology major to minor in another subject. (I noticed that the curriculum sheets did seem to include classes in other subject areas, like there wasn't some kind of minimum liberal arts requirement, or the space to take any other classes) Overall, the student's described the program as 'intense' and greatly, greatly emphasized this word in describing the program. He also said he was a Technical Direction major and said that he already had people calling him asking him to quit school and come work for them. This is basically what I learned about the program; students spend most of their time in one of the four or five studio rooms in the Design Technology department.
Facilities: To start off, the theater spaces themselves are pretty nice but this is also deceiving; the Performing Arts Center is not owned by Purchase College (they simply work in the black box theater there and occasionally some of the other theater spaces). Two words that would describe the facilities and their appearance (campus wide) would be: 'delapidated' and 'demoralizing'. Every where we went there were signs of neglect. To focus on the Design Technology department for a moment; the department consists of a fraction of the top floor of a building. It includes five 'studios', which are basically just kind of dilapidated rooms with dilapidated drafting tables. The only reasonably nice space in the entire department is one room that is a CAD lab (with computers almost exactly like the one I'm typing this post on right now) and a 'Light Lab' that was kind of like a closet with a small ETCconsole and some piping to hang instruments from. In the one building alone there were ceiling tiles missing, the walls were damaged, there was trash in the stairwells, dilapidated (and out-dated) furniture, etc. The only place the facilities themselves weren't damaged or neglected was backstage in the Performing Arts Center; instead there everything was just a mess as far as materials from shows and tools and garbage are concerned.
Campus / Apparent Campus Life: What I just described of the facilities are basically what the entire campus is like. At the admissions building they couldn't even be bothered cleaning up a whole ton of broken tree limbs and scattered debris probably caused by a storm. Every place we went, inside or out, looked neglected some how. The only place anything new was happening was there was some new building being built so there was all this construction going on. My advice would be to be spend a little money renovating the spaces that are already neglected instead of adding some more to be neglected. The dining hall was a mess too, the floor over looking the dining hall was completely vacant for some reason. The hallways in the dorm we walked through looked like the interior of a prison and that was the atmosphere it had; gigantic steal doors for every room that went from floor to ceiling. And again, not in good condition and very out dated. The first time I was there we didn't see a lot of students anywhere, it looked post apocalyptic, the second time there were a lot of students walking around (about three quarters of them smoking). You will notice that if you go to the Purchase College website that it is incredibly difficult to find photos of the campus; I had to use the search tool just to find an online campus tour and that tour had probably less than a dozen pictures and only of the few places on campus that actually look kind of good. I now know why they don't show you pictures of the campus.
I've described about everything that I can think of about Purchase College from my experience in visiting them and going for an interview. Overall the attitude and atmosphere (without even considering the condition of the facilties) of the campus and faculty are very poor in my opinion. My interest in Purchase as a possible school is completely evaporated and I have since applied to SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Fredonia. SUNY Fredonia is much more promising at this point. If anyone has any questions or comments feel free to respond or send me a private message.
Yes, Thank you for the time you spent discribing your visits for us! I kinda feel like i have visisted now!
If anyone would like a discription like this for WPI, RPI, or MIT, I would be glad to type one up (just probaly in a different thread, and maybe at a later time, b/c right now I am really going crazy trying to get all my applications finished)
No problem, I know people ask questions about schools and programs a lot so I thought I would try to get as much in about it as possible so someone looking for information on Purchase will get an idea what I thought it was like when I visited. Now it's off to run the board for the Nutcracker at SUNY Oneonta (missing two days of school )!
i subscribed to the Livejournal community for Purchase, http://www.livejournal.com/community/purchase/,
and talked to someone about the theatre design program. it really seems like a good college for design. they did mention though that it seems dull, like you said, but it is a good college. if you want, PM me and ill send you our conversation.
Okay, I have to clear up some of what has been said here. SUNY Purchase is one of the top 5 lighting schools in the country. For a reason. They turn out incredable designers. Not technicians. That is their philosophy. They aren’t training deck hands and spot ops. They are training the next generation of Broadway designers.
