Everything You Need to Know About AMDA College of the Performing Arts

Article Image
Photo Source: Courtesy of AMDA

We’re profiling the best performing arts programs in the U.S. and beyond with Reaching Higher, our inaugural questionnaire series diving deep on all things higher education: What should you look for when choosing the right school for you? What do college admissions pros want from their freshman class? What opportunities await students during their studies and post-graduation? Learn everything you need to know right here!

When you’re a performing arts student at one of the two AMDA campuses in Los Angeles (AMDA College of the Performing Arts) and New York City (the American Musical and Dramatic Academy), you learn soon exactly why current students, faculty, and alum refer to the people they meet there as their “AMDA family.” To highlight just what makes this standout higher education program so singular, Marina Benedict, its National Director of Creative Programming, answered Backstage’s ongoing questionnaire that’ll teach you all you need to know.

What makes your program different from other top performing arts programs in the country? Walk us through your program: What are its guiding tenets and what’s it all about?

AMDA College of the Performing Arts is dedicated to providing a supportive environment in which young performing artists can thrive. For nearly 60 years, AMDA has launched some of the most successful careers in theater, film and television. If I had to choose the most unique and important aspects of an AMDA education, I would have to say the location of our campuses, the diversity of our community, student access to industry professionals, our performance opportunities, the interdisciplinary nature of our programs and campuses, our unique year-round structure, and the incredible warmth and support of our faculty and staff. 

  • AMDA is ranked #1 of the Best Performing Arts Colleges in America for 2021 on Niche.com, based on student reviews and data from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • AMDA has been ranked in the top five of Playbill.com’s BIG 10: The 10 Most Represented Colleges on Broadway for the past three years, and has been on the list for four years!

Locations and Faculty
With campuses in the heart of Manhattan and Los Angeles, AMDA College of the Performing Arts offers the truly unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the two most exciting and dynamic creative performing arts worlds: Broadway and Hollywood. Our locations on Broadway and in Hollywood allow us to draw faculty with successful careers in stage, film, television, dance, production and the commercial music industry. Students begin to create their professional network of contacts from the first day of class. Our students have the good fortune to be seen by industry representatives while still in the protected learning environment of school. Many AMDA students graduate with agent representation, ready to hit the ground running. Often our alumni receive their first recommendation for professional work through a faculty member. It is true that in the entertainment business, relationships matter! 

We are immensely proud of our diverse community. Our mission includes cultivating the next generation of creative voices that will redefine our industry. We are and will continue to be at the cutting-edge of creating a new vision for the entertainment industry where all people are represented and BIPOC stories are celebrated. AMDA is all about supporting individuals to realize their unique gifts and talents. AMDA’s philosophy includes a profound focus on providing opportunities for all of our students to individually create and perform work celebrating diversity inclusive of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, body type, sexual orientation, religious and spiritual beliefs, age, disability, socio-economic background, and the intersections of such identities.

Industry Access
AMDA’s curriculum provides the most up-to-date skills and tools that graduates need to navigate a career in the performing arts. We teach so much more than just technique; we teach performers how to create a life as an artist, and to infuse their art with their own unique individual voice. Students have access to industry professionals on a daily basis; AMDA’s faculty is composed of those working and professionally connected to the performing arts. In addition to daily access via their instructors, students in all programs have curriculum specifically designed to enhance their access to other outside industry professionals. Courses such as Career Preparation, Industry & Networking, Entrepreneurship, Media for the Performer, Reels, Audition Techniques, and Industry Showcase provide essential, current, relevant information about business dynamics, structures, and expectations within the performing arts industry. Additionally, these courses include guest visits that provide students immediate access to industry representatives such as agents, managers, Broadway directors and choreographers, music video choreographers, recording artists, casting directors, and more.

