7 Reasons Why Professional Acting Programs Are Simply Not Worth It

Published January 16th, 2008 in Getting Trained. By Kirsten Tretbar
 145 Comments »   

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1.They waste your time.
2.They waste your money.
3.A formal degree means nothing in the film/tv acting world.
4.They train you for stage, not film.
5.Many teachers haven’t worked professionally for years.
6.Many teachers and drama directors belittle their students.
7.They seldom help you get auditions or agents.

But first a little background…

So what do we mean by “Professional Acting Program”? Well, it’s any program that’s exclusive, and takes your money to teach you how to act. They can be a short as a few weeks, or as long as several years. They can be accredited, which means, they will give you a professional college degree such as a BA, a BFA, an MA, or MFA. Or they can be unaccredited, which means, they might give you a certificate at the end of your time there, saying, Suzie Smith attended the Joe Bascona Acting School 6 Week Method Course! Other unaccredited programs might include: The Stella Adler Theater Course, The Lee Strasberg School of Acting, ACT, or the New York Film Academy, etc…

…I have had dozens of auditions, calls, and meetings, with professional directors, agents, and casting directors, from the contacts made in private classes.

Some professional training programs are nothing more than glorified summer camps. I have no problem with a summer camp acting program, if you’re between the ages of 13 to 18. But once you decide to really focus on acting, say, as a full time possible career, you’ll begin to think beyond a summer workshop or camp; and you’ll begin to think about going to college, grad school, or a glorified program with a glorified name that will impress your parents and family.

Acting Classes that would be alternatives to these more structured programs would be private weekly, or bi weekly group classes, or individual classes, in: Method Acting, Voice, Dialects, Movement, Improvisation, Singing, Dance, Meisner Technique, Audition Technique, Cold Reading, Marketing for the Actor, Scene Study, etc…

You could also go the way of getting a Liberal Arts degree at a College or University, and take a few acting classes on the side. Or you could audition for local theater, and learn acting skills by being in a play, or by working alongside local filmmakers, helping them make their indie films.

There are a million different ways to learn how to act, and you do NOT have to be part of a longer, more expensive, actors training program. Believe me, having attended USC’s two year, MFA Professional Acting Training Program, and then, having taken several years of private classes afterwards in Los Angeles, I know what I’m talking about. So keep reading.

1. They waste your time

Most professional acting training programs take between one year, and four years. It’s in their interest to take time, and move slowly, because, remember, they are MONEY MAKING INSTITUTIONS! Surprise, surprise, they want you to spend many years learning layer upon layer of different acting techniques, because the longer you are there, the more money they will make. And when you’re finally done, finally ready to meet with agents and directors, you’re four years older. You may have grown up some in the process, but you’ve also lost some of the best years an actor has — those years when you could have been acting (years when you are still energetic, full of energy, youth, and nerve!)

I had a friend in my MFA program at USC who was literally kicked out of the school because she was beginning to audition TOO much, and she was missing her classes. How stupid! She had moved to LA to become a professional actor, after going to Harvard undergrad, and the program at USC should have helped her, not kicked her out. She was paying her tuition, but still, she wasn’t PLAYING BY THEIR RULES, and professional programs like rules. And rules are obstacles to creativity and growth.

2. They waste your money

A BFA program is an undergraduate acting degree in a 4 year University. It’s an Acting Major only with very few other classes needed to graduate besides performance based study. At a more expensive, prestigious, private college (like USC) — a BFA can run you between $100,000 to $200,000, by the time you finally graduate! At even a smaller, $25,000/year, you’re not only breaking your family’s bank, you’re wasting your money.

With this same money, you could also be funding your own private, very good, independent feature film, with you as the producer and star. That money would also go a long way toward getting settled in LA, paying for private classes with world famous acting coaches, not to mention, maybe even putting a down payment on a house there someday. Most excellent private classes (usually taught weekly, with about 20 - 50 students) run around $200 to $300/ month. That’s, at most, $3600 a year. That means, that for the same amount of money as a professional program, you could be taking classes from 8 different, world famous teachers, on a weekly basis, teachers who work every day with professional, famous actors, and you’d still have money to spare! You wouldn’t have to work a dumb day job, but you could spend your extra time auditioning!

There is one famous Improv program in Los Angeles, that makes students audition to get to the next level. Having students audition creates an atmosphere of competitiveness, and makes getting to the next level seem really exciting, prestigious even. They do this, not to make the program exclusive, or better, but to make people WANT to continue on, WANT to keep paying more, and taking more classes. They know that actors are competetive, and they’re playing on our insecure streak!

If you ask me, this is unethical, and seems a bit like a pyramid scheme; and I would be wary of any program that makes you audition to move up. I don’t mind auditions to make sure you’re not a crazy lunatic, for entrance into a class, but I do mind auditions to keep people thinking the program is prestigious. This plays on the already heightened sense of insecurity most actors feel. And it’s a scam in my opinion. Because the truth is that any acting program that charges a lot, and also holds auditions, is actually desperate for money — and they’re using the audition as a ploy to make you think they are unique. But acting programs aren’t. They’re a dime a dozen — it’s just that when you’re new to Hollywood, you don’t know this. So be smart, and keep your eyes and ears open!

3. A formal degree means nothing in the film/tv acting world

No one ever told me that professional agents and directors could care less that I had a formal acting graduate degree from a great university. If I had known this when I first decided I wanted to be a professional actress, I wouldn’t have applied, and then gone to, USC for grad school. I was an Anthropology Major at Grinnell College, but I’d always acted in every play during High School and College. So I knew I was talented, as I usually had the leads. My mother and father believed in Academia too, since they’d both been professors, so going into a professional program seemed like the right step, with a move from Iowa (and KC where I’d grown up) out to Los Angeles, in the late 80s.

In retrospect, I realize now, that I was terrified of moving to California, and I just wanted to hit the ground out there, as part of a group of people who were all new to the place. What I didn’t know is that if I’d gone to private LA professional classes, I would have met all the same kinds of people as me, kids and adults who were from all over the world, who’d recently moved to LA, and who were following their dreams. Unfortunately, I got into a program that was hard to get into, felt really great about myself, and then spent the next two years paying a fortune to get a Masters, and to learn nothing about professional acting, in Film and TV. All I learned was stage acting: Shakespeare and Chekhov and period plays, that sort of thing.

I did enjoy many aspects of my program, but when I left Grad School to begin auditioning at age 25, all over LA, I really felt I had no real skills. In fact, my acting was way too big and broad for the camera. And what I learned really, the first few weeks I started auditioning for professional parts, with professional casting directors, is that no one, not one single agent or casting director, gave a hoot about my MFA, or the leads I’d had in grad school. They could seriously care less. In fact, not once did a casting director ever ask me about the plays I’d been in, or my training at USC. Not once did I ever get a call based on that part (which was damned good!) of my resume. In fact, I usually found that they’d cast the actor with the least training, as they’d tell me that he or she hadn’t developed any major patterns in their acting, they were more directable, more real. And so, I ended up feeling pretty upset that all my training had somehow, been for nothing. It had also put me in debt!

4. They train your for stage, not for film

Many times, back when I was acting professionally, I’d audition for a casting director, and almost all of them told me I was too big in my acting style, that my choices were too large and too much, too theatrical for TV or Film Acting, and thanks but no thanks they’d say, as they’d yell out to the waiting room, Next! It broke my heart, and I spent the next five years retraining my techniques in private classes all over town. I literally had to unlearn everything I’d learned at USC.

In my professional program, we would act in up to three plays a year. All of our training in our individual classes would be about projecting our voices or commanding the stage or creating living breathing characters in our plays that would read to the back row. Although we did learn improvisation, we usually learned it in such a way as to be really busy on stage, doing way too many activities and lots of stage business which could be really fascinating in a theatrical setting. When I started taking private classes, with professional teachers, all of my teachers would say, Just Be Kirsten. You don’t have to try so hard. You, just you, as you are, sitting there, talking to me now, are enough. You don’t have to put on airs, you don’t have to make me laugh, you don’t have to work so hard. Just be like you would be in every day life.

One casting director told me a story about an audition she’d had with, get this, Farah Fawcett Majors, many years earlier. She said one girl had come in and auditioned for the role, and had way too many things prepared, and was running all over the room, trying to impress her. When Farah came in (this was before she was famous I believe), the casting director said that all that she did was to sit down, and say her lines across the table, like a normal, boring conversation. Well, you guessed it. Farah got the part!

All professional programs will tell you that once you learn the tricks of the trade, you can just adjust your techniques by turning the volume down a notch. I think this is a lie. You can’t just do less. You have to do differently. And a smaller, more intimate program, with a focus on actors who are out there every day, trying to book real jobs, that week, will help you learn the proper approach. They will help you learn that You Are Enough!

You will also learn a list of skills in a professional film/tv acting class that no theater acting class will ever teach you, skills such as: keeping your eye lines, continuity issues for shooting various angles, reverse shots, and retakes, keeping your character’s arc when filming shots out of sequence, ways to keep your energy levels consistent when filming on different days, how to move to marks on the ground, staying calm in the midst of a hectic shooting set, audition techniques in a rushed situation, and on and on.

5. Many teachers haven’t worked professionally for years

Although I had some amazing teachers in my professional program whom I’ve befriended, that changed my life, teachers like Pam Clark (Feldenkrais), and Deborah Ross-Sullivan (Voice), those amazing teachers were few and far between.

Many of my other teachers had only worked at USC for the last ten or fifteen years. That being said, they did bring in many professional stage directors to work with us, who directed us in our big productions there. But not once did I meet a professional filmmaker at USC, and I was going to a University with a famous film school!

Not that many professors didn’t once work in professional Film or TV — in fact, most of them had at one time or another. But you will find that with most full time, tenured staff, they don’t work any more in the professional world. They may direct a play every few years in LA or NY, or in a summer Shakespeare Festival, but more often than not, they haven’t worked on a professional Film or TV project, possibly, EVER. And if they have, it was probably twenty years ago. This is not good.

This means that they are probably out of touch with what’s really going on in Film and TV today — out of touch with things like, The Digital Revolution, The Huge Independent Film World, MySpace and YouTube Film Clips (a great way to get noticed!), New Marketing Methods for actors (like Websites), new Casting Methods On-Line (like LA Casting).

They don’t know what casting directors are hot, what agents might be the right ones for you, how to get people to come to your showcase. It’s important to keep in mind that the reason you want to go to a professional program is to become a professional.

Whereas, the opposite is true about private acting classes. Most private classes are taught by working filmmakers, producers, and working actors (like myself) who are, right now, casting a film, or editing a feature, or workshopping a script. I never got one break from any of the contacts I made at USC, while in my private classes with private working professionals, once I got out of USC? Well, I was recommended to agents, and even booked an acting gig for French TV, on the recommendation of my acting teacher!

You will know if you have a good, real professional teacher, in the outside world, if your teacher has to cancel classes once in awhile due to a Film or TV project they are working on. And feel free to really ask your teacher what they are doing, or have done, in the last two years. Most will answer vaguely, like, Oh, I did tons of TV! and if you ask when, and what? — well, if they’re vague, beware.

But note: many private coaches no longer work in Film or TV, because they’re too busy helping professionals in their Film or TV projects one on one. That’s okay too. For example, if your teacher says, Well, I’ve been coaching Lindsay Lohan on her films recently then you’ve hit the jackpot! Good sign! Work with this person, immediately.

6. Many teachers and drama directors belittle their students

I know I will get some flack for writing this, but it’s been my experience that many teachers, in the bigger programs, are tired and angry (that they’re stuck teaching in big programs) and so they often take it out on their students. And often, they’re not making enough money, so they’re mad.

Many teachers in bigger programs feel stuck, it’s that simple. They want to be acting or directing or making films, but they have kids to put through college, or wives or husbands to take care of, or mortgages to pay, or they’ve worked too hard for too long to get famous, haven’t made it, and so now, they have turned to teaching. In a professional training program, they can rule their little fiefdoms, have their groupy acting students (who come over to their houses for drunken parties, and hang on their every word)… And in the end, it’s not the healthiest situation.

I have met so many actors who have been burned, seriously hurt, by their acting teachers. And usually, those teachers were in a college, or so-called professional program. Most of these teachers are having to face horrible politics the students don’t even know about, they themselves are either underpaid, or unappreciated, or mistreated, by boards, or crazy heads of the programs, and so, they end up passing all of this bad energy down to you.

This happened to me too. It’s hard to talk about it, but I want to share this story with you here. I was told by about three different teachers and directors, at USC, that I was: too fat, just way too fat, miscast, they’d wished they’d cast someone else, and overemotional — this was all while I had the lead in the main stage production! I spent many weeks in classes as I watched as other actors were laughed at, ignored, scorned, or even berated. One actor was pushed, physically pushed out of the class by an angry teacher, one was seduced by another (they had an affair, the student was 22, the teacher was 48). And the list of transgressions goes on.

When you’re paying a lot of money to go to a program, you should have some say about how you are treated. But like every good boy and girl, we actors want to please. We don’t want to dropout, because we don’t want to have wasted our time and money, and we also don’t want to be trouble makers or upset our parents. So we put up with inappropriate behavior, abuse, and even, sexual harassment. Because, shouldn’t we trust these people? Aren’t they really trying to help us? Not always.

I spent years feeling terrible about my weight and body because of a few sentences said to me by a few teachers in my acting program, and may have even given up acting to become a director, because of these comments. And I was maybe only 20 pounds over weight, and a runner, and in very good health at the time. Don’t let teachers hurt you this way, and don’t keep quiet about it if it happens to you!

The good thing about private classes is that you usually pay monthly (not yearly!), you can drop out any time, and the teachers are usually very happy, because it’s their class, taught by them, their way. They themselves are free, running their own business, and class, and they don’t have to put up with all the politics of an institutionalized setting. Not that every private teacher is a saint. But you, as a student, definitely have more power. If they act like a jerk, then they could lose a student. Take charge of your life, and don’t let teachers hurt you, ever!

7. They seldom help you get auditions or an agent

When I was considering Professional Training Programs, at the Grad School level, right out of college, I was looking for something that would give me an edge, a step up, once I started acting professionally. I got into several programs, all over the US. I decided on USC because it had a SHOWCASE, that they said the whole industry would be invited to at the end of the two years, a showcase which would help me stand out, and get noticed. The program was also in LA, so I thought that would help me make contacts in the real film and tv world.

What I found, was that although there were several casting directors at each yearly showcase, the program itself did nothing much to get professionals to the event. We, the students, had to do all the marketing ourselves. No one told me this when I got there. I found this out the hard way, when I was asked by a second year graduating student friend, if I would be in her scene, as a first year. When I realized that not very many professionals were in the audience, that first year, I made a commitment to myself to get a huge audience for my own showcase, the following year. I worked my butt off to get as many people to my showcase as I could, and I succeeded. But looking back on this now, I don’t think that was fair. I had paid an exorbitant amount of money to attend this prestigious program, and it seems that they should have worked hard, and spent some of their own money, to advertise the event. I ended up spending about $1000 of my own money to do marketing and PR, to get people out that year. Sent out photos, post cards, letters, emails, put up flyers, sent press releases to the local papers. As a result, I had many auditions when I got out of USC, from casting directors that couldn’t make the showcase. But I had to do this all by myself.

As I said before, I never had one audition or call based on the contacts I (should have) made while at my professional program. While I have had dozens of auditions, calls, and meetings, with professional directors, agents, and casting directors, from the contacts made in private classes. Food for thought.

145 Comments Add Yours »

 

Good article Kirsten. I recently wrote about the Rutgers MFA acting program and basically wrote the same thing. You are dead right when you say that many of the teachers have not worked professionally for years and belittle their students. I would also add that just because a teacher was known as a good actor or director that it does not mean that they can teach. Teaching is a skill that does not come automatically because you acted on Broadway or directed a feature film. I think this leads to the abusive nature in class. The teacher is copying the abusive style they received as students or they do not know how to communicate what seems so simple and natural to them.

 
 

Thanks for your comments Dennis. Although I do say many bad things about MFA programs, I must add here that I had about 3 wonderful teachers in my USC program. Of course, all of these teachers either got fired, or let go, but I continued to study under them once I graduated. The main thing I want people to be left with is not a feeling of anger here, but to be inspired to find the teacher that’s right for them. I want actors to be empowered to say “NO!” to abuse. To say “YES!” to feeling good about themselves and supported. We pay so much money to focus on our acting careers, through expensive rent, lousy part time jobs, student loans, headshots, workout programs, etc… that I just find it such a shame that so many talented and strong young men and women, actors (like I was) spend so much more money then to be torn apart, and kind of stuck inside of, these limiting two to four year “programs” when they could be putting that same money to amazing use — like funding their own student films, or writing and producing their own plays, or just for life expenses while trying to get an agent, and booking some jobs. Working in the professional TV and Film world in LA or in NY, is so darned expensive. And I just want beginning actors to use all their funds to feel supported and uplifted and encouraged, not broken down. Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to checking out your blog. BTW — how’s your acting career going?