I will describe the very friendly experience that I had during my interview/visit to Purchase.
I was interviewed by Jason Lyons who had just finished his co design with Brian MacDevitt. He is a very established Lighting Designer. He was very friendly to me, however at times he seemed a bit cold and condescending. Overall however, he seemed impressed at my portfolio and resume (I have quite a bit of professional experience.) We talked for over a half hour, and the interview left on a good note.
My tour was a lot of fun. It was led by three people, each stage manager if I remember correctly. We toured the space below the theaters. Each theater is connected to the rest by catacombs under. Purchase's carp and costume shops are below here, connected by tunnels, as well as their electrics lock up (which has the largest private collection of source fours in the world. 1000 source fours, as well as thousands of other units.)
They have four Theater spaces. A HUGE black box. This is the nicest theater space I have ever seen. It is so versatile. They have a movable cat walk that is over 60 feet high. The cat walk moves, and then they add electric pipe across the cat walks. The stage is probably 10'-15'*10'-15' ish. The risers allow for virtually any seating position.
There is an orchestra space (that they do their Opera in), which has 90' catwalks. I can only compare it to the space that I saw in Connecticut. I don’t remember the venue's name, but it was a giant theater space, used for Broadway tours, concert tours etc. The fly was that high. The stage is maybe 30'-40' long, but is very deep and includes a projection booth even further than that. Its acoustics are so good that Yo Yo Ma records there quite often.
The last of the four that I visited was the PepsiCo Theater. It is a huge 1800 seat theater that is usually to big for the school to use because it is too large to light and set. However, it is used every once and a while.
The Teachers are all working Broadway or other entertainment professionals. Brian MacDevitt often is a guest lecturer. Kenneth Posner comes and lectures as well. These are two of the best lighting designers on Broadway now. David Gallo is the head of the lighting department. He is also an established name in the industry.
SUNY Purchase's Design/Tech program has alumni that include: Brian MacDevitt(LD), Jeff Markowitz (PSM), Kenneth Posner (LD), Patrick Fahey (SD), Mark London(LD), Rob Andrusko (ASD), Suzanne McCabe(CD for Woody Allen), David Grill (LD), David Gallo (LD), Jason Lyons (LD).
Some thoughts from someone who attended - though it was many, many years ago, and I will admit that it's likely things have changed, though from the posts here, I'm not so sure.
>Okay, I have to clear up some of what has been said here. SUNY Purchase is one of the top 5 lighting schools in the country.
This is an opinion from someone who obviously is very excited about getting accepted, as you should be.
It's not one of the top 5, but maybe among the top 25. There are many. many schools out there that put out designers that are as well trained as those that come out of Purchase. In my 23 year career as an LD at a very busy road house, I encounter very few Purchase Grad's ( I tend to get nosy and ask), with my 2 shows with Brian MacDevitt counted among them. That's not to say they aren't out there, but to say that there are a LOT of very good people in the industry, many of whom came from no-name schools, but who were very good to begin with.
Purchase tends to attract good people - the interview process see's to that. So does NC School of the Arts, Carnegie-Mellon, Univ. of Deleware, and countless others. Good people with a love for the business tend to get better at what they do and the college they went to often only gives them the very basics to get started. Purchase is no different in this respect.
>For a reason. They turn out incredable designers. Not technicians. That is their philosophy. They aren’t training deck hands and spot ops. They are training the next generation of Broadway designers.
Exactly and in my opinion that focus is a problem and one of the reasons I left. That focus should also be a warning to others contemplating.
Yes, you get trained by Broadway designers to design on Broadway and you are close to Broadway.
But is that what you want to do ?, and more realistically, is there work for you ?.
Simply put, there wasn't back in my days, nor is there now, enough work on Broadway to warrent a focus on "Broadway Design". It was a constant topic of discussion among us freshman and I imagine it still is. So many of the folks I came to know at Purchase who left before graduating, which in those days was MOST of the students, all seemed to find careers outside of Broadway. In my class (the year which I will not mention), Brian Nason, to my knowledge, is the only one who made a name for himself on Broadway.