At AMDA, we believe that performance experience on the stage and on set and even in the classroom is vital to each student’s learning experience. AMDA offers hundreds of performance opportunities each year in acting for the stage and camera, musical theater, dance, and commercial music, as well as opportunities for students to create and perform their own original work. Our performance opportunities are not reserved exclusively for upper semesters or graduate-level students. All performance opportunities are available to all students from the first day of their freshman year. All students are invited to audition to perform in musicals, plays, dance concerts, scene collections and anthologies, short films, staged readings, concerts, student-initiated projects, cabarets, and choreography exhibitions—regardless of their major. There is no limit to what a student can become involved in during their time at AMDA. And if the opportunity doesn't yet exist, students have the power to create it! 

Interdisciplinary Immersion
AMDA is wholly devoted to the performing arts. We do not want you to categorize yourself. At AMDA you can have it all! You can be a Shakespearean actor who also does hip-hop. You can be a musical theater singer who also loves pop music. You can be a dancer who also wants to be a filmmaker. At AMDA, all of our programs are interdisciplinary—actors will take movement, dancers will sing, musical theater performers will act on camera. You are encouraged to explore other disciplines outside of your official program through all of AMDA’s performance opportunities and workshop offerings. 

Earn Your BFA in under three years!
At AMDA, we know that many young artists want to get out into the world and begin their professional careers as soon as possible. We offer three full semesters every calendar year. That allows you to start your program in the fall, spring, or summer semester. This structure also offers you the ability to complete your BFA degree in as little as two years and nine months. 

Most of all, we are a joyful community! Students and teachers alike are busy from morning to night working on their craft and striving to evolve artistically, personally, and professionally. We challenge our students to realize their potential, and we also provide a safe space to fail, fall down and learn from mistakes. We do not believe in shame-based teaching. Our faculty and staff are some of the most caring and generous people I know. We go above and beyond to be there for our students and to support them in every way possible.

What can students expect each year to look like at your college or university? What are the core requirements for graduation?

AMDA’s overall program structures and core requirements break down as follows:

Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree Programs

  • The standard time frame to complete one of our BFA programs (Acting, Musical Theater, Dance Theater, or Performing Arts) is eight semesters (which can take as little as two years and nine months to complete).
  • The curriculum is a blend of required performance-based courses within the student’s primary program discipline, as well as elective and supportive courses that provide interdisciplinary training opportunities.
  • Additionally, students are required to fulfill 10 General Education courses, each designed to provide broad-based knowledge to emerging performing artists.
  • BFA Students need a minimum of 90 performance credits and 30 Gen Ed credits to meet graduation requirements.
  • It is also an institutional requirement that students must perform in at least one AMDA production or showcase.

Associate of Occupational Studies Degree and Certificate Programs

  • The standard time frame to complete one of our AOS (L.A. campus) or Certificate (NYC campus) programs in Acting, Musical Theater, or Dance Theater is four semesters (which can take as little as one year and three+ months calendar time to complete).
  • The curriculum is all assigned per program and a minimum total of 60 accumulated credits (AOS) or 1800 clock hours (Certificate), as prescribed, is required for program completion.

Graduate Degree Programs 

  • Our Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Theater and Media is designed as a three-year program with two semesters each year devoted to guided course work and summer semesters consisting of writing internships.
  • MFA students need a minimum of 60 credits to meet graduation requirements.
  • Credits are fulfilled via a mixture of required courses, elective offerings and internships.  
  • Our Master of Arts in Theater emphasizes advanced analytical and academic theatre studies.
  • MA students need a minimum of 30 credits to meet graduation requirements.

What does your audition process typically look like? What do incoming prospective students need to prepare? What advice do you have for the audition room?

Performance-based Undergraduate Degree Programs
Auditions are required for acceptance to AMDA’s Conservatory Certificate programs, Associate Degree programs and Bachelor of Fine Art Degree programs. AMDA currently offers auditions through self-tape submission, virtual online appointments with an adjudicator, or socially-distanced individual in-person audition appointments. In-person audition appointments will begin in December 2020 and will be offered on our campuses and in select domestic and international cities. More information is available on our website: https://www.amda.edu/admissions/audition .