 
 

That is a good question. It is in flux right now as I am working full time and will be going to school for three semesters at NYU to get my MA for Educational Theater. I was living in LA and had life set up to be able to work and audition, but wanted to go to graduate school so I could teach. Now it is going to take some time to get everything lined up on the east coast. My overall goal is to get back to LA and it will come down to life allowing that to happen once NYU is over.

 
 

Hi Kirsten,
I just want to say Thank You for publishing this article.
You opened my eyes to something I had not known,
in consideration of looking for professional actor’s training.
This is huge information and very appreciated!!
Thank you and all the Best to you, Good Luck with your career.
Ania

 

Ania -
Sorry it’s taken me so long to say thanks for YOUR comment. Yeah. I wish someone had told me what I’m trying to tell all the new actors out there, before I spent $50,000 going to USC. I’m not dissing USC. I love the school as a whole, and I did have some excellent classes there. It’s just that you’re only young once, and LA costs so much. You could spend those two or four years making your own indie film, writing your own script, or buying a house in LA (or NY) to live in for the next 20 years, instead of going to a big program like that. Glad you enjoyed the post! Keep coming back. I’ll be posting some new things in the upcoming weeks.

 
 
 

I’ve experienced the same thing here in New York at one of the major acting MFA programs—The worst teacher, and meanest person I’ve ever worked with…God bless, her soul, as you said, this is probably because she is “miserable” herself….in the meantime I spent everyday all year trying to justify my decision and support my ego that my program was so special, that it was my problem and not hers “theirs”, all the while, I am former ATP tennis tour pro…I’ve had many teachers and coaches, some of whom were hard on me, and some of whom were too easy on me, but the good ones, “they never give up on you”, I had a teacher who cut a part of my scene that she thought I wasn’t getting…this scene was not my final showcase or anything like that, we were putting it up for faculty and our fellow students as a part of our practice and process…and she told me “trust me, I’m doing you a favor”, haha, what she was really doing was thinking about herself, and not a cent of what she did was involved with thinking about me. The unfortunate thing, like you said, is that I am paying her “A LOT” of money, to at the very least “think about what I need” for my development.

 

Beau -
Thanks for your comment. I think it’s never too late to quit your program and go to private classes. One comment one acting teacher/director, said to me, while I had the lead in USC’s “Cherry Orchard” — during my MFA program, might have made me quit acting for the rest of my life. Well, it wasn’t one comment. It was months of very mean comments, in front of other actors. And the head of my MFA program always commented on my weight, and I was only about 10 pounds over weight. Seriously. None of my private teachers EVER treated me like that. EVER! I really feel that we all join these big accredited programs because we are afraid to hit LA or NY running. We don’t know anyone, and academia seems the legit way to start into the whole professional world of film, theater, and tv. We aren’t sure enough of our acting, of ourselves, and of our new life in the “big cities” to go out there and find our new community, new friends, new teachers; and so we join a validated pre-existing, expensive!!! group. It’s usually too late before we’ve grown up and realize we’ve been paying to be belittled or berated. Again, not all programs are evil or terrible. It’s just that we are paying so much more for a degree, than we’d pay for smaller classes. Good luck! And keep acting!

 
 
 

Kirsten, this article was amazing. I can not even tell you how true all of that is. Big organizations like many some we know about personally are ridiculous, bias and just unhelpful. Learning in a more personal and more realistic fashion.

 
 

Thanks Jessy. As we know, since I was one of your teachers at the NYFA, big programs like that one, don’t always treat each individual student as a person — they are money making machines, and when something bad happens to a student, they often just send you away, or worry about themselves, and their legal status, first and foremost, before worrying about the paying student, and their problem. I’ve heard that so many talented teachers and other staff have been fired from the New York Film Academy when they try to stick up for better care of the students, or when they ever complain to the owner of the Academy about any thing. I won’t go into the details here, but I will say that I think the head of the California New York Film Academy is probably one of the craziest, most abusive people I’ve ever encountered. I hope that it’s better now that the school is accredited, and hopefully not run so much as a business, but more as an actual academic institution. Thanks for your comment!

 
 

I really appreciate your experiences and the conclusions you draw from them; however, it seems like you attended USC’s older MFA program which was abandoned some time ago. They revamped and relaunched the program about 2 years ago (it’s 3 years long now), adding some great and supportive (working) professional instructors, screen acting courses, and an approach that I can say so far has been challenging but extremely positive on the whole. The current USC program seems completely different then your description.

That said, I think the discussion here is extremely important — an MFA program is not for everyone and, yes, there’s no way anyone can guarantee you an acting career. In whatever route you take, self motivation is key; you really have to be your own best friend. I see too many people going into these programs blindly without really thinking twice about what they want and without any real goals. So, thanks for the post!

 
 

Kirsten,

I want to join the chorus here and thank you for the great advice. What you shared here is very personal and it is very selfless of you to open up to your fellow actors in this way. You may well have saved me 2 years of my acting life and several hundred grand of debt I don’t need. I want to contribute a few relevant words of wisdom that were passed on to me by friends in the business and have helped me a great deal since moving to LA:

Maintain a positive outlook :) Don’t waste your time and energy with regrets. Learn from your mistakes and move forward and upward.

Know your Niche: Be honest with yourself in figuring out who and what you are. Find something you can do better than anyone else, and be more of that.

Remember, you can’t teach someone to act. You can only develop what is God given. Keep this in mind when it comes to acting schools and classes, and continually ask yourself, “is this worth it? What am I getting out of it?”

Again thank you and I look forward to reading more from you!


Ethan Stone
Actor, Model, DJ/MC
office: 323.284.8833
cell: 609.369.5269
www.ethan-stone.com

 
 

That’s why it’s called a training program, dumbass. You probably just suck.

 
 

Great attitude, I really like the rude comment — because it really helps everyone reading this post so much and it really shows the level of maturity you have. Yes, that was sarcastic, but I think quite warranted. Actually, I do NOT consider myself a dumbass, as I’ve been a working TV producer for almost fifteen years and won the Christan Oscar, as well as having produced films that aired on the BBC, Sundance Channel, and NBC. But if that’s the way you want to see it, fine. I maybe sucked. I may have been a terrible actress, but I never wrote this post out of any misunderstanding of my own lack of talent, or over exploding ego on my point. I do not think I was the most wonderful talented actor out there when I DID act, although I was usually cast as the leads in most things I auditioned for. So I doubt I was terrible. Maybe you are just tired or feeling frustrated with your own program? I’m sorry if that’s the case. Or maybe you are feeling like defending your program. If that’s so, great! Let us know about your program and tell us why you like it. People reading this blog need to know from everyone what they like or dislike.

I only write this as it was what I personally experienced. I have heard from many people that their programs were the same let down, and I am only trying to save people money, as I feel that taking private classes is more worth while, that, or putting your $50,000 down into your own independent film. If a professional program works for you, then so be it. I would be thrilled for you! One of the readers of my post told me that the USC program has since become a much better program than when I attended. I hope it has. We can all use a little support and advice. I would hope that, if you are an actor or director, that you do not have such a lousy attitude in your own program, as I personally would not want to hire someone with such a grumpy and mean-spirited attitude as you seem to have after reading my post. I send you my support, love, and blessings, and would love to find out why you are so angry, and if there is any helpful word of advice you could offer me, or anyone else reading this site here. I welcome any debate and am totally open to hear other ideas and thoughts here. I hope you don’t “probably just suck” as that’s not a great way to live your life, thinking that of other people, or even yourself. I wish only the best for budding actors or artists. We all need all the love and support we can get. Hang in there, and keep studying and loving what you do. And get all the training you can. I’m a huge believer in classes and training — just the right ones.

 
 

Thank you for the article. I read this looking for some cheer after attending an acting class with a smart, but hard man. This article was an encouragement and some good sense. Thank youl.

 
 

Dear Kirsten,

Thank you so much for your article. I am an aspiring film actress and have recently applied to many colleges in the California area (one being USC) for a BFA. I have been debating with myself for a while about college in general for acting because there aren’t any good screen acting programs I can find that will give me an applicable degree. I would like a college education but at the same time I feel that I will be wasting four years of my time and money for training that will never apply in the real world. What is your suggestion for young actors (straight out of high school) who want to pursue a serious film career?

Thank you for your time,
-Rachel
Fringelz@aol.com

 
 

Thanks for writing this article, I read it twice!! I’m in England and in kind of this same predicament. I’m 24 so times getting on for me to do any formal training and the cheapest accredited course I can find is going to cost at least £7,000! That’s just the course fees! I’d be intererested to know your views, as an American, as to what the next step for me would be seeing as I don’t have the time or money to get formally trained. Any help from anybody would be appreciated….

Mike
mike@fredlawless.com

 

Dear Mike,
You don’t need to get any formal training to act. You need to keep your life going, have a good job, and start trying to act on the side. I would recommend finding a good weekly acting class either where you live, or in London, and spend your money on that. You’ll need to save all your money just to live where the work is! And if you get into a good private weekly class, then you’ll start meeting other working actors who are doing the same, and you can all give each other advice! If you google: “Acting Classes” and then “Your City” you should find some great classes. You can also look up classes on Craig’s List - or in the local newspaper. If you live in a tiny town, then go to the closest bigger city, and to their university (or colleges) and put up some “seeking acting classes” notices in the local halls or coffee shops. If you seek, you will find! Good luck, and keep up your search. By the way, no one has the time or money to get formally trained except the rich and the young with mummy and daddy’s money. Casting directors would much rather get an actor who’s lived some life, and has little training but lots of raw talent, than all the rich little brats in the world who’ve trained all their lives and lived a cushy existence. So be yourself, love yourself and how you are and your look and what makes you different, and get some good headshots, make a resume, and go out and try and find an agent. Then get a good job you can leave once in a while to go on auditions — and voila — you’re a working actor! It’s a pretty hard life, but if it’s what you’ve always wanted to try, then go for it! As my mother always told me, “You only regret the things you DON’T do!” Live your life with no regrets! Hope this helps! Happy New Year!

 
 
 

Hold On ….

I love the article very informative and insightful…

I have a question however!

So what do you suggest ???

So if one is interested in tv/film then …

Do you suggest just taking film/tv classes and/or on camera classes???

 
 

DEAR KIRSTEN TRETBAR

Hold On ….

I love the article very informative and insightful…

I have a question however!

So what do you suggest ???

So if one is interested in tv/film then …

Do you suggest just taking film/tv classes and/or on camera classes???

 

Hi Sean,
Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. Shoot - you even reposted your comment. Has it really been a YEAR!? First of all, I think if you go to the rest of the site and look at all of my other posts you’ll see what I recommend. I recommend taking a weekly acting class in your town or city, one that’s taught by a professional with experience. I recommend auditing as many of these classes as you can before you pick the best teacher for you. If you’re interested in TV and Film acting, I still always recommend some kind of Method Class. I have a post here explaining “Why Method is Best for Film or TV.” That should get you started. I suggest as many and all of the classes that you talk about. There is no one right answer. It’s more about the teacher. If you connect to a teacher, and like how they teach, you will learn more from them, than if you take a class because you think the title of the class is where you’re headed. Does that make sense? I took many kinds of private classes in LA. I took a marketing for the actor class, an acting for TV class, an audition class, a cold reading class, a voice class, as well as my weekly acting class that was method. All of these taught me things that the other classes didn’t. Everyone wants the magic solution, the one thing, the one perfect program, and sadly, that just doesn’t exist. I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh. I’m just trying to be totally honest, you know? If you have the heart and the commitment to learn, and the acting chops, any and all classes you take will give you something more, and add something deeper to your acting skills. It’s not that I “diss” totally professional training programs, it’s just that I think they are SO EXPENSIVE. I think that money could be put into private classes, a trainer, great headshots, a down payment on a condo our house in LA, or even funding a short film that you could get a director to direct you in. This would give you a “reel” to show around of your acting. I hope this helps and inspires you, and thank you so much for your questions. Again, I’m sorry to take so long in replying to your sincere comments. I wish you so much luck with your career, and read the other posts and comments here if you haven’t already. Everyone on this blog offers some very good advice, and it’s not always the same as mine. I don’t claim to know everything, and maybe I’m wrong. Just my thoughts, and keep on acting!!! All the best! - Kirsten

 
 
 

About your “They waste your time” bit well I have something to say to that.

“Surprise, surprise, they want you to spend many years learning layer upon layer of different acting techniques, because the longer you are there, the more money they will make. And when you’re finally done, finally ready to meet with agents and directors, you’re four years older. You may have grown up some in the process, but you’ve also lost some of the best years an actor has — those years when you could have been acting (years when you are still energetic, full of energy, youth, and nerve!)”

Remember that? Yeah I bet you do. You are discouraging young actors to pursue their acting career. In Hollywood you have one chance and one chance only to make it. So you would need as much experience that you can get. Believe me I am an actor myself and before I head that way to LA, I am in college at CRC and then transfering to Sac State gaining as much experience as I can get. Yeah I know it will take me a while to get to where I want to be, but at least I have a goal, an ambition.

 
 

Kirsten,

You’ve clearly had a very hard time of things with the programs you attended, and I’m sorry for that, because it’s undeniable that the quality of one’s education colors a lot about them - and it’s clear you carry a very large chip on your shoulder about the BFA/MFA possibilities out there.

There are many BFA programs that require their upperclassmen to take at least one course in Acting for TV/Film (in the program I am in, mostly seniors take the course). Our program encourages students to make an active pursuit of audition possibilities and we have had a number of students take a semester or longer away from school because opportunities they have found over the summer or even during the year have led them to longer, more involved commitments. And I’m blessed with plenty of anecdotal evidence from friends and actors I’ve worked with to show that the program I am in is far from alone in being like this.

Having said that, training and education are NOT the same thing, and they both matter.

1) A good BFA Acting program will give you plenty of training. Some of it will even be far better than training you get with a private coach, because only one of those options involves an individual with significant training and certification - not as an actor, but as a teacher. That’s not to say that there aren’t bad professors - they exist everywhere, in every discipline. There are bad professors at Law School, at Medical School - but that’s not a good reason to skip out on those programs if you want to be a lawyer or a doctor. You suffer through the fools and the jerks because, ideally, you’re smart enough to recognize bad pedagogy when you experience it. It would be like feedback at an audition or from a director - you accept the good, you disregard the stupid, and you remember and learn from everything. That’s a life rule, not an acting rule.

2) A *great* BFA Acting program will give you plenty of training and plenty of education. That means, obviously, that you study theory, that you study theatre history, you study the academia that runs parallel with our craft. But it also means that you take English classes, and history classes, and math classes (okay, not math if I can avoid it, but you get my point!), because college or university is about your education as a person. What good is an illiterate actor to the world? An Oscar-winner who doesn’t know when the Berlin Wall came down? A Tony-nominee whose entire understanding of biology ended in the 12th grade? A great BFA program will embrace the belief that smart people make smart actors, and not rob students of opportunities (although far more limited in number than if you were an “ordinary” college student) to educate themselves, enriching more than just their ability to deliver a monologue or play tactics. People who choose not to continue their education by going to college or university, and decide to try to “grow” just in the area of their acting skill… well, I personally don’t think they actually grow very much at all.

And I think it’s nice that there’s a large number of acting students around the country at universities who, when they are cast in David Auburn’s “Proof” (either the stage play or the movie remake with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Hopkins), know what a mathematical proof is. Or Arthur Miller’s stage play, “The Crucible,” where a study of the Salem Witch Trials and the religious culture of those times GREATLY affects an actor’s understanding of character. Or the recent Daniel Craig movie “Defiance,” where an actor who had studied the Jewish resistance during World War II would lend so much more substance to his/her role by understanding the complexity and fear of those times. Thank goodness that some acting students are learning about those things too, Kirsten, because I’m guessing you’re not learning about them for $200-$300 a month in your private classes.

 

Ben -
I am thrilled by your response, and hope other actors read it. If you read all of my posts on this blog site you will learn that I actually DO encourage students to go to college or university, but I encourage them to get a liberal arts degree. As a college professor, novelist, and working BBC filmmaker/documentary director, I don’t know what I would have done without my BA in Anthropology — which I received thankfully before I went on to get my MFA in Theater. Between that and the many years I’ve lived in different countries, I have learned so much about the world, about history, about cultures and social movements — and without those experiences and various classes, I wouldn’t have been able to create the characters I’ve played, and couldn’t have truly understood the culture or historical background of plays by Checkhov, or Brecht, or Shakespeare. So I am actually in absolute agreement with you about getting a college education. I have never encouraged young men or women, age 16-22, to just drop everything and move to LA to start acting. I don’t encourage that one bit. If you go throughout this site and read more posts you will see that. In fact, I wrote these posts as a way to discourage waste, in both time and money, that so many young actors create, in order to pursue their dreams. My own personal experience at USC, has, I think, been one that is no longer as valid. But I also taught as a full time acting and filmmaking teacher at the New York Film Academy in Burbank for a year, and I found that they were often more interested in bringing in students and making big bucks, than in really taking care of the students. So I’ve seen it from both sides, and that’s why I encourage students to seek out smaller programs and more personal ones. Thanks for your involvement and your concern, and keep up your great work!