There were 55 freshman in my class. About 30 or so sophmores, 15 or so juniors (MacDevitt being one of them) and one senior - Andrea Sacks (possibly Sachs), who left halfway thru the year, but went on to become one of the first female Gaffers in NABET and made a name for herself.
I would be concerned for the student that does NOT want to design on Broadway, but instead is interested in TV, or Film, or (Gasp) R&R. From what I've read here, you are not going to like the Broadway career track. I didn't.
>They have four Theater spaces.
Once known as "A", "B", "C" and "D", though theater A is now the Concert Hall, Theater B - with the Japanese Hanamichi side walls, known now as the PepsiCo space (Pepsi world headquarters is across the street and for many years they sponsered the Pepsico festival), Theater C is the Recital Hall.
>A HUGE black box.
Theater D, now the Kaplan.
>The last of the four that I visited was the PepsiCo Theater. It is a huge 1800 seat theater that is usually to big for the school to use because it is too large to light and set. However, it is used every once and a while.
I think you mean the Concert Hall, with 1400 seats. The Prosc. opening is 54 ft., big enough to take one set from the Met Opera (but just one !). Has a huge pipe organ as well, 19 ton's or so, moves on air casters and has it's own storage room SR.
No doubt about it, though, it's a terrific facility, which I'm curious if the State of NY has maintained. I do know they went dimmer-per-circuit a few years back. Cost 3 million, mostly to bring in more power from 3 miles away.
Still, having spent the bulk of my career in a city/state operated school, I can attest to the sad lack of funding over the last 2 decades, mirroring Smatticus's impression of run down, though correcting the comment that the facility IS owned by the school, but managed by a not-for-profit arts org. (if memory serves).
To finish, I wish NY Gaff the best and hope he/she lasts the 4 years, though you can be proud if you don't as you will be joining a huge list of
industry professionals who can proudly say "I ATTENDED Purchase" (grin), but have to ask that with a log-on name of NY Gaff, I assume you work in the NY film business ? and if so, why switch careers ?.
If it's some sort of college training you want, look into CUNY's NY City College of Technology, which has a terrific theater design and technology program, and where a lot of IATSE Local 1 members attend.
First of all, Dave (or was it Ken?) was right. He studied under Billy Mintzer when he was there and has been a big shot on Broadway since. He also has to interview some 200 LD prospects, you'd be bored too. Freshman and Sophomores don't know crap and myself and many others realised this as we went through the program.
Second, don't worry about the equipment and the spaces. Do you think every place you're going to work is state of the art. When I was there we lit shows with 50's era Kliegl Brothers fixtures and analog controlled dimmers. It ain't the meat... it's the motion.
To put it bluntly, Purchase is hell. But people that graduate from there work. Period. It's not some namby pamby book learning institution. You learn the tricks of the trade from the pros who use them on B-Way and put them to use daily. They put you through the wringer, and if you survive, you get jobs. Maybe not on B-Way, but in other theatre, TV, movies, etc. It's that simple.
You could find a plusher campus with better facilities and nicer stuff, but you won't find a more true-to-life study environment than Purchase.
P.S. Jay Lyons was my roommate his Sophomore year. Say hi from Jonny if you see him again.
I will deffinatly say hi to him next fall for you.
I keep hearing people say that it is hell. What makes it so bad? I know it is alot of work, and alot of hours of the day, and alot of pressures to make the grade. But is that what is so bad?
And as of now, their facilities seem much nicer now then when you were there. There are over a thousand source 4s. Plus, thosands of pars, fresnels, and strip lights, and all the theaters are equipt with ETC boards; express and espression (i think thats what it is called. the higher end board).
Now a question that i have. The review to graduate from sophmore to junior years; what is it comprised of? Is it very hard to pass? Anything you can tell be about it would be great.
Also, when did you graduate, and what are you doing now?