Sure, you’re talented. But are you “I’m going to study this in school and devote my professional life to it” talented? There is a fine but crucial line to consider when taking that next step—or not. To help you define it, industry and Backstage Experts weigh in on the questions you must ask yourself.
Can you handle the business side of things?
“Handle the business part yourself. Sign in, give your paperwork, and ask pertinent questions. Parents and coaches are excited for you but avoid letting them dominate a Q&A. It’s important that we interact with you and understand you are mature, thoughtful, and engaged enough to ask your own questions.” —Grant Kretchik, associate director of Pace University’s School of Performing Arts, and JV Mercanti, head of acting for the musical theater program at Pace University’s School of the Arts
Can you get through the actual audition process?
“The audition process can be revealing and a good opportunity not to quit, but to evaluate what you need to follow this path. You can love acting while finding other ways to keep it in your life. If you struggle to get into a program, explore other ways to satisfy your love for it. You can be an actor anywhere. Still, my favorite place to act is at the Ritz Company Playhouse in Hawley, Pennsylvania, because that’s where I got my start when I didn’t know as much and acted only because I love it. I still fantasize about going back there and acting for the pure joy. All this to say, I turn away talented hopefuls often and maybe even ‘the next Meryl.’ So only you will know if you should continue. Do not let any of us take your dreams away. Fight for what you love and go towards it. Remember, if there is doubt in your mind, it’s also really worth examining.” —Grant Ketchik, associate director of Pace University’s School of Performing Arts, head of its BFA acting program, and Backstage Expert
Can you make peace with rejection?
“It’s important to have a balanced list of reaches, fits, and safeties to give you the best chance for acceptance. Avoid a list that is top heavy in reach schools. Extreme reaches are programs that are highly selective with an acceptance rate of less than 5 percent of those who audition. Reach schools are selective and accept less than 15 percent of those who audition. ‘Fit’ programs accept over 15 percent of those auditioning, and ‘safety’ programs don’t require an audition.” —Mary Anna Dennard, author, founder of College Audition Coach, and Backstage Expert
Are you prepared to work (very hard) every single day?
“If you want to get through those first difficult years, you have to work at it every day. If you leave it to chance, you will always be able to convince yourself that you will have time to do those mailings, make those calls, and read those trades ‘soon.’ You have to start by scheduling at least an hour every day that you are working at your business—and it is a business. Any day that you have done at least one thing for your career is a good day. This includes auditioning, doing mailings, etc., but it also includes working out, eating healthy, seeing plays, movies, new TV shows, etc. Your job is to learn the business. It's ‘learnable,’ but you do have to learn it.” —Timothy Davis-Reed, Backstage Expert
Will you want to keep studying even after school is done?
“It’s critical to your success to continually develop your skills in a structured, disciplined environment. Whether or not you were in a theater program at school, one of the best ways to keep working on your craft is professional acting classes. Classes challenge and help you to discover your strengths and areas where you need improvement. They present opportunities to try different characters, to explore new accents, and to improve your abilities to work with different actors. Classes are also a great way to network with people in the industry and keep your acting muscles working.” —Lisa London, casting director and Backstage Expert
Do you understand the physical toll this will take?
“Another key element of a conservatory experience is the heightened focus on the physicality of acting. You have to be willing and able to participate in a degree of physical rigor that may not be required in a typical college drama program. Building an expressive instrument (vocally, physically, and emotionally) is the first step to becoming an actor. Generally, a conservatory program is focused on building your skillset as quickly as possible through rigorous training, and less focused on dramatic theory.” —Richard Omar, president and artistic director at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts and Backstage Expert
Are you only doing it for the “prestige”?
“You have to spend four years with these people. Certain teachers may have a world-renowned reputation, but if you can’t receive from them what they are imparting, then what good is it? Visit the campus and get a sense of the energy. Do the professors and students respect one another? Do you get the sense that they are all in this together? Are the students open and welcoming? Do they seem to genuinely support each other? Theater can be competitive but it doesn’t need to be cutthroat.” —Kevin Kittle, head of BFA Acting and the director of performance ensemble at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and New York City-based director
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