 

Interesting article, and Ben I enjoyed your response as well. I was amazed to learn that my son’s aunt paid his admission application fees to 4 liberal arts colleges Bard, Vassar, NW, and Sara Lawrence were his picks because as a Harvard grad with an English degree and theater concentration, after acting and directing but still struggling it was her writing that landed her a job as an NBC writer. I was shocked to hear her fear of my son’s intrerst only in BFA programs.

I personally can’t see him anywhere but in a BFA as he has such a gift and passion for acting it would be almost shameful to not believe in himself to not believe in himself enought to develop his talent with singular focus. He IS an actor and frankly some people really ARE meant to be certain hings in life, have a calling and a talent so clearly different along with desire and love of that being that it is nearly inconceivable that they notactualize who they are with the best opportunity.

As far as worry acting prepares for stage, isn’t that what most actors live for so to speak?

Seems to me it is easy to go to college to study and get a BA or BS at any time in one’s life with reputable online classes (RIT, Villanova and Stanford come to mind), or the enrichment of classes like GreatCourses.com offer to anyone knowledge, but there are few opportunitys like bein in a class of 20 in a BFA program while young. With age often come responsibility and sometimes family etc…. other obligations other the luxury of absolute undivided focus on self development. LATER in life it is achievable to fit in education at nights, on weekends and during lunch hours but it eould be MUCH harder to find opportinity and avail oneself of suh intense focused training as a actor should other oblications necessarily take precedence.

I DO FEEL the attitude don’t waste time and money on a BFA is heard from those who do not make a primary vocation or avocation acting. Seems to me the value of college community and personal growth is there in any college environment which is itself much of he education. We learn much from that college experience best experienced when young which I think is there in either a BA ,BS or BFA program.

I heard an interview on NPR just a few days ago that currently half those with college degrees are working in low paying service jobs like janitor, cleaning, landscaping, and 150, 000 of them as retail sales clerks. An economic analysis of the college degree as a tool for a better job proves to no longer be viable. The emphasis was , there are many great reasons to go to college one being for the value of learning in and of itself, however if the primary reason is one wants fiscal soundness and stability, they had better look at the realistic risk that choice of school loans is

I also believe that the choice between a BFA and BA is harder if one is paying the tuition, but have a feeling that at the very best BFA programs few of the 20 or so admitted students per year are not receiving substantial scholships. Unlike other programs, I doubt these are profit making programs. Subsidization of the arts by other profit making endeavours has always been necessary. I therefore can’t see anyone turning down such a rare gift of the opportunity to study in a BFA program.

 
 
 
 

I would just like to comment, I went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and studied three years through there at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Insitutute. My training was incredible - I sincerely do not think I could have gotten any better training anywhere (for my personality and how I approach things. For “the method” taught by Strasberg, he recommends 24 months of training before you can call yourself a method actor. It is really training your mind and body - and if you have things serious things in your past you have not dealt with - its probably not a good technique - it takes time to learn how to turn off the emotions you bring up during exercises, but when I was through I could bring stuff up and put it away fairly easily - and I have a lot of intense events in my life that I use in my acting. However, there are many other good studios and techniques - I just think based on what I have learned from all my other classes and tastes of training - that it is very complete in preparing you for any role you may encounter.)

I would like to point out however, that when events changed that prevented me from continuing to pursue acting at the time, I was left with a great degree from NYU, graduated with honors, but I couldn’t make money doing anything but acting, or at least not a significant amount. I did not double major, I focused ALL of my attention on acting - and I kind of wish I had at least minored in something. But now I am in law school so it didnt’ keep me from pursuing a higher degree that is for sure.

In my experience, and from staying in touch with a lot of friends from Tisch at NYU, acting is something you should only do if it is the ONLY thing you can do and be happy - many of us by the time we were done, were realizing while we love it, and we were all at least above average, we were not sure we wanted to deal with the industry - and how little the craft of acting often matters unless you are directing your own career (as in producing the films you act in, etc…). I would recommend going to a school and talking to a lot of students in the acting program and see what they say. NYU has 8 differnet studios where you can study different styles which allowed us flexbility to find which one best suited us - but I do not know what other schools are like.

I would say that the people at Strasberg, the teachers, told me that things were much differnet at the studios between the NY location and the LA location. They said most of the people who took classes at the one in LA only took a few - which would barely give you a chance to get anywhere in your training. I went to the one in NY and I have not been to the one out here (I live in Burbank but again, I am in law school now so I don’t really go to acting classes often), but it seems the climate is significantly different.

I graduated from NYU in 2004, there are many great opprotunities (I was in 50 student and indie films - many by NYU film students- by the time I graduated and was very comfortable and natural in front of the camera; but there is a variety of classes on acting techniques from all over the world.) I can say will all sincerity that regardless of anything else, my training was top notch - I could tell not everyone got as much out of it - but they didn’t put as much effort in - that is key. (I would not recommend the Stonestreet School for FIlm and Television though - that is an advanced studio they have as an option there - I would work with film students on their projects instead - that is how I learned how to work with a three camera set-up etc..)

Anyway, I hope my perspective is helpful to someone.

 
 

Oh really quick - a few more comments based on the list at the top of the article. We are very much in debt, but my parents paid for my undergrad for the most part (I am paying for law school) and they really believed in my talent even though they didn’t really want me to go to NYC. I know at least NYU trains you for both stage and film, or at least it can if you take those classes, but then Strasberg transfers really easily to film.

As to many teachers haven’t worked professionally for years - many of my teachers were pretty old - and they had not worked in years - but they really knew their stuff. Many trained under Strasberg himself. However - I am very wary of many acting teachers because they often have a chip on their shoulder (very often the one that are not working professionally), and are not objectivly teaching you because of it in many cases - resulting in poor training and a possible unnecessary beating to your self-esteem.

NYU had a lot of opprotunities to meet casting directors and agents, BUT it mainly helped in helping you figure out what to expect etc… it did not help me get one. But then again, I had a friend who signed a contract on One Life to Live on her last day at NYU. They had a showcase, but you had to audition for it with a partner (which I didn’t realize when I decided to go there.) But my individual studio(s) I trained at had their own showcases.

 

Vanda -
I just really wanted to thank you (if a bit late) for adding your helpful suggestions and comments to my post. I agree with everything you say, and everyone has different experiences This is what I wanted my blog to be — a debate, with my views starting the conversation. My problem with my MFA program is that in my heart, I really wanted to work in film and TV, and I had to get out of the program, get my degree, before I realized I had spent so much money, was majorly in debt, and then had to retrain in private classes in LA to learn how to act in film and tv. I had to work full time jobs for years just to get my masters program paid for, all the while retraining in a Method class that was private (and much cheaper). So it’s really all about what you want to do with your degree. I am glad I have a masters, as it’s helped me in many ways teaching wise, and just scholarly wise (I learned so much). But I was often disappointed with what the program offered. I have heard that USC is so much better. They stopped the MFA program for a few years and totally revamped it, so good luck to those of you going there in the future!
Kirsten

 
 
 

Kristen,

No matter how many other websites I check out, I keep coming back to read what you (and your readers) have to say. Thank you!

I am looking at advertising in my local area…newspaper and web resources…for a private acting teacher. What would you suggest are important factors to consider when seeking out a private coach?

Thanks again!

Adam

 
 

Adam,
Thanks for your kind words about the site and other’s responses. My best advice is this: audit, audit, audit! If a teacher does not let you come in and audit a class one time to see if you like them, or the class, beware. You may have to pay a fee to come and audit (this means, to come in and visit the class and watch), and that’s okay. But you should always be able to take a class once to just see if you like it, or at least work with a teacher. I would also meet with a teacher if you can not visit a class. Teachers should be willing to meet with you for at least half an hour and you will be able to see immediately if you like their energy and style. It’s so important to be able to visit a class and see how the teacher treats the students. This is true for college acting classes too. It’s also important to find a program that does not lock you into it, or doesn’t take a huge amount of money up front (like 3 months in advance or more), with no way of quitting and getting your money back if you don’t like it. It’s fine for a teacher to take a month up front non-refundable, but beware of programs that lock you, and your money, into the program. Good luck with your search!
Kirsten

 
 

Kirsten,
First off I just wanted to thank you for writing this article, I’ve been searching the web looking for something explaining if an acting degree is really worth the time and money and I think you have helped a lot.
I am about to start my Junior year of high school and currently I have my sights set on a BFA in Acting program - specifically at USC. But then I read your article, and now I’m not so sure…
I was wondering if you could give me some advice. About an hour ago I was gung-ho on USC’s BFA in Acting program, I was gonna call the school tomorrow to express my interest and ask for information, but now I’m torn.
So what should I do? Should I get my BFA at USC? Should I move to LA and use my college money to get private classes and audition?
Please help!
Thanks.

 
 

Connor,
I’m in the middle of a move to Chicago, so can’t write a long reply today. Since you’re a junior you have time to explore lots. In the mean time, please read all my posts on this blog and you will begin to see what I recommend, and I’ll write a more specific post or reply to you in the next couple of weeks. My main advice is: go to a good college (like USC, or Grinnell, or Carlton College) and get a Liberal Arts degree first and foremost. And if you simply MUST ACT NOW, and you have a “look” and can easily play your age or much younger, then go to LA now (with your parents or an aunt or a legal guardian) and immediate take lots of private lessons and get an agent right away. But do it correctly, and safely. Too many pretty young women and good looking young men go there with no clue, at age 18, and get hurt, lost, etc… Please read all my other posts for now! That should keep you busy for a few days — ha ha! Glad you liked my article. BTW - you can still go to USC and major in Theater, just do it as a BA, and not a BFA. You’ll have a broader degree and you will still do lots of theater and acting!

 
 

Hello Kristen,

I also want to thank you for this blog. I am 25 years old and I have dip and played around in the acting field for a while, and love it. But for some odd reason I went to college majored in criminal justice, got a degree, and don’t want to go nowhere near criminal justice, anymore. I have decided to pursue my passion in acting, and sometimes I fill like its too late, like I’ve wasted too much time, and I no for sure going to school for 3 0r 4 more years is out of the question. So I was researching a bit about this issue, and I found this blog, and it helped my insite tremendously, I’m currently taking workshop classes in my area (Detroit), but I want to move to LA and I researched that too, and discovered that its SO Expensive, and then that begins to be discouraging me as well. So any advice to how I can make this happen as a 25 year old single parent of one daughter who is only 5, that makes it seem all the more impossible. So I want to ask you as a professional what type of advice to do you have for me?
Love you, keep trusting God and I know all is well with you,
P.S Some people took this Blog very negative and personal, for whatever reason, but I commend you for taking your time out to inform people reaching out into this industry, because people like me are looking for the “do’s and the don’ts”, Thanks A Million!

 
 

I agree wwith you 100 percent. I’m so glad you had de guts to post this because its like taboo amongst actors to say unaccredited schools are a waste od money. I don’t get how its common knowledge that any other unaccredited institution is a huge scam but yet no one seems to question why these people try to make money off of hopeful actors. I also have had the same experience with acting teachers. They’re bitter because they didn’t make it and teach because they don’t want to be broke so they take it out on us. If we pay for service at a restaurant we expect good treatment as customers and yet we are paying these people’s salaries and are willing to take poor treatment from them? It makes no sense. Thanks for helping me see I’m not de only one who feels this way and I’m not crazy.

 
 

I would like to disagree with you fully and respectfully.
First of all, here on the east coast, the acting industry would rather spend their audition time with actors who are SERIOUS about their careers. In other words, agents/casting directors/managers prefer actors who have trained at the best schools (such as Mason Gross School of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon, Julliard, Boston Conservatory, etc.) and have an education on their craft. Second of all, raw talent alone wont break you into the business at all. Sure, without training, it is very possible to have a debut in a movie and have a supporting role, but usually that’s your 15 minutes of fame. Those who are the best and that have trained will have a career that will last a lifetime.

and another comment
the best BFA programs WILL prepare you for theartre, film, and commercial such as the ones stated before.

 
 

I went to USC for my BFA in acting on the early 90’s. I had an amazing time and got a lot out of the program. I was directed in musicals from two Broadway actors/directors and during one of these musicals, was scouted my a New York agent who brought me straight to NYC. I have since done numerous Broadway shows.The agent was friends of the director and came to see the show. While at SC, I was supported by the faculty as I worked in TV and Film. I had an agent in LA. The marriage of both acting professionally and training at USC was the perfect opportunity for me.
I loved USC and think that the program is even better today. And now, with my BFA, I am able to apply for a Masters in Educational Theatre. There is nothing comparable to a college education and just experiencing college life in general. Without a degree to fall back on when you may not want to ‘act” anymore, you could be waiting tables at 40.
Go to college.

 
 

I do not think that this article is entirely accurate. It seems like you had a rather unpleasant experience with your program, but not every program will give you a “time wasting” experience. I think the big lesson is, if you want to act in film and television, take a class on how to act in film and television! Just because a professional training program didn’t have a camera class in their curriculum, it doesn’t make that program awful.
While I do agree that most programs are incredibly expensive, I think the full time training is an irreplaceable experience, and has the potential to turn an untrained actor into a professional. It’s all about what you put into it. As far as the belittling teachers go, yes they exist, but if you don’t like them, you are the one paying the tuition dollars and therefore have a voice. I have encountered harsh teachers at the conservatory I attend, but no one has ever belittled me, and I am afraid that you are getting the two confused. I appreciate a teacher who won’t sugar coat anything, who is actually interested in my progress as an actor, not just about telling me how good I am. If I were that good, I wouldn’t have wanted to train at a b.f.a. program in the first place.

 
 

Dear Kisten

I do know breaking into to acting industry is not an easy thing but I am going to go for it. I’m in Africa doing the 11th grade but as soon as I’m done I want to work on my acting in L.a because it is my passion. Kisten thank you very much for all the info. But I will start with going to college first to do art like you said and then take private classes. 1 thing I don’t get is that you said the USC takes up alot of people’s time and my question is wouldn’t college do the same thing?
And is it realy true agents don’t care much about the film school degree?

please anyone willing to get me out of the dark email me if you have time :(

ps; thanx everyone for your posts, U’ve been a very good help.

 
 
 
 

Dear Lisa,
Go for it! Yes, going to college takes your time, that was never why I don’t recommend a four year acting program. I just think that you get better professional training outside of an organized university program, that’s all. I still think everyone should go to university, but I recommend studying the humanities or things like Anthropology, Psychology, History, Sociology, etc… and studying acting and theater later. But that being said, I do not think that acting programs are bad for everyone. I am only telling people that if you take that same money and fund an indie film you can actually star in your own film and get your career started much more quickly. If you are in no rush about your acting career, then by all means, go out there and get a great education at a wonderful university, and go into acting after that. Hope this clears things up, and this whole blog is in now way trying to discourage people from either acting, or from moving to LA to try and “make it” — or even from going to a great acting program. It’s merely to tell the truth as I’ve seen it, from my own personal point of view, and it’s mostly based for actors trying to come to LA to become actors in Film and TV. Good luck and I wish all of you the very best. I’ll try and add some new posts. Thanks for all the love and God bless all of you precious talented amazing actors, writers, film folk, theater folk, and creative lovely wonderful people!!!

 
 

HI Kristen,

I was accepted to the MFA Actors Studio-Acting Program in New York (Pace University) (you also get to go in the Actors Studio and work with professional actors according the the curriculum but mostly is all stands of Playwrites, directors, and actors working together as a class) and although I got a bit of a scholarship the rest of it is so expensive. I have been crying about this as I know I can not afford it at all. Tuition is $34,000 a year for three years and it does not include living expenses. The scholarship only covers the living expense and the rest would be in loans. Of course there will be an interest of I think 6.8% on the graduate plus loans which would be out of the borrowed $20,000…This is so scary and don’t know what to do. There are so many factors that are glorified form this program as its really good and has Inside the Actors Studio and you get to meet the famous actors that are interviewed on the show for an hour after it is aired. And not that I know of there do not do camera work but it has Alvin Ailey, Stanislavski and other great faculty….

I really want to go but if I do I don’t think I will ever recover form the debt of this and my undergraduate debt and will be close to debt of about $250,000….any advice?

 
 

Hi Kirsten,

I just first want to say thank you for taking the time in writing this article and sharing it with all of us aspiring actors. Being able to read about your experiences and the advice you have to share were definitely invaluable for me.