My advice for applicants is to remember that we are not looking for perfection; we are looking for potential. We want to get a sense of who you are and what you are about. Choose material that you feel a deep sense of personal connection to. We want to understand more about you through your selections. Show us material that excites you and shows off your strengths. Please note: This is not the time to reach beyond your comfort zone or try to show your range.

Also, please be prepared for our adjudicators to work with you. We like to work with applicants in our auditions in order to get a sense of how you listen and take direction or adjustments. Be open to playing with us. Auditioning should be fun. Bring a joyful and open heart and we will do the same.

Academic Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs
AMDA offers three academic degree programs: Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts, Master of Arts in Theater and Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Theater and Media. These academic programs do not require an audition but have specific application requirements. For more information on those programs and their application requirements, please consult our website: www.AMDA.edu.

What are some of the main qualities you look for in your incoming class?

We seek students who are first and foremost passionate about their craft, their area of study, and demonstrate aptitude in their chosen major. It is also vital to us to maintain a campus community that is committed to inclusion, diversity, and kindness—so we are looking for students who are interested in being part of an international community of enlightened performing artists. We love to see applicants who have high levels of skill and previous training, but we are also interested in those that demonstrate evidence of untapped unique talents and gifts, often not yet developed or even understood by the candidate, yet they clearly show aptitude and a desire to grow and flourish at AMDA. Ultimately, we are looking for individuals who will thrive by learning from—and contributing to—the AMDA community.

Do you have a performance showcase for graduating seniors? When, where, and for whom do your students perform? What’s required?

Students in their final semester of any of AMDA’s performance-based undergraduate programs have a variety of opportunities to perform: 

Showcases: All students in their final semester of a BFA, AOS, or Certificate program have a production showcase as part of their standard curriculum. AMDA showcases are designed to provide students a substantial production experience for which there is an audition and pitching process to determine the showcase content. Each showcase is unique in that it is crafted to best suit the skills of each individual cast member and their collective skills as an ensemble. Each showcase has a range of artistic team members (composed of our industry-working faculty and/or outside industry professionals). Showcases perform in one of our campus theater spaces for family, friends, faculty within the AMDA community, as well as invited industry professionals. 

Industry-focused classes: All the programs mentioned above also have specific industry-focused courses as part of the standard final semester curriculum. These courses provide essential, current, relevant information about business dynamics, structures, and expectations within the performing arts industry. Additionally, they include industry guests (such as an agent, manager, or casting director) visits where all students will participate in mock auditions and/or engaging Q&As, cold reads or other class work as defined by the visiting guest and course structure.  

Spotlight Event:  The AMDA Spotlight event provides an opportunity for students in their final semester of any AMDA BFA program to perform for current industry professionals. Participation is by audition only. Those selected will be coached in audition-like monologues, songs and two-person scenes per their desired performance focus. Industry professionals receive packets of each performer’s headshot and résumé for their files and review. During COVID-19 and social distancing structures, adjustments have been made for Spotlight to be available via a digital reel submission process.

What advice do you have for students to narrow down their search? How can they find the right school for them?

Finding the right place to study is such an important decision. I recommend that you take your time in reviewing the materials for each institution. Go beyond what is available on the website and check out the performance work coming out of each school. Look at the careers of the alumni and how they align with your personal goals. Read through the course catalog to get a sense of the arc of the program. Ask to speak to key faculty from the program and/or a current student or alumni. Take into account the lifestyle of the location and environment of the school to make sure it’s a fit. Most importantly, take advantage of the various ways to engage with the school. At AMDA, we offer digital workshops, open houses, audition coaching, virtual tours, and Facebook Live and Instagram Live events. We look forward to resuming our on-campus tours, accepted student receptions, and open house events on both our New York and Los Angeles campuses soon.

