Everything You Need to Know About NYU Tisch’s Department of Drama

Article Image
Photo Source: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau

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!

A lot of actors dream of living and working in New York City, and what better way to get acquainted with the Big Apple than by getting your training right in the heart of it? Geography aside, New York University boasts one of the best programs in stage and screen acting available to students today. Below, the director of admissions and recruitment for NYU Tisch’s Department of Drama, Robert Hoyt, responds to our Reaching Higher questionnaire, covering everything from freshman auditions to senior year showcases.

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?

What makes Tisch Drama different from other performing arts programs is that we match rigorous conservatory training with a broad and empowering academic curriculum. We’re preparing our students to reinvent the fields they enter by building upon the creative and intellectual assets of NYU, the incomparable cultural resources of New York City, and an extensive schedule of productions led by internationally recognized faculty and theater artists. The training at Tisch Drama enables our students to impact the performing arts field and beyond, applying skills across multiple industries and disciplines.

Our unique studio system exposes students to different approaches to acting, music theater, production, design, theatrical management, and directing. By exploring various creative techniques instead of a prescribed, regimented program, our students develop an individual way of working that suits them best. To enrich their studio training, we place equal emphasis on an expansive theater studies curriculum and general education courses in the humanities and sciences.

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

Once a student is accepted to Tisch Drama, they are placed into one of our eight primary studios, based on their artistic review and discipline. We have six studios in acting, one in musical theater, and one in production and design; we also have a concentration in directing that’s housed inside one of the acting studios. Over the first two years, the student will begin their foundational artistic training. It is a progressive curriculum over their first four semesters, preparing the student for their last two years of advanced training.

At the advanced training level, students have five opportunities to explore and further their artistic training: They can stay in their primary studio; they can explore training options at another primary studio of interest; they could enroll in an upper level–only studio in our classical studio or the Stonestreet Studio for Film and Television; they can study abroad with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, or in Berlin studying Stanislavsky, Grotowski, and Brecht (we also have two impressive summer-abroad programs at this level: studying experimental theater in Amsterdam or Commedia del’Arte in Florence); and lastly, they could participate in an internship opportunity for credit, in lieu of attending studio.

Tisch Drama students’ in-studio professional training is enriched by an expansive and innovative academic curriculum, that includes required coursework in theater studies, and general education courses in the humanities and sciences, as well as additional elective courses.

We operate on a five-day weekly schedule, designed to maximize our students’ time. Three days a week are spent in the studio from 9 a.m.–6 p.m., with classes in acting, voice, movement, scene study, character, dance, singing…. The other two days are academic days, which usually are one general education class, one theater studies class, and one elective.

Tisch Drama offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in theater, and candidates for the degree must fulfill the minimum requirements: 48 credits of professional training; 28 credits in theater studies; 32 credits in general education; and 20 Elective credits. Students should finish with enough credits in the above four areas to total 128 credits.

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?

As a precautionary response to COVID-19-related restrictions, Tisch Drama will be conducting our Early Decision I artistic reviews digitally for the upcoming 2021 admissions cycle. We will continue to monitor all developments related to COVID-19, and will make subsequent decisions about Early Decision II, Regular Decision, and Transfer artistic review periods based on national and local guidelines as they are announced. Tisch Drama has been implementing Zoom-based digital artistic reviews for several years, and our evaluators are well-versed in using the digital platform.

Whether conducted in-person or digital, a student will reserve either a morning or afternoon session for the artistic review. Sessions are approximately 3.5 hours, all candidates arrive at the same time to check in for a short presentation from the admissions team, and should expect to be with us for the entire session.

We ask acting candidates to prepare two 90-second contrasting, contemporary monologues from published plays. By contemporary we mean turn-of-the 20th century to now; no costumes, no props; no dialects, in your natural voice and comfortable clothes is good for us! Afterwards, you will be invited to have a seat across from the evaluator—there will be only one evaluator, not a panel. Here you will have what we call the “conversation.” It’s not an interview, this isn’t something you could have prepared for. This is where we get to talk with you, get to know who you are: Why are you choosing to do this at this point in your life? What type of theater are you passionate about? This is an opportunity to share your excitement, creativity, and passion for the field, and this conversation is just as important as the material you prepared and presented. 

There will be a number of instances where you will go into an audition that is more like a cattle call: the evaluator will barely acknowledge you or look up from the table, you’ll audition and leave. And that’s not what we’re about here at Tisch Drama. Your entire acting artistic review should last approximately 15 minutes. For our acting candidates, that’s it! You’re done! If we make the shift to digital artistic reviews, this process—both the monologues and conversation—will be conducted over Zoom.