I am currently a junior in college, but have finally come to terms with myself that acting is something I’ve been wanting to do all my life, and am currently in the process of preparing and planning for my move to L.A. after graduation.

I will surely be visiting your site often to read all of the other articles you’ve written. This was a great first read for me, and best of luck to your current and future endeavors.

Thank you,
Julian

 
 

Dear Julian,
I was a Junior in College too when I first started realizing that acting was the only true passion I HAD to do with my life, it was my “Bliss”! And so I moved to LA after college and “went for it!” It’s been a rocky road, but a blessed and very interesting life I’ve led. I hope you have the chance to REALLY read all my posts about moving to LA. They may be a few years old, but they’re all still valid. Good luck and keep us posted with your career!
Kirsten

 
 

Hi

Its great to hear comments of positive and negative attitudes regarding acting and acting programs.For me, I just want a fair
chance like everyone else.But if you all knew what really goes on
behind the curtain at top acting schools then you will be shocked
like me. Regarding the 3yr BA undergrad acting course at top schools in UK/USA.I want others to know that i researched them all
and found that …
1,they all say no upper age limit for the 3yr ba undergrad acting
course
2,by law they have to say this but they hide behind this legal cloak
3,they charge some 50 pounds audition fee and boast that some
3-4 thousand apply every year -thats some bucks made and only
choose some 23 places
4,i hope all over the age of 35 upwards who applied over 20 yrs ago
should know that there never has been a mature student ever in
20yrs who has gained a place on the 3yr ba undergrad and that
the average age is 18-28 . So, anyone say 30/35 upwards is
wasting their time and money
5,check their past graduated student profiles on their web sites
and check spotlight book of graduates and see for yourself
6,im surprised no one has ever noticed this over the 20yr span
7,how many over say 35yrs of age have applied for the 3yr ba
acting over the 20yrs and failed -this i would like to know so,
if you have applied over the 20 yrs please let me know as i want
to build a refund case
8,i have documented damaging emails from a famous senior acting teacher
from one of the top schools to proove my findings
9i find this totally unfair and need to crusade this matter further
10,the top schools are showing no mature students and all they
say is that its very rare when anyone over 30yrs old applies -
i find this strange that they all say the same answer ? they
then tell you about the one and two year course as this is common
for the mature students of that age -
11, i notified the school involved and showed them the emails
12,i have 2 auditions for 2011 and i have already failed them
13,no upper age limit for the 3yr ba undergrad !……SHOW ME
a group of mature students over the 20 years who gained
a place
14,Pass the word around and any mature students should ask
the question or get in touch with me asap

 

Hello Ben Recaro

I was on set with you in Liverpool - the film called Worried About The Boy -(about Boy George - now released) I hope you remember me as we had a ball of a time during filming (you are a mad actor indeed -but i suppose you have to be in this game ).You never give up do you !
You are a fantastic guy with a great sense of humour and always fighting for a cause . I hear all your acting fees went to the
Kieth Bennett fund …well, this is you right down to a T. I dont have
your email anymore but, I hope we meet again very soon .As for my reply to your comment, I can say is, during filming breaks he found six mature students over 30 who applied and failed top schools 3yr BA Udergraduate Acting course.Ben, I hope you make it bcuz you got something and im not talking about the emails.

(simon - aka Fatz)

 

Hi,
yes i remember you Simon ….thankyou.

Anyway, never mind the film Worried About The Boy,
Im worried about you, are you a stalker following me ! ( naw,just kiddin ) Im trying to get the word around about drama schools
3yr ba course NO UPPER AGE LIMIT as you know.
There should be an independent governing body for those
private schools who can tell us all how many applied over 30/35 upwards over 20yrs ago .I want all mature /senior/later in life who want to change their career to have whats equal and a fair audition to gain a qualification to gain a better chance of moving up the ladder in the acting game .I want the truth and its slowly coming out,I want others joining here to come forward and tell us all.So, tell your mates and spread the word.I want all over 30/35 upwards who applied for the 3yr ba acting course at any top school who failed/passed to get intouch asap.

 
 
 

I am 35 and I got into a major MFA program.

 
 
 

Dear Ben,

Wow, what great information. I am guessing this is in the UK, but I don’t think it’s much different here in the US. In fact, when I was applying to MFA programs, I kept getting totally put down that I hadn’t majored in Theatre before — I’d majored in Anthropology and had all these entrance audition people say, “what in the world can you do with THAT?… and how does THAT relate to acting?” and I always replied, “Well, if it was good enough for Jodi Foster, I think it’s probably good enough for me.” I didn’t want to mention that studying society, behavior, morals, groups, and individuals as constructs of a cultural (and geo/political/historical) systems might also be a great way to understand theatrical literature in its context, not to mention, understand how to appropriately develop a character in a part….UGH! As for agism — this makes me sick. We often talk about sexism, or body-size-ism, or our stupid look-obsessed world, but to think that a talented actor couldn’t get accepted into a program due to his/her age makes me sick! If you’re willing to pay, if you’ve got the chops, you should be accepted. This is EXACTLY why I wrote this post! If you go take private acting classes from a private teacher (group or individual) you won’t have to audition to get in, you’ll just pay, and they teach you, no matter who you are or your age or what you look like. Who are they to say who can train and who can not. Once they get you they milk you for thousands anyway, and YOU’RE THEIR client!! And on top of it, like you say, they make THOUSANDS just auditioning people. It’s a total market if you ask me! A SCAM. Beware auditioning fees. Beware promises. Beware pyramid scheme programs with levels where you have to audition to get you to the next higher level (that’s just a scam to appeal to the insecure person inside all of us that’s competitive!) I understand auditioning for a part, but not to take more classes where you already are. Thanks for this comment/post Ben, and we always encourage lively debate and information from all ends of the globe and all levels of interest in all things acting!
Kirsten :-)

 

Kirsten

Drama schools in the UK audition in New York,Ireland, for their 3yr ba.
Surely,over the 20yrs there must have been many over 30yr old
and upwards in American over the 20yrs who paid for auditions
and failed .

 
 
 

BTW — there’s nothing wrong with a program having simple levels of classes, like beginning and intermediate and professional, but when it gets much more complicated than that, and it’s based on major auditions and worry on your end, then it’s wrong. When I hear students raving about how they’re now at “LEVEL 5″ at some improv group then I start to worry. It becomes a bit cultish. The second an acting program takes the students’ power away and makes them feel like followers, then it’s nothing more than a money making, crazy-making scheme, and I’d run as quickly as I could (straight into the arms of the Celebrity Center in Hollywood! haha!)…

 
 

This was a really interesting article. I’m a senior Theatre major and I was thinking about going on to my MFA, well trying, but money is tight and I wanted to know would it be worth it all.

 

Dalana

Its all a money racket.

Whats your age for applying ?

 
 
 

I agree that most programs are a waste, there are a few that may help you in the business where it really counts. NYU opens up an incredible networking possibility. Yale does as well. And while Juilliard is not a BFA/MFA program it will probably open up doors that no other program in the United States could.

This business on the whole is not about talent (talent is subjective). It’s about nepotism. While you will find many examples of artist who have made it without any family ties to the business, the vast majority comes from a place of power that have opened them to opportunities. The Coppola family tree is one of many examples and quite extensive (and no Nicholas Coppola changing his name to Cage did not make him suddenly immune to the families influence). Paul Giamatti (and his brother Marcus) come from a wealthy family of influence. Their father was former MLB Commissioner and Yale professor (where Paul attended and even joined the infamous Skull and Bones secret society {talk about influence]). This certainly opened up doors for him just as Rooney Mara’s family allowed her access to the business that other’s didn’t. Abbey Elliot (daughter of Chris Elliot) leapfrogged several talented female writers and performers to join the cast of SNL. I have nothing against these performers (I love Giamatti) and I could go on and on with the list because this is the way it is. I’m not saying that you can’t make it in this business if you come from nowhere with no namesake to help pave the way, but you’re already behind the game. Which brings me back to acting programs. Shoot for the moon and find the program that gives you the best networking possibilities. NYU, Yale. Juilliard might open some doors for you..if you can get in. But basicially, you better do this because you love acting. Because you love the rehearsal process, the development and the ultimate thrill you get when you work with your fellow cast members to bring a show to life on stage. Leave the thought of fame and fortune at the door and tweak your idea of what a successful career means in acting. You may be happier starting and operating your own theatre company. Otherwise, you WILL be wasting your money.

 

I agree. The only real reason to go to a bigger MFA program is if it has REAL connections. And I would not go into an audition or interview at one of these bigger places and ask them questions, and believe what they say. I would ask to talk to their past students (not current ones, they are still invested in their investments!) Talk to graduates who graduated, say, 4 years earlier. They will know if the program really helped them open doors or not. The program itself will definitely toot its own horn and say they open doors and have showcases and tons of connections. They’ll usually say one or two past graduates who are in working productions or films too, which also usually means nothing, because the few people that got professional acting jobs while in my MFA or BFA programs at USC were hustlers who got out on weekends, skipped classes, and were networking in LA from the second they landed, and it had NOTHING to do with any contacts our school gave them.Sady, I too agree with Omar (great comment btw) that it’s a very nepotistic world. VERY! If you do much research you’ll eventually figure out some “6th degree of separation” of a working actor from someone in the industry. Not to discourage you, all just to arm you with information so you can get your energy and your power back, and to make you be realistic and not take it personally if you have a hard time making a living acting.

 
 
 

Some info which may be of interest for mature students who try to gain a place on the 3yr BA course in the UK

Spotlight book of acting graduates over many many years,it clearly shows no mature students .This is confirmed by a well known theatre
expert who i have recently emailed with to share my views regarding no upper age limit.The person did not believe me at first but with the proof i showed him ..the person which i cannot name at
this moment has actually told me …you appear to be right !
So, check em out …and get back on here and let me know what you find .

 

Hey Ben,
I just wanted to say thanks for all your posts and comments. They are so valid and so, I hate to say, heartbreaking. So many actors get their start in their 40s and 50s and beyond! It’s ridiculous to have age limits in bigger programs, stupid, especially because so many plays have roles (not to mention films!) for all ages! It’s only in High School that they cast an 18 year old to play older. UG! I want to encourage you too to keep sharing what YOU find. This again, is one reason that I encourage everyone to seek out training in smaller private classes. You can learn the same things, only more cheaply, and also, you can be a bit more in control of your class-work. If you’re not happy, you can quit, and you’re not out $50,000! Thanks again, and say hello to England for me! I know and love it well! :-) - Kirsten

 

Hi Kirsten

I was checking student funding for the drama schools and guess
what the average age is ????????…maybe I should not say on here bcuz maybe… I might be bumped off in a legal way …you see, if you open a can of worms you find more and more and the trail gets deeper

 

Ben, again, thanks for your input. Feel free to tell us all what you’ve found. I can’t imagine there would be any legal issues, as long as you explain your findings in an honest way. I run this site, and I support listening to your research, and I’m sure we’d all love to know. I won’t “bump” you off! :-)

 

Kirsten,

( address to send emails to you ? )

I am willing to send you copies of emails sent to me regarding above from the world know person in the
acting industry to verify its true.You will have to agree
on here or anywhere else to protect that persons name.
I would like all who reads on here that if they ask you if
this is true, then you can confirm it is and you have copies
of the emails but cant disclose the persons name.

 

Kirsten now has the emails as proof so,if you want the truth ask her.

reply to this comment Ben Recaro on Apr 3rd, 2011 at 4:22 am
 
 

Hi Kirsten,

The documents that I emailed you some time ago
confirming age discrimination from a famous tutor
from one of the top schools regarding all schools ..can you send them to
wiki leaks….I think its about time everyone knows the TRUTH - its been going on far too long and its only fair that they refund all audition fees back to whom it concerns world wide

reply to this comment Ben Recaro on Jul 19th, 2011 at 6:52 am
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hello,

I do appreciate what you have done with this article; I think it is important for aspiring actors/directors/what have you to know what they are getting into and make an informed decision about any graduate studies they may choose to pursue. An M.F.A. is certainly not for everyone, and it is very possible to be successful without one (and, conversely, it is equally possible to earn an M.F.A. and not be able to find work).

However, I would not denounce the programmes entirely. Most of the problems you seem to have with graduate acting schools is that they are not geared toward film actors. This is a legitimate point, and if a young actor wishes to pursue film, they might do well not to attend such a programme. However, for an actor who wishes to continue doing stage work - especially an actor interested in classical theatre - training in the field can be very, very useful.

Also, the money issue: While you are right to say that schools can be disgustingly expensive (especially in places such as NYC), there are some programmes that are very affordable. There are public universities that do not charge for state residents (and after one year, a student would become a resident of that state, meaning they would only have to pay for 1/2 to 1/3 of their education). In fact, there are a few programmes that are free to attend and even pay actors a stipend. Granted, these are extremely competitive and hard to get into, but for those who are lucky/talented enough to be accepted, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

I suppose my argument is this: Not all people who want to pursue acting as a career should go for an M.F.A.. However, for some people, it is the right choice. It is very situational, and anyone considering it should think very seriously about the pros and cons.

 

Also, I forgot to mention: M.F.A. programmes can be very useful for someone who plans on teaching at a university down the line.

 
 
 

Dear Kirsten

I stumbled upon this page on my quest to see whether it was worth attending Stella Adler NYC in Fall 2011.
About me : I was born and raised in Canada went all the way up to post secondary education, graduating with a BA in Psychology. I did a bit of backpacking in UK/Europe when I graduated. I have always been a talented individual growing up, having various plays throughout middle school, high school and in university. I also did theatre camp during middle school years and found it the best catharsis for what was a tumultuous childhood. Anyway, I haven’t been able to much with my degree because as an Anglophone , I can’t get a full time high paying job without speaking fluent French to get a job in the Canadian government. Although I can speak Spanish, Italian and Portugeuse, these languages are pretty much useless here. So I wanted to pursue my passion of acting which I thought would save me from resorting to being stuck in lower paid temp work for government staffing agencies.

I already paid a $250 deposit to attend Stella Adler for the Fall 2011 (big mistake?), but as I read your blog, I started to examine that hidden insecurity I had that if after paying $20,000+ USD in tuition for their 2 year conservatory program (and another 20,000 over 2 years for living costs in nyc and I didn’t get a job, I would be in huge debt (or kill off my life savings). That, coupled with the fact that my F-1 Visa would only allow me to work on campus during my second year only (and this school is not like a university where there are real jobs for students), I would incur costs that I wouldn’t be able to make up unless I landed a spot when I graduated (Where I’m allowed under U.S law to look for a job in acting for up to 1 year).

I tried to apply to research assistant positions in universities scattered around New York City but with the recession, they will more or less lean to hiring Americans over Canadians (even if under NAFTA I can work under the research assistant category as a social science graduate).
As a Canadian, I will admit I’m a bit ill-informed when it comes to finding out how younger Canadian celebrities made their way to secure employment in the US (ie : Justin Bieber via youtube and having Atlanta artist Usher’s staff see his video) and I know of many Canadians that made it from my hometown in the capital of Canada (Matthew Perry of Friends, Ryan Gosling of The Notebook), but I don’t know which steps I should take to put myself out there to make a name for myself.

I will admit, I was a bit swayed at first at Stella Adler Studio’s past reputation of training Robert Di Nero, Marlon Brando, etc, but this school has some heinous rules regarding international students requesting permission to work off campus during year 2 (ie : get approval by USCIS SEVIS) (this based on email and telephone conversations I have had with them), I am left feeling quite disillusioned with how to go about making myself ready to face auditions/casting without some sort of “professional acting background”. I look at the bio’s of various US celebrities, ie : Cameron Diaz, who had no acting experience before appearing in The Mask, and I wonder if I should even conceive the notion the paying some school in new york, which makes me feel like I’ll be putting my savings (which I’ve accumulated over the past few years doing any job I could get in Canada) into a money pit. Although my role models in the acting are British actors (Laurence Olivier, Ben Kingsley, Richard Burton), I couldn’t fanthom paying 16,000 pounds to study in the UK at the Central School of Speech & Drama - University of London, I am left with uncertainty as to what to do.

I know, as a Canadian, I can stay in the US for up to 6 months and probably find a acting coach to teach me private lessons ONCE I have been made an offer to cast in a supporting role or extra (do I even need training for this??), but I don’t know what I would do if I need to extend my stay in the US or should I be successful in landing a small PAID role in a film if they would require my birth certificate or other identity forms to prove my US citizenship or right to work in the US. It’s a bit scary in North America compared to Europe (which allows mobility for workers between member states to work in each member state) because we don’t allow Canadians to work directly for any company that is hiring in the US or vice versa without going through NAFTA (and there is not categories for actors/entertainers - that’s a different visa altogether which I doubt I would get just yet having the US studio to proof to USCIS that I am indeed a unique asset to their upcomining production).