What’s one thing that all high schoolers thinking about studying the performing arts should know before pursuing a degree?

It is possible to create life as a working artist. Don’t let anyone scare you out of pursuing your dream. Life as an artist requires tenacity, flexibility and resilience, but don’t forget that the arts contribute more than $800 billion a year to U.S. economic output, amounting to more than 4% of GDP. Investing in your education and training pays off. Take the time to further develop your talents and learn new skills that will expand your possibilities for work in the industry. 

In what ways is your program adapting to the restrictions and demands of the coronavirus pandemic?

I am blown away by the learning that is occurring in the classrooms of AMDA during our period of remote instruction. We have implemented more film-based work into our class content and the work that is coming from our students, instructors, choreographers and directors is stunning! We have been talking a lot about the silver linings that have come out of this period of distance learning—and there are quite a few! We have decreased class sizes, and students and teachers alike report a more intimate and individualized experience in the classroom. Our increased reliance on digital tools has led to our students feeling very prepared for the new ways in which the industry is pivoting with regard to professional audition submissions and rehearsal and performance processes. Many of these structures are already planned to remain in place even upon our return to in-person classes. At the same time that we continue to refine our online course delivery through the use of Canvas, live Zoom classes, pre-recorded course content, one-on-one mentoring, guided film shoots and live streamed performances, we are also preparing for our return to in-person instruction. AMDA New York resumed in-person classes this November, and AMDA L.A. hopes to reopen in January 2021. We already have systems in place to ensure that the health and safety of our community can be maintained. Reduced class sizes, mandatory masks, hybrid instruction, maintaining cohorts, time for transitioning classes, sanitizing rooms, single-room housing, etc. are all being implemented. We are committed to ensuring that the safety measure we put in place will provide for effective and fulfilling training in the performing arts.

What advice do you have for students and performers during this particularly difficult and extraordinary time?

This is a great time to be in school for three reasons. The first is obvious: There are parts of the entertainment industry that are briefly on pause (Broadway, etc). Capitalize on this time and utilize the space in your life to focus on your technique and personal and artistic development. Come out of this time feeling accomplished and ready to be a part of the resurgence and rebuilding of the arts. Secondly, the industry will forever be changed by some of the adjustments we are making. Auditions, rehearsal, and casting are currently being redefined. At AMDA, we are teaching our students the tools they need to adapt to this new reality. We are also seeing incredible advancements in artistic content for the digital space. Develop the skills you need to create and distribute original content. Your stories and perspectives are valuable. Thirdly, you can’t do it alone. One of the most beautiful things about the arts is that they must be passed down from one artist to another. That is what AMDA is all about. In this time when we are forced to be apart, you have the opportunity to connect to an incredible community of faculty artists that are ready to help guide you on your journey. Find Your Voice at AMDA! 

Anything else you’d like to highlight?

I have been at AMDA for over 17 years! I love my job because I get to be part of creating the school of my dreams; the school that I wish was available to me when I was looking for my place in the world as a young artist. I know that a lot of young artists have a hard time finding where they fit. AMDA is a special place. We strive to create a place for young artists that are often left out of other higher institution models. We cater to the needs of young performers. We offer a lot of flexibility in our programs, extensive student support services, campus transfer options, and various timelines for degree completion. We are creating really exciting, cutting-edge performance work and developing the voices of young artists that are going out into the world to do some pretty incredible things. 

You often hear us say “AMDA Family,” and it may sound cheesy, but it’s true. When you come to AMDA you are joining a life-long artistic community. Establish a home base in NYC and L.A. where you can come back for support—access to personal rehearsal space, accompanist tapings, our incredible library, faculty advice, etc.

I could go on and on about what makes AMDA so special, but I'll end with this...my favorite excerpt from our mission statement: Above all, AMDA teaches students that commitment and passion are the hallmarks of a successful and joyous career.

Bring on the joy!

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

More From Reaching Higher


More From Actors + Performers

Now Trending