For our musical theater candidates, you’ll participate in the same acting review and conversation as outlined above. In addition, you are asked to prepare two 32-bar song cuts. One must be from the musical theater canon, the other can be from musical theater or another style of your choice. If conducted in-person, you will meet with an evaluator and will be provided an accompanist. If we do have to pivot to digital artistic reviews, we will shift this portion to the Zoom platform and have you perform your selections live, as well as upload back-up videos of your songs, simply as a precaution. Lastly, you will be asked to participate in a dance call. If conducted in-person, you will be in a room with six or seven other candidates, with one evaluator and one student assistant. You will be taught a combination with elements of jazz, ballet, and modern, will review it several times, and present in small groups. Again, if we happen to shift the artistic reviews to digital, you will be sent a video link to teach you the dance combination, where you can prepare and rehearse on your own. You will then record yourself doing the combination and upload to the Tisch Drama Artistic Review portal.

You can get details and requirements for each artistic review section by visiting the Tisch Drama website at tisch.nyu.edu/drama. We will also have updated and specific instructions posted online, if we have to implement digital artistic reviews.

At Tisch Drama, throughout the artistic review process, we want to discover where YOU are in your own artistic development. It’s important for you to know that we are not comparing you to each other and wherever you are in your own artistic growth is great! We just want to know where that is. It’s so easy to think that the person on the other side of the table has all the power, but you need to remember that we need you as much as you need us, so remember that this is your room.

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

At Tisch Drama, we’re looking for passionate, creative, thinking artists who have the desire to ask questions and find answers, tell stories, and engage with all kinds of collaborators—creatively, intellectually, and professionally.

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

Within specific studios, there are programs for fourth-year students to showcase their work to professionals in the field or take courses that bring professionals into the classroom. This can range from studio productions with invited guests, to working with a specific casting director for four weeks. In addition to studio-specific showcasing of work, the department has increased our efforts to invite industry professionals to see all Tisch Drama Stage productions. When any of these professionals attend the show, they receive packets of information for all actors and student members of the creative team, with contact information, and see a slideshow of the design process for the production upon entering the theater. The department strives to have industry professional interaction be integrated into all four years of the student experience by having working faculty in addition to offering regular events and classes taught by guests from the field.

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

Do your research. As you’re looking at programs, list what they offer and take note of what they don’t. The coursework and degree requirements for a BFA in acting is going to look very different from a BFA in theater or a BA in drama. Which degree and program is going to give you what you want? Do they provide training that works for how you like to learn and at a level of rigor you can respond to? Where do you want to study? Do you thrive in smaller, more intimate environments or are you energized by an urban location? Will the university offer you a community you can grow in? Lastly, do they value you for what you can contribute to the program?

READ: 25 Amazing Acting Colleges You Should Know

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

One thing students pursuing a degree in the performing arts should be aware of is how rigorous the programs can be. Although the training can be fun, it is intense, serious work for several hours daily. It’s not like your classes in high school or rehearsals after school. You will be constantly challenged to learn and grow.

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

In both learning and performance opportunities, Tisch Drama has utilized new technologies, as well as embraced new concepts of teaching and presenting work remotely in these unusual times. We are currently—and successfully—conducting all classes remotely, via the Zoom platform. It seems contradictory to the expected paradigm of studio training, but rather than seeing it as an inconvenience, both our faculty and students have seen this as a challenge to be met and leaned into. We are not only facilitating classes, but are still conducting rehearsals, as well as producing online performances. The primary takeaway is how engaged the students have been and how willing they are to try new ideas on Zoom, as well as non-traditional digital technology. Their trust of the faculty and themselves has allowed for learning to continue. Learning and performing remotely is strange, no question, but we’re getting real work done.

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

Breathe. Use this time to plan, hone your skills, prepare and review your material—and discover something new! Continue to study, train, learn, and grow, because you will be paving the new way forward.

Anything else you’d like to highlight?

While Tisch Drama waits to resume in-person activities, we are excited to announce that we are holding multiple virtual information webinars. These one-hour sessions will be hosted by a member of our Admissions team, who will introduce you to our unique program of artistic and academic offerings, and the admissions and artistic review process. At the end of the session we will also host a live Q&A. Please visit the Tisch Drama website at tisch.nyu.edu/drama for more information and to schedule your session!

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

Author Headshot
Benjamin Lindsay
Benjamin Lindsay is managing editor at Backstage, where if you’re reading it in our magazine, he’s written or edited it first. He’s also producer and host of a number of our digital interview series, including our inaugural on-camera segment, Backstage Live.
See full bio and articles here!