SO, sorry for the long rant, but if you or any of you reading this could offer me some insight how I can go about staying in the US to pursue a career in acting, let me know. I have no interest in Canada’s film capitals Toronto (because York University in Toronto charges an upwards of 25,000$ over 4 years - plus living expenses for their acting program) or Vancouver (9600$ over 6 months at Vancouver Film School) because I want to be in a place which offers more opportunities for casting - underscoring my nationality.

I hope you actually read this and sincerely giving me some pointers. Although I have read about family reunification visas - I have an aunt in the US (dad’s sister) who could sponsor me, she herself is barely making ends meet so it would be hard for her to even show paperwork attesting to covering my expenses (even if I wired her the money my money would not meet the threshold of $250,000).

FYI - I am a physically fit, athletic build, handsome male, of mediterrean descent, who is 29 but looks 20 (due to genetics and keeping a healthy lifestyle) and I am willing to do most for what it takes to give me the financial freedom to capitalize on my talents. I also love to make people feel happy and entertained and make a profit from that to survive.

Please be kind as this is my first post!

 

Dear Toni,

Well, my first advice to you would be to forget spending tons of money on training programs. You sound like you have a good “look” and honestly, if you are wanting to get into film and TV, that’s the first and main thing that casting directors look for, is that you “look” right for the part. Secondly, they DO want to see if you can act. BUT that being said, they honestly do not care one iota if you have any formal training or not. They really don’t. If you LOOK and ACT right for the part, you will get it. BUT — since you are canadian and you do not have a visa to act in an American production, you will not get the part. The only things you might be cast for in LA or NY starting out are for non-union, non-paying acting jobs. I don’t know the ins and outs of Canadian actors acting in LA, but I can tell you that I have actually auditioned many pretty well-known Canadians for my brother Eric Tretbar’s last film, HORRIBLE FLOWERS. Don’t know how these actors were considered legal to work, but I would be they got a job on a join US/Canadian co-production (like Battlestar Galactica or something)… and then became a member of SAG after that.

There are SO MANY amazing acting jobs in Toronto and in Vancouver, that I even know American actors that move there to be discovered by American films and TV shows that shoot up there. I do not know why you wouldn’t want to go ahead and move to one of those cities full time, take a job somewhere say as a waiter or something where you can also still go on auditions, take a couple of weekly very good private classes (I’m sure there are TONS — you do NOT have to enter an expensive program) and then start getting an agent, and going out on auditions.

Moving to LA or NY is so much more expensive than you could EVER imagine, and what I have learned is that so many Canadians who have made it in the US in those cities, that we know of and see on TV or screens here, actually started out in series in Canada or in Canadian shows, that were shot there, and then were brought to LA by agents who believed in them. If I was Canadian, I would go ahead and save your money, try and start out there for a year or two, get some experience, get a good agent that loves you, then with their advice, come to the states, mainly LA, for a few months at a time and try and audition. I know that production companies can hire you if you are Canadian if they can convince the “authorities” that you are the only person for that part… or some such thing.

I want to totally say THANK YOU so much for considering this forum as a way to seek out advice and information, and for trusting your choices and worries with me, and with all of us here! It’s such a tough business. I don’t want to discourage you, but I know at least 30 drop dead gorgeous actors and actresses in LA, who also have training, who are brilliant and talented, and even THEY (legal US people) are making only about $2000 a year acting. There is just so much competition. To think that you could come to LA and just very quickly start being in something is a tiny bit naive (not trying to get you down, just trying to be really real here and help you out sweetie!…) and so I would hate for you to move to LA or NY, spend your life savings on insanely expensive rent, enter some costly program, and think that you will suddenly support yourself through acting. Even my most hard working acting/actor friends are feeling lucky if they book more than one commercial a year these days. It’s just hard. That’s why I encourage you to stay in Canada and really try to make it there where you are legal (unless you can marry a US gal! ha ha!)

As far as speaking French and thinking about working in the government — that really doesn’t seem like what you want to do. Forget that! Sounds like your PASSION and your deepest desire is to be an actor and to really try and “make it!” You are still young and you care so deeply about all of this, and I can totally see that you are very very smart — so I have faith in you that you really might have a great chance. Do not give up! But with that in mind, also, continue to be smart, especially about money. Read through my posts on this site. The one about the cost of moving to LA is a good place to start, as many people think it’s cheaper than it is — and NY is even pricier!

I hope this advice doesn’t get you down and that it continues to motivate you and others to follow their dreams — just with some knowledge behind you and lots of support from your fellow actors/artists/ etc…!!!

Keep on acting and thanks for coming to my site! Can’t wait to hear what happens with you and your career, please stay in touch!

All the best! — Kirsten Tretbar

 
 
 

Dear Kirsten. Thank you very very much for replying to my post. I genuinely appreciate that. I have read it once but I will have to read it again and probably again after that to totally absorb what you wrote. I will undoubtedly now try the Canadian route - via Toronto as it would less of a commute compared to Vancouver or even New York from the nation’s capital. I will be delighted to keep in touch as needed. I would like to thank you again for all the time you put it into writing your reply and I will follow suit and read your posts and your like minded helpers on this website to gauge and acquire the ins & outs of preparing myself for a challenging yet exciting career path. Thank you again and I appreciate your honesty.

Best regards,

Toni

 

You are welcome Toni! Thank YOU for coming to the site!

 
 
 

Ageism…. Ya know they don’t accept people that are too young or look too young sometimes either. Most programs look for experience and ppl that can play a variety of ages on the stage effectively.

 

Hi Young Actor57 — good point, very good point. But the thing that’s so darned frustrating about training leaving out the older and the younger is that in real life, that is, in the professional world of stage acting and film and television, they actually do NOT cast actors that are younger or older to play opposite ages. Only in our youngest years, such as when we’re about 14 - 22, in grade school, college, university, and high school theater productions, would a 22 year old play a 50-80 year old, or a 16 year old play an 8 year old. It just would NOT EVER happen in the professional world this same way. So it’s stupid to only train those actors that are 18-28, in professional programs, because in the real world, they cast people, actors that ARE those exact ages, for those exact parts. It’s only very very seldom that they would, say in a film, cast a 50 year old to play an 80 year old — that’s only usually if there is age progression throughout the film and they’ve cast a famous person to play the same person as they get older. But thanks so much for your thoughts here. Agism goes all ways and it’s very sad!
Kirsten

 
 
 

He Kirsten! Thank for this article, I stumbled on this just in the knick of time. I am an actress, I’m on the fence about pursuing an MFA in acting. You mentioned it does very little for connection wise, but what about training, atleast for the stage? I know you said it didn’t help you for Tv and film, but did it least help improve stage acting. I agree, you cannot rely on schools to promote your career, but for training purposes, I find private coaches only help with tweaking monologues, and not really the whole craft of acting. And classes that meet once a week are not enough to really become proficient (just been my personal experience). Repetition and Immersion really helps me to “get it” and I wanted to know if you atleast felt it helped stretch your skill level(on stage that is) if nothing else. My apologies is you already answered this but there’s been more discussion about the business side of things, and my main objective is to take my technique to the next level.

 
 

While to a certain degree I agree that MFA programs have become the money maker of schools, and that the exorbitant prices of these MFA’s are just ridiculous, particularly when you are talking about a career as an artist. However, I have to say that most of what you said I cannot agree with. I am from NY, a place where if you don’t have the right degree i.e from NYU, Julliard or YALE, you don’t get the same degree of consideration for off broadway and broadway roles. And FYI, this has been reiterated by casting directors I know, who have told me plain out to move to LA, that I don’t have the “pedigree” required to make it in NY. Those that have chosen to go to the MFA programs within a 2-5 year period have appeared in some of THE BEST theaters in New York.
Now to what you have said, it’s in my opinion, your fault, first of all USC has a HORRIBLE reputation, if you had researched a little you would have found that out. I know a professor in that program, and even they said it. You are right in that an MFA is worthless, if it’s not from the “right” school. And you have to know that going in, which if you had done your research you would have probably found out.
If your focus is Film, why did you even bother with an MFA. A studio would have been fine. An MFA is the professionalization of an Acting Career, it’s not supposed to do anything other than give you the tools to be on stage, because that’s where all acting starts the stage.
Let me tell you, I too was told by casting directors that my choices were more theatrical and that I had to scale it back. That all I needed was to be me. In all honesty I felt empowered, no longer did I need to “get” the character, all I needed to do was be myself, it was a revelation to me. It was amazing that I didn’t have to worry anymore if I was doing the “right” thing, because I know me, I can do “me.”
It’s really on how you view things, and an MFA program is supposed to give you a technique for acting, and I’m sorry, but not one actor can say that a technique is unnecessary. You need a frame, so that you can play within that frame.
It’s unfortunate that you’re expectations were other than what was being offered, especially if what you wanted to do was film. It’s also awful that you had to pay so much for a second rate school, which of course they don’t sell it as that, but alas they are a business. I would understand the frustration, but really, you don’t have anyone else to blame but your lack of researching skills.

 

Hi NY Actress,
Thanks so much for your comment. I truly understand your feelings and your perspective. I probably did not do enough research as you said, and I’m a HUGE believer in taking the blame where it is due. At the time, I applied to Yale, Juilliard, USC, Cal Arts, Goodman/ACT, and UVirginia. I did not get into Yale or Juilliard, but did get into the others, and maybe I should have gone to Chicago. I really DID want to end up in LA and so that’s why I chose USC, although I hadn’t unfortunately heard all that you seemed to know about USC. I had a degree in Anthro from Grinnell College (although had acted in many leads there and all) and so maybe I should have just gone to LA, but I wanted to hit that big city in a way where I was a part of something, since I was inexperienced at the time with living there and was a bit nervous, even though I’d traveled all over the world and was quite mature at age 22. That’s one reason I write this blog, so others won’t make the same mistakes I made an all. I am not dissing technique or study, just wanting to help others really know what they’re getting into, and why, since I myself perhaps did not. In fact, I do LOVE study, and I love that I have an MFA and really know the history of all of Theatre, acting styles, and the literature and all. In many ways, what my mistake was, was that I was actually an academic, who was changing my focus to being more of an artist, and I think I was caught in that loop after undergrad of thinking I needed another formal degree, when I really in fact, just needed more acting study its self, not really academic, but actual training, and having come from an academic family and background, thought that was the way to go, even if I intended working in film and TV. I DID have a background in theatre, and wanted to pursue that as well, and then after USC, found more jobs in the film/tv world (especially once based in the West Coast). Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to my roots, to theatre, and find myself again. I hope you are having a great time in NY, and finding lots of work in theatre there, or in film and tv. I know it’s such a hard profession, and I myself have found that I get more work when I in fact produce my own projects, whether they be films (I’ve produced and directed several indie films, NBC/Sundance Channel/BBC) in the last 10 years, or whether I’ve directed and acted in my own productions. I’ve also found much needed inspiration and a sense of fulfillment and completion in writing, and have written 3 film scripts and a novel. My intention in this post was not to create anger or mistrust, but rather, to expose some of the insanity, or abuse, that many actors may go through, to empower actors to talk about things they may not be supported to talk about, that kind of thing. Once again, thanks for your lively debate, advice, and wisdom. We are all in this crazy life and profession together, and the more help, support, and advice we can share with one another, the better it will be for all of us in the long run! Keep on acting, and like they say in the 12-Step world, keep coming back! :-) I wish you all the best! - KT

 
 

“all I needed to do was be myself, it was a revelation to me”

spot on.

 
 
 

Hi Kirsten,

I am 32 years old and wanted to start taking acting classes but I was not sure if it was too late for me to get into the acting field (anything other than theater, for some reason theater seems alot harder and more intense, but thats only my personal opinion). I wanted to be an actor as a child but never went through with it other than “making believe I was on a fake tv show with my sister”.

Do you honestly think it is too late for me to start an acting career? I am willing to go to these private classes and train but I just dont want to waste money if it is already too late for me. I don’t feel old at all, but it seems most actors on tv or movies started in their 20s or earlier before even getting their big break, or any break at all.

Thanks,
Todd

 

Hi Todd,
It’s NEVER too late to follow your dreams and your bliss. If it’s acting, then GO FOR IT! Just keep your head on your shoulders, don’t spend a ton of money getting started, keep your day job, and take it one day, one week at a time, and see how it feels. I know Brian Cox, the great British actor, started I think in his late 40s, and he has a huge career. Many actors start late, many many do, so don’t let your age stop you. You must always do what you feel in your heart. Listen to that quiet small place within yourself. It will lead you, and never lie to you. Remember, you only regret the things you DON’T do! I’m very proud of you for thinking about doing something new and different in your life, and I encourage others to do the same. Read more of my posts, and keep on acting, seeking advice and encouragement from positive people, friends, family, and mentors, read books, be creative, and follow your soul! - KT

 

Thanks, for the words of encouragement! Just started my first acting class and it will help understand it better and see if it is really something I would like to do. I will definitely keep reading your posts and re-read them from time to time when I might be unsure of things. Best Regards, Todd.

 
 
 
 

I have to say its a little dangerous to tell actors “you don’t need training to act. It’s a craft and a fine art. If you wanna be famous, sure, screw training and just be aggressive with the politics of it. You’ll have to do networking even if you go to a big program.

Also, as far as the “connected” MFA programs its pretty much Yale, NYU, UCSD, Old Globe/USD, and Juilliard. If you wanna do film and film alone, train in studios and take film acting classes. MFA programs are theatre programs.

 
 

Hi Kirsten,

I would just like to thank you for this wonderful article. I myself have been accepted into Drama school in the UK this year and have many concerns; can I run these by you? I’m not sure if you are still updating this post?

Looking forward to hearing from you

Ciaran

 
 

H Ciaran,
I no longer write long personal letters back to my readers because it’s more of a consultancy thing I do now for a fee. I was just giving way too much free advice and it took too much of my time and energy, I hope you understand… But if you want to write your questions as a reply on the site, maybe others will give their input, and if I have time, I can say a few words, but I have a feeling most of your questions will be answered if you go through the whole site and read all the other articles I’ve written — and all the comments of the other readers/actors etc…Hope this helps, and thanks for reading my blog, and break a leg and all with your acting career! With gratitude and respect, Kirsten

 
 

Hi Kirsten,

Thanks for the reply ;-)

Again thanks for this wonderful article

Ciaran

 
 

that is the biggest load of tosh anyone has ever written. depends on the student, the course, the school, the teaching staff, the connections the school have. im a drama student at central in london and find this article ridiculous.

 
 
 
 

Hi Kristen,
I wanted to thank you for all your time and dedication thru the years to this Blog. Despite the age of some of the posting I found them insightful and overall helpful.

I am a working Mom with little knowledge on this topic, but am trying to help my 16 year old who loves acting and creative writing start selecting college programs to help her on this difficult road she has selected. She is talented and academically at the top of her class. After reading all this one thing is for sure I am going to have a long talk with her about going for a BA instead of trying to get into one of these four year acting programs.

Again, thank you.

 

Dear Ann,
Thank you so much for your kind comment. I write/wrote this blog/site exactly for people like you. Although everyone does not agree with what I say, I only say it to help others and from the kindness of my heart. Everyone must follow their own path, but I still feel that talented young people should get a BA over a BFA, if they want to study theatre/acting. The studies will be more comprehensive, and they’ll end up learning so much more about themselves, and the world in which they live, if they study more than just acting. You are obviously a wonderful mom, and care deeply about your daughter. Young artists and actors need all the help and support they can get from loving insightful parents like you! Thanks again, and it really means so much to me!
Kirsten

 
 
 

I was a child actor and by the time I got to college I was already in SAG and Equity. I started off as a theatre major and was pretty shocked at how little they prepared you for the real world of acting–the business side of it. Many of the classes that they offered were definitely things that I could have taken at less cost somewhere else. The teachers were pretty much as described in this article and it is a big waste of time in the sense that auditions are about having the right look at the right time-period. The more time you are spending in a program that doesn’t let you audition–the less time you are getting out there to be at the right place at the right time! They DO train for stage and not film–which requires a completely different technique. On the bright side–I think it gave budding actors a great opportunity to build a close network of actors that they could collaborate or commiserate with post graduation. Plus you could get guidance from teachers regarding general industry questions so that you wouldn’t fall prey to the many scams that surround the industry. And in terms of the showcase–many did find representation as a result–so I think that depends on the school’s connection. If you are set on an acting degree–do it exactly the way the author did. Either double major in college or pick a non-theatre related major for a BA. Then get an MFA later if you feel the benefits outweigh the cost. You can teach with the MFA and if you get to a point in your career that you want to stop acting–you have something to fall back on. I’m so glad I double majored!! Well written article–I’m glad there’s someone who’s telling it like it is. This whole site is a gem.

