So, you have chosen acting not just as a hobby, but as a career choice. You defied your parents expectations, went to college, and majored in the love of your life, theatre. Then four long years later, after numerous voice, movement, and acting styles classes, your alma mater sent you away with high hopes and dreams. Then, six months out on your own, with less money in your pocket than a family of five with food stamps, you find yourself asking… what now?
Well, if you are a little reticent about making the big leap to New York or LA, you may consider auditioning and staying in the world of academia just a wee bit longer. Graduate MFA Acting programs can allow you to specialize in a type of theatrical expression (e.g. Shakespeare or Mime/Clown/Mask work) or to merely spend time honing your craft. The next step is to select a MFA program that fits your needs. What are the top 5 nationally ranked programs, you ask?
The American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, CA
One of the best known programs, ACT is a highly competitive 3 year intensive MFA. They only select 8-12 actors each year, who will work as an ensemble in class and in performance. They strive to cultivate “transformative actors”, who can give breath to a wide variety of dramatic literature. ACT also helps MFA students supplement the cost of education with paid acting and teaching opportunities. ACT melds classic and contemporary dramatic literature and allows the interplay between the students and the professional acting company.
The Actor’s Studio at Pace University in New York, NY
With such notable alumni as Bradley Cooper, Sally Field, and Paul Newman, and supervised by the Actor’s Studio (originally created by Eli Kazan), The Actor’s Studio Drama School totes that it offers “…the authenticity, continuity and authority of the Stanislavski System and the Method.” The Actor’s Studio Drama School offers three years, lovingly named after Stanislavski’s three books, An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role. During the third year, the actors will apply the intensive training to a full-fledged repertory season. This is the only MFA officially sanctioned by the Actor’s Studio.
Florida State University in Sarasota, FL
This college may not have been on your radar. Why go here? How about a full-tuition waiver and an assistantship to help with living expenses? Eligibility to join Actor’s Equity? The third year as a full time member of Asolo Theatre and performing in repertory? This program selects 8-12 students a year, and offers many reasons to consider a little drive down to Florida.
CALARTS (California Institute of Arts) in Valencia, CA
This three-year MFA Acting Program is designed for advanced student actors who are adventuresome, imaginative, and highly motivated. The admissions process is very competitive. The program’s curriculum focuses on all facets of each actor’s art and technique. It also strives to question commonly held assumptions about theater while exploring new possibilities. During the first year of the MFA program, students take courses in speech, voice and movement, and clarify and refine acting techniques and personal aesthetics. In the second year, the emphasis is on classical texts, Shakespeare and other style work, while the third and final year is devoted to performance. Additional coursework can include seminars in play analysis, history of the avant-garde, contemporary drama and other topics.
Tisch School of the Arts in New York, NY
The arc of production at the Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program is organized over three years in a variety of projects and productions that build and evolve your ability to master different texts, different experiences, and different collaborators on an evolutionary route towards entering the professional arena as an actor prepared–and open to–any eventuality and experience. Faculty members support these productions with their involvement in your progress at rehearsals; they will both work with you directly on these productions and/or support the professionals who come to work at Grad Acting. This school allows you to engage with New York City and strives to mold actors to be able to do theater, film, or emerging theatrical media.
These are just a smidgen of the information contained at the websites for these schools. Most MFA programs cultivate an ensemble relationship with your fellow students, and my best advice would be to go in person to the campus. See which program speaks to you artistically, stylistically, and financially. Once you find the one that fits, you will know.
By Curtis Barber
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