 
 

I was a child actor and by the time I got to college I was already in SAG and Equity. I started off as a theatre major and was pretty shocked at how little they prepared you for the real world of acting–the business side of it. Many of the classes that they offered were definitely things that I could have taken at less cost somewhere else. The teachers were pretty much as described in this article and it is a big waste of time in the sense that auditions are about having the right look at the right time-period. The more time you are spending in a program that doesn’t let you audition–the less time you are getting out there to be at the right place at the right time! They DO train for stage and not film–which requires a completely different technique. On the bright side–I think it gave budding actors a great opportunity to build a close network of actors that they could collaborate or commiserate with post graduation. Plus you could get guidance from teachers regarding general industry questions so that you wouldn’t fall prey to the many scams that surround the industry. And in terms of the showcase–many did find representation as a result–so I think that depends on the school’s connection. If you are set on an acting degree–do it exactly the way the author did. Either double major in college or pick a non-theatre related major for a BA. Then get an MFA later if you feel the benefits outweigh the cost. You can teach with the MFA and if you get to a point in your career that you want to stop acting–you have something to fall back on. I’m so glad I double majored!! Well written article–I’m glad there’s someone who’s telling it like it is. This whole site is a gem.

 

Thanks so much Jonna! - Kirsten :-)

 
 
 

1. The idea that there are ‘top MFA’ programs makes absolutely no sense, if you stop and think about it. If you add up the so called top 10 programs, they get less than 200 students per year in total. Now, if they are so good, why do they limit that to 15-20, sometimes 7-8 students per year? Is it because there is no need for top actors out there? – now, that is a ridiculous notion. Clearly, there is demand coming from the industry. Is it because there is no demand coming from people wanting to attend? That we know not to be true. Or is it because there is a shortage of real talent out there that could be educated into becoming top actors. That’s against the main definition of acting school.
2. Now, are these really ‘top schools’? A top school must be a leader in the industry, a trend setter, a visionary. Are they? Over 90% of the films made lose money, even though they are made for ‘commercial’ reasons and not for art.. over 90% of the plays (including on Broadway) lose money and over 90% of the actors cannot find work (including actors coming out of these ‘top schools’). If these schools are ‘the industry leaders’ they look like terrible leaders, don’t they.. There isn’t another industry that can claim leaders that show such sub-mediocrity in influencing the industry positively..
3. Most of the ‘top MFA programs’ should be banned. I simply do not understand how they get away with calling their programs ‘graduate’ programs when in fact they are nothing more than ‘vocational’ schools. One recent example is Juilliard’s MFA program – they made it 4 years and actors training is exactly the same as undergraduates or people who get a certificate.
4. Most of the ‘top MFA’ programs entrance selection is based 100% on a 2-4 minute audition – with total disregard of people’s records – that is the most obvious proof that these programs are ‘vocational’ schools and not graduate schools. For a vocational school it may make sense to admit students on what you can see as talent, because they have no record to base the decisions on. For graduate school, disregarding ones record is total BS. These ‘gods’ pretend that they can look into someone’s eyes for 2-3 minutes, or often times not look at all or not listening at all, and tell with 100% precision what his/her future is going to be. So, who needs to look at an existing record, right? Totally, against any notion of a true ‘graduate’ program.
5. Quite a lot of the heads of the top MFA acting programs do not hold any level of graduate studies. For some of them, their educations clearly come from vocational acting schools.
6. Are these schools really in the 21st century? Most of them are relics of a century long gone, it’s just that the school leadership is too impotent to adapt.. or worse, it’s too ‘convenient’ not to adapt.. One example is the example that Yale is using by pointing to Meryl Streep. Think about it, Meryl went to Yale 40 years ago and she probably followed a program designed decades prior. Does anyone truly believe that a student going to Yale in 2012 will be able to function the same way Meryl does today, 40 years from now? In the era of iPad I really do not think that anyone is that naïve.. so, why then, these ‘top MFA programs’ continue to do what they did mid last century?
7. If all of these things were happening in a 3rd world country, I do not believe that anyone would call them ‘top MFA programs’.. rather would think of ‘corruption’ and ‘crooked’ first.. that’s what these ‘top MFA programs’ seem to be. A disgusting charade.. or better yet, a scam that keeps perpetuating out there only because people are too afraid to take them to court to force them to disclose what the ‘real’ deal is. False, deceptive or misleading advertising is illegal and they should stop it.
8. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs change their admittance procedure as well as programs to adjust for true ‘graduate studies’ rather than ‘vocational studies’ as they are now.
9. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs post their records that they have internally, or force them to collect those records to indicate what graduates do 1-2-3 years after graduation.
10. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs clearly spell out their admittance criteria. If you look at the ‘profiles’ of people who graduate out of these programs there is a strong indication that they select mostly blue/green eyes/blond red hair/ white skin for anyone to really believe that in the 21st century only those people are talented or ‘pretty’.

 
 

Wow. I just read this and I had no idea, this page was extremely helpful, thank you so much Kristen.
I don’t know how busy you are but I recently came accross a ministry called AMTC on their web site amtcworld.com and was wondering if you could look into it and tell me what you think about it.
However I totaly understand if you don’t have the time.

Thanks again,
Josiah S.

 
 

So you acted professionally in commercials and we are supposed to take your advice on how to make it big? No thanks.

 
 

Life is what you make out of it. If you want to be a great actor and decide that an MFA is for you, so be it! If you work hard, are friendly, accept that life’s road is a bit tricky and success does not always follow a set of guide lines, then you will be fine. Learn to define your own happiness and not live by others standards.

 

MFAs should not be for becoming a ‘good actor’. The fact that the MFA programs are selling that notion is downright an insult.
MFA programs should be ‘graduate’ studies. Becoming an actor is a craft, you can learn that at any good vocational school.
Getting an MFA should be about becoming a ‘leader’ (educator, communicator, creating and implementing new ideas/programs, in addition to acting) the acting profession - just like it is with any other graduate study programs.

Just ask the MFA programs to stop selling a vocational program as ‘graduate studies’. It’s false, misleading and hurting everyone!!

The MFA programs on the market today should be banned - they are simply a fraud!

 
 
 

Hi everyone! Ok I am 22 years old and barely starting to think of a career in acting for film. I was planning to go to L.A. to study at NYFA ( New York Film Academy) . They are asking for 31000 a year for BFA. Is it worth it? I know everyone is saying no, but when you said with that four years studying to become a professional actor, you could have done something else or use that money on other things. What I dont get is what should you do instead of going to an academy to be a professional actor?

 

Please save your money! I attended NYFA in NYC, & my personal experience was god awful! I regret it with every fiber of my being. With that being said, I cant say how the NYFA L.A. program is (could be better) but the amount of money they ask for, & their refund policy is just terrible! (I attended in 2009, so maybe things have changed) but all in all, it was such a waste of my time. Not to mention, I stupidly wasted half of my money on this “professional school”. The teachers were incredibly rude to me, as well as other students. I was coming from NJ, & when I tried to talk to them about changing up my class schedule a bit, (I would have to spend $13, 3 days a week, just to go in for a 45 minute class, that could have been taken in conjunction the next day, with my 4 hour long class). I explained that it was nearly impossible (given my work schedule) & financial situation to do that. They refused to budge, & were being extremely uncooperative. I now, at 22 am learning the right way for MYSELF, to go down this path. I have been in numerous independent films since then, & it was NOT due to any NYFA “credentials”. The best way I have learned skill & technique has been through experience. It truly has been the best teacher for me. Watching how things work, being on a film set, speaking with other actors, doing take after take, really reaching deep down in yourself to give the best performance you can. Also, I am now signed up to take private classes. They are MUCH more affordable, private & personal. This is just my personal opinion on NYFA, but you should take whatever route suits you most. Best of luck with your career! :)

 

I know it’s been about a year since you posted this reply to Abby above, but Lauren, THANK YOU for your honesty. I know a lot about the NYFA (I won’t go into detail) but you are ABSOLUTELY right. While I really respect their screenwriting program, I know many terrible stories about their acting program and I really think they are way way overpriced. Thank you again for helping others out by sharing your experiences with the rest of us! - Kirsten

 
 
 
 

I enjoy seeing things from all sides. I read the article and all the comments and responses. Over all this article has helped me in one very important way; going to a 4 year school is not possible for me right now and taking a weekly acting class is. I have spent a lot of time wondering how I could persue acting as a 27 year old mom so I started looking into UT and it was pretty clear that I would have to work very hard just to get accepted as my previous college work has nothing to do with acting. Not to mention I couldn’t start until over a year from now bc of their program rules. This put a bad taste in my mouth as I know I am a hard worker, a fast learner and have some talent. It didnt make sense to me to pay so much money to an institution that couldn’t even tell me up front how they would help me persue a career after my training. This article gave me the info I needed to change my focus. I had looked at local acting coaches, but didn’t want to get screwed. Thanks for giving me some tools to make informed decisions regarding my own education. I have no room for wasted money or time and I now have the confidence to take a step. Even if acting doesn’t pan out at least I will not have the massive debt and lost year following me for the rest of my life. Thank you.

 
 
 

Dear Katie - While I know many people who read this post on my blog (which I wrote a few years ago) hate me for writing it and think I’m some sort of failed hack actress, I am so glad that I wrote it. Because I wrote it exactly for the likes of you.

Acting Programs, especially 2-4 year long ones at established schools MAY be for some people - especially those who may want to teach later in life, or who know they want only to act in professional theatre, say in New York. But the real truth is, that if you are good and have talent, you are good, and you will get work!

And you can hone your craft in smaller private classes just as easily, and surely for much less money, and usually with less toxic teachers (and students) than in the larger programs. I always say to everyone of my “nay-sayers” that I wrote this article/post out of my own experiences. Not just from being an MFA student myself, but also as a top acting teacher in such programs. I’ve seen them from the other side too is what I’m saying. What I don’t go on to say is which programs I taught at, because I don’t believe in hurting any kind of business, or in pointing fingers directly at those who may unintentionally hurt people.

So what I’ve tried to do in this post is break down the reasons WHY these programs may not be the best option for many people — especially if you want to act RIGHT NOW, or if you don’t have any money saved, or if you want to act in Film or TV. Also, I write this for many people who want to move to LA to start acting, and don’t have a clue about how much money they will need to live on once they get out of their bigger programs and start living in the reality of that very expensive city.

Thanks so much for your kind words. It really makes me feel that I can make a difference.

Many younger students (like I was when I went to grad school) still have support from their parents (financially) and don’t know anything about the “biz” of acting, or anything about moving to and living in LA, and they get there and get stuck with huge debts when they get out, and they are also several years older when they get out. Because I lived in LA for over twenty years, I just wish now that I’d talked my folks into helping me put money down on a house, or helped me fund a feature film, or even just helped pay for several separate weekly classes - that way I’d have had an easier start.

Enough said. Way to go and good luck with your career - break many legs, and go for it! - All my love and best wishes for you! Kirsten

PS - I had many agents and casting directors tell me in LA that my training didn’t matter one hoot about whether or not they called me in to my audition, but that it was all based on my headshot, my look, if I looked right for the part, if I had some parts on my resume, and also, if they recognized teachers (LA private teachers!) they respected within the industry. The times where an MFA or BA in Theatre MAY help get you called for a part is when you’re auditioning for theatre (usually outside of LA). I am not really dissing the training you get in these programs, just the after effects on your own private life (emotional and financial)… THANKS AGAIN!!!

 
 
 

Dear Kirsten, thank you for your blog. Can you recommend LA private teachers respected within the industry? Also can you recommend any weekly classes for kids and teens that taught by recognized teachers in LA area? THANKS AGAIN!!!

 
 

I am in a MFA program, and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made, moreso than going to college, even!

I was working professionally before I got to school… working pretty regularly, even. I’ve taken all the LA classes and took courses at Stella Adler and with William Esper in NY, but I still felt like I wanted more training. I chose my program after considering what I felt I needed to add to my “toolbox,” and realizing that things like “expansion of imagination” weren’t going to come in a 6,8, or even 12 week course at 600$ a month. I needed a safe place where I could take my time. I found so many classes in LA were product based and I needed something process-orientated, a 2 or 3 year program where people KNEW me, they knew my habituals, they knew I was good or inept at and they could help me overcome some obstacles to achieve my goals and widen my skill-set.

I get to explore, take extreme risks and I have found such inspiration in a community of company members that are there to support and hone my craft, and they take care of me as well. I’ve also been able to build real relationship with the faculty, 90% of whom are working artists and able to make immediate connections in the theatre and film world internationally. I’ve never experienced this kind of growth in any class I’ve taken in LA.

Everything else is still there: my agent, the real-world contacts, the everyday drudge that builds discipline and resilience… you still learn all the ends and outs of film work that you would learn on set: keeping your eye lines, continuity issues for shooting various angles, reverse shots, and retakes, keeping your character’s arc when filming shots out of sequence, ways to keep your energy levels consistent when filming on different days, how to move to marks on the ground, etc but you do so in a room of 13 of your friends over a course of a year than by having a reel of bad films as you “figure it out.”

It took me a long time to commit to going to grad school, but I’m so glad I did!

 

Dear Donna,
Thank you SO much for this reply to my blog. Because so many people DO have a wonderful experience in an MFA program, and it really sounds like you knew why you wanted to go, and chose wisely, and it also sounds like you have a totally marvelous program. Can you share where you are going, and any more details about what you study? When I went to USC they did no camera acting classes at all, but maybe that’s changed, and there wasn’t such a strong sense of community or support as you seem to be getting (the BFA’s had it more than the MFAs did - I know that - but then I know that the MFA program got cancelled for a few years and was totally revised - THANK GOD!) Please tell us more if you have a second, and if not, I do truly appreciate every side of this story. Because I do feel that for many people, a more structured program in the long term may be for them. I just worry about many students that come out of these programs not having much money to live on and being very much in debt for the next 20 years. Thanks so much and I can’t wait to hear what you do in your career! - Kirsten

 
 
 

Hi Kirsten,

I’m at CalArts and its the interdisciplinary aspects that make the school. I spent as much time working on films as I do in acting studios. We do take a bevy of classes, but I see it as the institute creating versatile actors who can work internationally, in a myriad settings rather than the school trying to keep us there for 3 years. Our days are already 17 hours, 6 days a week, so I can’t imagine them teaching quicker… they’d have to teach less, and I’d feel pretty cheated.

We take Voice (both Linklater and Stough), Speech (IPA/Dialects/General American), Movement (Laban, Grotowski, Butoh, Suzuki), TaiChi, Classical Directing Lab (where the MFA directors do the classics), Acting Studio, African Dance, Performer and the Object (Puppetry), Alexander, Fight Choreo, Singing, Cinematic Elixirs, Acting Studio For the Camera, Writing for Solo Performance, EMC Credit Courses… and more contingent on the artist. There are also visiting artists who teach specialty course, Annette Benning teaches an acting course, Roger Guenveur Smith teaches a “Life Story” course, etc.

When I googled you, Kirsten, I saw that you graduated from school in 1990, right? I’m sure much has changed about training since then. Just like in 1990, it meant something to have a BA, but high school grads could still get work—- in 1990, I’m sure a lot MFA programs were for teachers in training, now the VAST majority of working artists have MFA or BFA training.

Yichao Wang (also at CalArts in the MFA program) wrote a very relevant article called “Acting Grad School is a Waste of Time and Money” which addresses the reasons why grad school may (or may not!) work for you. The article can be found at: http://theatreface.ning.com/profiles/blogs/acting-grad-school-is-a-waste-of-time-and-money

Best to you all,
Donna

 
 

While you did mention a few points with which I agree, overall you just sound bitter.

Different people need different kinds of training (or no training). You can’t tell me that grad school has been a waste for every student. In the end, it just comes down to finding what’s right for you. I’m so sorry you didn’t figure it out until after you’d spent all that money and wasted all that time.

As far as your forth argument goes, “4.They train you for stage, not film.” I say, NO SHIT! If you want to act on stage, go to a school that teaches you to act on stage. If you want to act for film, go to a school that teaches you to act for film. It’s your own fault you didn’t figure that one out.

 
 

Hi

Your artical was very useful. Can you please be able to give me some adive?

I have been to alot of acting schools auditions but for some reason I’m just not right for them or I mess you about asked to comeback and act like they don’t regonize you(long story) . I’m still applying and my family think I’m wasting my money getting there because they say all acting schools are the same, they just want money out of you and don’t give a crap about you. I’n very ambious and I know this being a actress is what I want.I know I’m good and believe in myself I think going to a school is the only way you have more of a chance in getting notice by a agent,casting director,etc. What should i do? not keep trying to get in to acting school? Move to london, go to private acting classes and then try to get an agent? I’m abit of a slow learner ,I have a learning disabity so it might make it harder but I’m positive.

 
 

Nothing’s changed since ‘08-and it’s the same for animation (or film) schools too as I can say all the same things about the Art Institute I went to (I fortunately finally pulled myself out of school of my own accord before the $60,000 debt got any higher).

Since then though, I have indeed gone back to acting and have been doing some community theater for about a year. After the production I’m in wraps up, I’d really love to finally pursue it-and private classes sound my fit (I do NOT want to go back to an expensive, no chance of jobs after graduating school). Can you recommend any teachers in LA or NY? It’s hard to filter the good from the bad in Google when they ALL make themselves sound appealing. Thanks. :-)

 
 

My thoughts: I reenrolled in a public university’s undergraduate theater program at age 30 after having left that program on the cusp of taking their foundational acting class to look after my terminally ill father. That program did - and I believe still does - not require an audition, although if prospects outnumbered spaces the professor did have some discretion as to timing of enrollment. My age was never an issue - in fact, one class had a woman in her fifties or sixties. I stayed an extra two years until age 34 (the Doonesbury 16 year plan!) This BA program required exposure to both technical theater and performance (you chose which concentration). The only determinant for continued use of the program’s time and resources was my work ethic. Nearby colleges also provided opportunities for instruction and productions for which to audition.

The wonderful thing about the milieu was the opportunity to work with a variety of teachers, who had a variety of approaches, temperaments and aesthetics - giving you the opportunity to figure out how to adapt (or decide to not work with) each/any of them. While the department could choose to sponsor your pilgrimage to U/RTA for MFA auditions (the mountains come to Mohammeds), several alumni went to work with only their BA in hand, with a soup-to-nuts understanding of theater (but learning apprenticeship style can happen anywhere; it can be easier to obtain when everything’s in-house).

The approach under which I trained was Stanislavski-based with an emphasis on structured improvisations as both the vehicle for instructions as well as the “canvass” upon which the student worked and developed. The teacher, now retired, I believe was nationally known in academic circles and many of his students have gone on to work professionally, including in film. Viewpoints was also available per other graduate students teaching as well.

The one caution I would make is if you have a teacher (I had several) whose approach is a hybrid of approaches that works for them, find out the parentage - you might want to pursue additonal study from the “parent approach” someday, and you shouldn’t assume you understand the power of the “parent” approach until you experience it.

The other caution is that sometimes a particular approach can provide you with both training that advantages you, and disadvantages you. Somehow in my training, in the quest for emotional preparation and life in performance, I got “internalized” and lost connection to all outside myself. This affected my pursuit of an MFA.

It wasn’t until years later I came upon a very affordable Meisner teacher in NC that the issue became articulated, as a Meisner approach starts with teaching through experience the capacity to be externally affected and ignited. It’s as if I got installed a wonderful operating program but also contracted a computer virus that another program treated. So lifelong learning, and exposure to different approaches, can sometimes be what the doctor ordered.

If it’s true that MFA program will not admit the 35+ bracket, (I’m now 43) that still leaves the private studio - though I wonder why Mr. Market wouldn’t scratch the buttocks of some decent, unemployed teachers, causing them to think “here’s a market niche we could fill with our own full-time conservatory”

Studios have and continue to be an option (caveat emptor). Meisner’s “children and grandchildren” teach programs lasting anywhere from nine months to two years, for example.

And sometimes, if you’re in a university town, you can approach a professor and enroll in their acting class without being matriculated. It depends, but you shouldn’t assume you can’t!

I don’t know if most BA programs are geared solely to ramp you up to the MFA audition, or if any teach you about looking for the actual work in depth.

What I would tell the 18-25 year old is that if you can do what you love, and get paid to do it, you’ve won. That may mean running your own theater and living on the salary of $25 - 35,000, or working in some other aspect of the industry and being the artistic director each and every glorious summer somewhere. I still think that’s winning, and that point of view should be tucked in the back of every twenty something’s mind.

 

Thanks so much for all this great advice JB - I can relate - I think all my training did the opposite for me - made me externalize my actions/reactions, to the point that I wasn’t real any more, and I had to learn to just BE - it’s funny, because I swear, it’s almost like the exact opposite of what you experienced, but it’s the same thing. I had so much emphasis on Theatre Games/Improv/Upping the Stakes, and showing how you felt, that to kind of go internal for me was the big change in my acting. Now that I’ve gotten more back into theatrical parts and being in plays, I’ve learned to go back to my earlier MFA training and be bigger, bolder, broader with my reactions - especially in comedy. I really appreciate all you’ve shared with the group here, as I think it’s all fantastic advice! - Kirsten

 
 
 

Kristen, your article confirmed my gut reaction to my son applying to colleges. I feel strongly he should go to school for something in the liberal arts (he is a strong writer), and of course pursue acting as well, just not as a major. I have already found that stage acting, especially musicals - he did his first musical this summer, seem to require ‘overacting’. He is a senior very interested and consumed by acting but his organizational skills are not as strong. Meaning having him move out on his own to LA or NY probably wont work next year. I’d love to find him a ‘gap year’ acting program where he could immerse himself for a year before heading to a 4 year liberal arts college. Any thoughts? If it was in England or overseas that would be a bonus. Thanks!!

 
 

Dear Kirsten,
I’m writing from Brazil to thank you for this article.
I am currently applying to the MFA program in Screenwriting/Playwriting at two different universities in the US. One of them was going to be USC but after reading somethings and thinking it through I started to wonder how much of a good idea it was going to be. Your article cleared my head in many levels and in a way eased my mind, letting me know that things up there aren’t nearly as far away as things here in our (yet young) acting industry, so-to-speak.
Can you forward me any articles you may know that deal specificaly about the MFA programs in Screen or playwriting?
Thank you once again!

Sincerely yours,
Mateus.

 

I know the New York Film Academy has an excellent screenwriting program (based out of Burbank in Los Angeles) because my very good friend, Crickett Rumley, is the head of the program! (and because I also taught acting there for awhile). Hope this helps - and thanks for coming to my site (sorry for such a late reply!)… Kirsten

 
 
 

USC’s MFA Program is 3 years, not two. I’m in it and it is training I will use for the rest of my life. My teachers are fantastic and know about acting in practice. I dedicate my life to this almost 12 hours a day, and it does not waste my time.

 

Dear Thomas,
Thanks so much for your reply. Yes, you are right. USC is now a 3 year program. Sadly, when I got my MFA from USC, it was a 2 year program, and right after I graduated, they took the whole program down for several years, revised it, hired all new teachers, and I’ve heard very good things about it. So I’m so happy for all of you. Unfortunately, when I was there, it could have been better. There were many excellent teachers there, and many not so excellent teachers there. We paid a heck of a lot of money to go there, and I still can not believe how lousy the facilities were (this is USC folks!). And they didn’t help us at all with our showcase, not one bit… but at any rate, I met great friends, had some huge roles, and learned lots. Unfortunately, I also watched many people get hurt there, and I wished they’d paid more attention to Film and TV (at the time I was there, they didn’t at all)…Hope you are a huge success there and in the future - and keep on acting! - Kirsten

 
 
 

Dear Kirsten,

I think someone needs to point out that your article could be very harmful to some people considering an Acting program, and negatively affect their decision based on your biased point of view. The article title is worryingly misleading, I suggest you change the ‘Are’ to ‘Might Be’, as the reasons you give to back up the statement are all either incredibly subjective, or based on your own experience and opinion.

1. They waste your time: This is nothing but an immature response to your own personal experience. You may feel that they waste your time, but millions of others (myself included) feel that they use your time incredibly well. Of course this depends on where you go and who teaches you, but on the whole, I’d say acting programs deliver excellent training and if they didn’t, they simply wouldn’t run.

2. They waste your money: I went to an institution where our tuition fees were put towards excellent facilities, the wages of excellent staff, the other university facilities , and innumerable other things that I benefitted from throughout my 3 years there. This is of course my opinion and I would never assume it’s the same for everyone, but I went to a currently unaccredited institution, so I can only imagine others offer a similar experience, if not better.

3. A formal degree means nothing in the acting world: Wrong again. It will show any potential employers that you are committed to acting and have taken time to learn your craft. Also some employers have particular relationships with certain institutions and from personal experience I’ve found it a useful point to talk about in auditions.

4. They train you for stage, not film: Wait a second… did you not check your course out before you applied for it? If you want to be trained for film more that theatre, find a course that does just that, and actually read about the modules on it before you apply! And besides, this point isn’t strictly negative - I for one an happy that I got more theatre training, as I’m not as interested in screen acting and have my own theatre company, it’s a matter of personal taste.

5.Many teachers haven’t worked professionally for years.
6.Many teachers and drama directors belittle their students.
7.They seldom help you get auditions or agents.

^ Sound bitter to you? The vast majority of teachers know their fields extremely well, or they wouldn’t have a job. Also the idea that they belittle their students is subjective. Far too many actors today expect to be treated like royalty because they have a bit of talent… guess what, the person directing you definitely knows his stuff more than you, and what you may take as belittling, is almost definitely intended as constructive criticism. Directors never intend to make their actors fell negative. If you want to be babied, stay away from acting. And your last point, yet again depends on where you study, and if you mean they don’t directly help you get auditions and agents, I think you’re expecting too much of them: it is your responsibility to get these things. Do you think graduates from physics degrees are instantly given a job with NASA?

I don’t wish this to sound like a personal attack by any means, I just think it’s an abuse of the trust people place in your opinions to write something under the title you have - which is a statement of fact. The only reason I’ve felt the need to post is your use of the misleading title. If you called it “why a professional acting programme didn’t work for me” I would have read the article with interest and listened to your opinion, but as it is I think it’s a mis-use of the power you have over peoples opinions.

 
 

I am looking into MFA programs right now, auditioning at URTAs and a few others, and I would like to say that I personally would not get my MFA at a school where the tuition wasn’t waved, because I already have a lot of debt from my BA. There are so many great programs out there that offer the MFA without ruining you financially for life. Most of the schools that attend URTA auditions are free and so is USD (3 of the Big 10 schools attend URTAs and are free). You just have to do your research and find some schools that work for you financially and offer the kind of training you’re looking for.

 
 

Oh, also, there’s a great book on the acting business called Acting- Make it Your Business, that was written by a New York casting agent and director who works in film and theatre. The book was written in 2010, and he says that in today’s industry, even if you want to act solely on film, you should at least have a bachelor’s degree. It’s false when people claim that people in hollywood don’t care if you have a degree. He also says that while you don’t necessarily need an MFA, it’s a HUGE advantage, and agents cast from MFA showcases a lot these days.

 

Thanks for the great advice, will check out this book, and it really helps others when you post this kind of info so thanks again! As for agents… many go to showcases, and I got several auditions from these showcases at USC myself, but it was only because I personally had invited these agents and pursued meeting them after as well - also - having known many casting directors, I can tell you that they really don’t care where you went, they just care if you’re right for the part. I’m not saying that training isn’t good to have, or that they aren’t a tiny bit interested if you’ve trained, but they’re more interested if you look and sound right (and can act right - or just basically BE) the part. I know I often sound jaded, I seriously am not. I just want people to believe in themselves and become good actors doing it their way, and not always think they have to spend $50,000 a year to be considered good actors. Get headshots that look like you, be yourself, and go out for parts that are your inherent “type” and then just relax and live your life and don’t give others too much power over how you feel about yourself. That’s all I’m saying… Thanks again for the info about the book! Everything we can and do read about this industry helps! - Kirsten

 
 
 

I agree with #6 so much…but it was all the way in grade school and high school that I had teachers who didn’t encourage me! There was only ONE in between them who did and I am very grateful she gave me a chance in swing choir! But when I got to high school, even after helping out on the school musical to show that teacher I could get along with people, she didn’t even bother to cast me the next year. I was so devastated that I decided to quit performing after she told me she only thought I could sing and not act or dance.

Not only that, I had a guidance counselor who discouraged me as it turns out she couldn’t reach her dream of becoming a doctor. Well, isn’t that entirely different?

I am glad I did pull myself together and decided to go into it again. It hasn’t been easy, but I have met more people who’ve encouraged me.

 

Thanks Joanna,
I get so upset when I hear about teachers that discourage actors or anyone else from believing in themselves. They don’t realize that one tiny comment can make you go down the wrong path, or give you “issues” for the rest of your life. Especially for us actors. Anyway, I’m so sorry you experienced this hardship but I’m so GLAD that you didn’t listen and you went ahead and kept on acting and got on with your life! You are strong and talented and beautiful and you are enough! Thanks for coming to my site! - Kirsten

 
 
 

Dear Kirsten,

Thank you very much for all the information that you have been sharing with us. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce my self, I am working as a key account manager in the biggest ground handling company of Turkey. I graduated from University as Industrial Engineer with Bachelor Degree. 3 years ago, I decided to be what I would like to be since I was a child. I have been training acting for 3 years. I graduated from MSM Actor’s Studio in Turkey and It was 1 year acting program. I had many stage performances during the program. I am sharing one of them below,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPmlIlkW7Fw

I would like to be honest, before I read your posts, I was thinking to earn enough money to live and go NYFA for MFA of Acting. I checked all details about living in L.A and training in NYFA for 2 years. The money that I should collect is 82.000 USD. To be able to have this amount I have to work for 1,5 years more. This means I will start my education in August 2014. I am 29 years old atm. In 2015 I will be 31. When I finish MFA I will be 33. At the end, I will have MFA Acting certificate but It will be the same likw now. I will start everything again.

Atm I have 20.000 USD and I keep on working. I earn good money for living in Turkey but my job is full time. I wake up 05:30 a.m in the morning and I come home at 18:00. My agency invited me 4 times for daily acting jobs in this year, but I could not leave the office. Another important point is, I do not want to be an actor in Turkey. I want to build and expand my acting career in Hollywood. I would like to act in Hollywood productions. I have been watching Amerikan films since I was 3 years old. I believe I was born in wrong country. I believe I belong to Hollywood.

I need your advice,
1- Should I stay in Turkey and try to be an actor in Turkey. and wait for invite from Hollywood :) ? I do not know howmuch years I should spend.
2- If you suggest to stay in Turkey should I join another job that I can work part time in Turkey?
3- Should I move to L.A as soon as possible which means moving to the heart of my dreams?

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Best Regards,
Caner INAN

inancaner83@hotmail.com

 

Hi Caner, that is so fabulous that you wrote such a long reply to this post. My husband is Turkish Cypriot, so I feel like I know where you’re coming from (he’s from London, but spent every summer in N Cyprus)…his dad’s from there (his names Ozan!)… anyway - you sound like you have REALLY thought this whole thing out. In fact, I think you’ve thought it out so much more than most people do that you could probably write a blog yourself on how you’re planning to do all this. I’m very very proud of you. The reason I’m so proud is that it really does take this kind of financial and emotional preparation to make such a big move - even if you’re not going to go into the acting world. Moving to a big city like LA or NY or Chicago from a different country (or even from a small town in the US) is VERY hard and very expensive to say the least! I can’t really give you the answers to all your questions. In fact, I just put up a new post about the Myths of Making It in LA. What I mean is, when looking at your questions, I feel that in your heart, you think that if you “just did X, Y, or Z” then you’ll finally be making the right choice, which will somehow guarantee or promise you some kind of success, and that you are worried if you make the wrong choice, you will not be successful. Just know that I think you are on the right path. Life is a journey, and you can not make the wrong decision. That being said, as a foreigner, you need to understand that you can not work professionally in LA without a Green Card/Work Permit, and you have to get that either through marriage, being sponsored by a company, or through an investment visa (many good sites online to give advice about all of these things)… And no one is ever born in the wrong country. We all long for something or some life we don’t have, so don’t beat yourself up about that. LA and America isn’t as glamorous as it seems, believe me - even my husband realized this after moving to the states. He couldn’t believe it wasn’t all Baywatch, and Ferris Beuler’s Day Off! hahaha! For the time being, I would get another job that allows you to act more, try to get an agent in Turkey, and work on your English and your American Accent. Thanks again for coming to my site and thanks too for your amazing honesty about what you’re trying to do. I know it’s inspired many of us! Keep on acting! - Kirsten

 
 
 

This is one of the best blogs ever written on the subject. She should’ve mentioned some of the great private acting schools though!

 
 

Hi Kristen!! I’m 14 years old and I live in Minnesota, but I really want to start my professional acting career. What’s your advice? There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity for me here, but I wouldn’t be able to move to Los Angeles for four or five years. I also want to know if it’s possible to make a living off of being an actress. What are some other jobs in the film/tv industry? Please reply if you get a chance, thanks so much!!

 

HI Larissa, One of the best things you can do is to buy some books about how movies are made - just go on Google/Amazon and type that phrase in and you’ll find many books out there to teach you about the kinds of jobs there are. Also - another great way to learn about it is to get DVDs and watch the behind the scenes parts on the DVDs in the extras sections. As far as acting, it’s very very hard to make a living by being an actor, that’s one reason I wrote this website. Because you are still so young, I would concentrate on learning to act, and maybe be in some local plays at school and in community or local professional theatre. That will help you see if you really like it or not. Moving to LA isn’t always the answer, sometimes it actually gets in the way of your career. There’s a lot of acting, commercial, modeling, and theatre work all over the country for which you can get involved. Thanks for coming to my site, thanks for your comment, and keep on acting! - Kirsten

 
 
 

Hi Kirsten,

Your post was so enlightening. I’ve been trying to getting into a big, prestigious MFA program for the past couple of years with no success. For some reason I’ve latched on to this idea that I need a masters and formal training to be a respectable, legitimate actor. The funny thing is, I’m already a working makeup artist and an agented actor in the Mississippi/Louisiana film industry. I just can’t seem to let go of this dream of having an MFA though. I’m currently applying for the New York Film Academy’s Acting for Film program, and wondered if you had an opinion of NYFA vs. some of the more prestigious schools, since NYFA is more of a hands-on trade school that focuses more on acting for the camera and the business aspect of the industry. Thank you for any input you might have.

 
 

Hi Kirsten,
I just wanted to make a tiny comment. I don’t know if I was simply lucky, but I did get a leading role In the Equity Production of Tamara in Los Angeles right after graduating from USC with an MFA in drama. Getting both the audition and the role was — according to the casting director, partially because I had my MFA degree. He felt that the MFA on my resume showed a commitment to the craft of acting. (Many others in the cast also had MFAs from various programs across the country.)
Because of my role in this play, I started getting auditions in film and TV. One of my guest starring roles was on LA LAW. I ended up marrying the Executive Producer of the show, Rick Wallace. Rick has an MFA from Cal Arts that he values very much. (He is still an Executive Producer and director to this day. He has worked on many, many shows. Most recently ‘The Closer’, with Kyra Sedgwick who got a BFA from USC, and now the spin off series called Major Crimes .) In regards to theatre, Rick and I are currently about to open a play at the Los Angeles Center Studios. It is a play that I wrote, Rick is directing, and our daughter has one of the leads acting in it. Our son, a musician, is doing the sound design for play. In this regard we are a happy nepotistic family!
By the way, I though you were a huge talent at SC. I loved acting with you, and I am sorry that one of the really good professors we had died. I remember you were originally from Kansas. Do you live there now? All the best, Lillian.

 

Wow - Lillian! So GREAT to hear from you and about your life since SC! I hope you read more of my posts, because I didn’t have a terrible time there, just some hardships (you know what I mean)… and I miss Tad terribly, he was one of THE best acting teachers I’ve ever had and an amazing soul and was always my champion! Will write you more privately on that regard when I have time. So happy to hear you have kids, and that you’ve acted so extensively. I became a director/producer for many many years (check out my faith-based Kansas Farm documentary, ZENITH) - also worked for the BBC - long story, and only recently moved back to KC (from LA) a few years ago. So happy to reconnect with you. I always thought of you as my big sister - did you know that? - and you were one of my best friends at SC, and I’ve wondered where you were, what you were doing, for years. So thrilled to hear about your play. You are SUCH a talent, the world deserves more theatre from you. I remember all those incredible SA plays you were in, and think of you often! Miss you darling one! Kirsten

 
 
 

It is so great to hear from you! I have been really busy with the preview of the play this coming Saturday at the Los Angeles Center Studios. At the same time Rick is directing an episode of ‘Major Crimes’ starting this Friday. We are sort of moving along on auto pilot trying to get everything done! Great to hear that you are back in Los Angeles, I would love to see you. Love to you always, Lillian

 
 

I am an aspiring actor who did NOT study acting as an undergraduate and is currently applying to MFA programs. Of course I can’t speak to your experience and I am sure your opinion is valid, but I think the worth of an MFA is dependent on the program and the student. Did USC have a showcase? Were you union eligible when you graduated? Did they have a professional theatre you were able to audition for? Honestly, if a program offered none of these factors, then I would have to agree with you. The programs worth your money (NYU, Julliard, UCLA, USD, Actor’s Studio) will and some of them will even waive tuition completely. The reason you dont come across actors on your auditions with success stories is because there are thousands of actors out there and only a handful of them were lucky enough to attend these programs and those who did are not auditioning because they’re working. Furthermore, an MFA opens the door for opportunities such as teaching or working at the college level, if not after graduation, then in the future. I will say that I agree that you are wasting your time and money if you are just looking for a piece of paper that will magically get you work without doing your research in regards to the program, its relationship and reputation in the industry, and without really considering what it is you’re hoping to gain.

 
 

Kirsten, thank you for your article. I’m not sure how up-to-date you are with current Drama schools, but I’d like to vent to you and see what you think.
All my life I had wanted to be an actress/singer, and my grandmother had actually been a famous soap actress in Korea. My family discouraged me from acting, despite how I persisted. I thought my unique ethnicity (EurAsian) would give me a leg up. Many had said I had the look, and my high metabolism kept me thin. For my childhood rival, however, her desire to pursue acting was enough, as her single mother allowed her to do whatever she wanted. I was invited to join her at many camps, but my mother said no. Naturally, I had the better singing voice, and when I found my rival was taking singing lessons, I asked my mom if I could get one. My old drama teacher gave me names for instructors, but my mom never went through with it. I was so frustrated. Now, my rival is going to Tisch, and I couldn’t be more jealous. I’ll be moving to SoCal for college in business and english, and hopefully end up at UCLA law, unless I pursue business (lawyers have been having it tough lately). But if I end up going to UCLA or USC someday, do you think if I act on the side I could find a way into Hollywood? I hate how I had the raw talent, I was always the star, but my parents refused to pay for something so risky. I then became shy, feeling I wasn’t worth it (also around the time I was bullied at school/ostracized), and so my love for everything dwindled. Is there hope for someone like me?

-Nonny

 
 

I’m sorry if there are a few typos. I’m using my phone.
Anyway, would NYU’s Tisch give her much more opportunities than I? I do have connections, but my family made sure to close those off from me. Essentially, I am on my own unless I contact my estranged aunt and uncle.

 
 

Yes, I am back… I just felt the need to respond to Nonny; I apologize if my input is off base. If you want to act, go for it! It’s great you’re going to school for business and English! That means that you will not only have something to fall back on, but you will be an expert on how to market yourself and will have the business mind that many aspiring artists lack. You are in the center of the industry in LA,not to mention UCLA, which offers fantastic acting workshops and classes, which you should absolutely take full advantage of. Go out and meet some actors, get a reference for an agency. It is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, you might have an advantage over your friend just being in LA. Your friend may be going to Tisch, but many that do end up not finding success, and many that have never even gone to college have a great career. My point is, each success story in this business is unique. Everyone’s journey is different. I know an actor who is in his late 40’s and it wasn’t until a few years ago he decided he wanted to act. Now I see him in Iphone commercials. What matters most is perseverance and a desire to learn and grow. You have the freedom now to follow your dreams and I suggest you take full advantage and just go for it! Also, your parents may have stifled your artistic expression, but it might have given you the focus you needed to get into one of the best schools in country (not to mention one of the best schools for acting). You are SO young! Quit saying I “had” raw talent, I “was” always the star. You’re life has yet to begin, believe me. You still have plenty of time to nurture your talent.

 

Hi KT - I know you have had many questions and comments, sorry, I’ve been busy working in a play, moving, having life dramas (a 4th miscarriage - YIKES!) and on and on. But I just am now getting back to my blog and seeing all your great posts! I wanted to thank you for that and will try to reply more directly to them when I have a second and am feeling more like my old self! Really appreciate it when all you guys talk back and forth with each other and help each other out. That’s what this should be - a real community! THANKS AGAIN!
Kirsten

 
 

I know you have had many questions and comments, sorry, I’ve been busy working in a play, moving, having life dramas (a 4th miscarriage - YIKES!) and on and on. But I just am now getting back to my blog and seeing all your great posts! I wanted to thank you for that and will try to reply more directly to them when I have a second and am feeling more like my old self! Really appreciate it when all you guys talk back and forth with each other and help each other out. That’s what this should be - a real community! THANKS AGAIN!
Kirsten

 
 
 

I am really keen to get into the acting industry. I have a really important question here, ‘Should i opt for Tisch or Lee Stratsberg?’ Although, Lee Stratsberg is unaccredited, does it offer better training and exposure to the industry? I am really confused between the two.

Awaiting your response(s).

 

I can’t be the decider for you for such an important decision but it would be awesome if you got into both programs and had to decide between the two. Honestly, I’m actually a fan of neither. Because both lock you into year long programs (at least) with a big payout up front, and then you can’t really leave if you don’t like them, and honestly, if you were to move to and live in NY, you’d be able to take private weekly classes that don’t lock you in and aren’t as expensive, then save all that money for rent and headshots etc…! Think about it. And no, I don’t have names of great private teachers in NY, sorry, I would Google them, and then visit NY (if you don’t live there) and AUDIT ALL OF THEM (including NYU and Lee Stras)…Hope this helps! Hang in there, keep believing in yourself, but also, be realistic about the costs of living in such large cities and all that means for you and your family! - Thanks again! Kirsten

 
 
 

Hi Kristen,

This is a very insightful article. I’m in the 3rd year of USC’s 3 year MFA program. Today in one of our classes the professor talked about something I had no idea about, the 2 year MFA professional actor training program that you attended. The professor, Philip Allen described the program in pretty good detail, the professors were old, hadn’t worked, were tenured and not interested in leaving the school, and the school (which wasn’t even a full school within the university at the time) had no building.

I google 2 year MFA acting USC and voila, your article comes up and I see the same exact descriptions (and then some) right here on this article. It sounds like a awful place an I feel for anyone who was duped with that kind of program.

I’d like to tell you here and now, USC’s MFA Actor training program is completely different from what you described….in pretty much every single way you described. Except for cost, it still costs an arm and several legs.

I don’t want to spend an entire night defending the program and how it’s changed since you were here, but I would like to personally invite you to one of our shows. I browsed around your website and it really seems you’ve done well for yourself despite the old program.

I included a link to our Facebook fan page. Here it is again facebook.com/USCMFAActors

It’s not much but I think it gives a good picture of what we’re doing. It’s mostly devoted to our final year of training.

Please contact me, I’d love to discuss this more. I’m very proud of the program and what I KNOW I have accomplished there.

 

Awe Kendall, bless your heart, and thank you for sharing all that with me.

I know, I’ve had many people tell me how much USC has changed since I attended, and I’m sure many of the admin there aren’t too thrilled about my description (even some of my past students/friends weren’t thrilled).

Honestly, if I lived in LA still, I’d be there in a second to tour the new facilities and see a show. We had GREAT shows too! That wasn’t the problem. The problem was: cost, locking you in, politics, neurotic teachers, training for stage vs for fim/tv, and much more. Notice I say “why programs aren’t worth it” not why “USC” isn’t worth it, okay? I site my program, but I am talking about programs in general after being there for 15 years and having a ton of friends who also went to MFA programs.

While yes, many of the teachers were old, when I went there, some of them were the best of all, like Herb Shore, and Tad Danielevski, and although I had 2 other wonderful teachers there, movement, vocal, most of the really older ones who kind of started the program way back when (who were actually quite good too) mostly taught the BFA’s.

And yes, we did have to work out of a crappy little building (although we weren’t a separate school? - not sure what you meant about that - other than the fact that they never got the actors and the film students together)… maybe that’s changed too. I hope so, because our facilities other than the large old stage really really sucked. For that amount of money, it was a JOKE!

I know I complain about USC, but honestly, I have had so many friends who’ve spent so much money getting their MFAs in various university settings, and they just enter the professional LA acting scene so broke, that they never fully recover. And most people move to LA to go to a program like that one so that they’ll be in the heart of the film and TV acting worlds.

Now, it DOES sound like they do a ton more of that kind of teaching, so that’s fantastic. Cus we did NOT when I was there. We were fabulous theatrical actors, but not the best film/tv actors when we got out, which is why I had to retrain.

But luckily for you, it really does sound like times have changed, and there are awesome amazing vibrant working actors from the LA film/tv scene teaching there (I hope!). YEAH YEAH YEAH! I take all your comments totally to heart! I really do!

But I also want to add here, that when you are 35, after you’ve lived in LA for the next 10 - 15 years, I’d love to see if you wish you would have had your parents or bank, give you the tuition money to put down on a small condo, or into an indie film or play for you to have as a showcase, or just to help you pay your rent for the next ten years, instead of putting it into an MFA program. I would love to talk to you then.

Because that’s all I’m really MOST concerned with. Is where it all leaves you five years down the line. And could you have MAYBE, just maybe, have gotten all the same education privately at an one of the number of fantastic private weekly classes all over LA, for about a billionth of the cost, and put that tuition to better use (so that you wouldn’t also have to work a crappy day job while trying to act full time - which SUCKS and which you will have to do, and you don’t think about that very much when you’re 21, 22 in grad school and maybe still getting a bit of help)…

Because I also want to say here too, that most people move to LA to BE PROFESSIONAL ACTORS!! RIGHT? (I say that nicely, not with anger). That’s why we move there. And so the argument that many people always use at this point is that it’s a “fall back” plan - to get an MFA - and sadly, it’s kinda is not too great. Because what happens is that you work professionally for say 10 - 15 years in LA as an actor, and if you don’t feel like you’re making it, then you start looking for university teaching work, and let me tell you, those folks aren’t that impressed that you’ve been in LA acting and working Retail for 15 years, or whatever…even if you’ve had an impressive career directing films like moi - hahaha! - no, they’re looking for people who’ve been directing plays for 15 years, teaching in other universities (right out of college). Hiring boards of academic institutions have NO SENSE OF CREATIVITY at all! It’s bizarre.

So if you really just want to teach acting, right out of college, in another college program, then the MFA might be absolutely right for you.

Okay - sorry for such a long and hopefully not too negative rant. But I just wanted to tell you where this article came out of. If you read my other articles/posts you’ll see where my heart is (I’m a protective mama bird! haha!) Thanks again, and break a leg, and stay in touch Kendall, and I hope you’re in some great productions!

I’m proud of you for beings so honest and for sticking up for a program you love. Totally a good way to be! I felt kind of the same way as you about my program when I was in it and it was years later that I started thinking, what?…

Thanks again - Kirsten

 
 
 

Hi Kirsten,

This article really opened my eyes. My parents were very anti-arts. They let me take acting classes until high school, but as soon as I started getting the leads and started talking seriously about making this a career, they freaked out and forced me to quit and bullied me into focusing on something more “practical” aka becoming a lawyer.

I just turned 23, I graduated in 2013 from the University of Utah with a degree in political science, and I am NOT going to be a lawyer. I really want to act, and being the novice I am in all this, I have no idea where to start. I plan to move to LA this fall, but I’m worried I’m too old, have missed the boat, what say you. What classes would you recommend to make up for a lack of degree? Is it true that if you haven’t started by, like, 16, you don’t have a shot at “making it”? I currently work as a radio DJ and have some production experience, but I honestly have no idea how to get started. Any advice would be spectacular. Thanks.

 

Hi Kate, Hang in there! I have SO many articles on my blog that you can read. I recommend just going through it and trying to read as many as you can. I really think they’ll answer all your questions. You are NEVER too old to start acting, take classes, and get into the swing of things. Get involved in a weekly group sting class, there are a ton in LA! That’s the way to start! Thanks for your kind words, and keep on acting! - Kirsten :-)

 
 
 

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Dear Llc - thanks so much for your kind comments! - Kirsten

 
 

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Thank you so much for this.Everything you said is very true and precious. When you wrote about some teachers that belittle their students I recognized my own experience. If I would have read something like that years ago I would have found the courage to speak up and say that certain remarks weren’t appropriate. For years these comments made me feel so low in my self esteem and in my craft….

 
 

Very interesting article and great comments! I agree with a lot being said here but I feel I need to throw in my two cents for what ever it is worth for anyone thinking about attending an MFA program. I attended a program in 2006 and in the orientation the Dean said one piece of advice that stuck with me “run your own race.” We all come to a program for different reasons and more importantly we all have different skills and talents. In my opinion the only reason one should consider an intensive program such as an MFA is that they want to do nothing else in life for a period of time but too develop and expand there “own personal skills and talents.” The whole expectation thing I think kills it for a lot of actors and creates a lot of resentment afterwards for a lot of people. The hard truth that most people aren’t honest with themselves about or mature enough to even contemplate is how hard this profession of acting is and the reality is a no program can guarantee any success or even employment outside of school. IT IS ALL ON YOU! Regardless if you go to program or do classes it all on you. We all have dreams and we all have passions but we also have to realistic about who we are and what we can bring to the work. Do you want to teach? Do you want to do plays? Do you want to make money and be famous? None of these things are wrong to want but you better know what you want in this profession because they all have different paths and costs associated with them. More important you have to be honest with yourself ask yourself if you have the skill sets for the give path. Some people are not made for the movie or television screen no matter his hard they try or what classes they take. It is a visual medium and camera doesn’t love everyone. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be a great stage actor or even teacher down the line. I saw a lot of “I’m going to do this after school,” and out of my whole program I can only say a handful have representation and are pursuing acting professionally. If you do decide on studying I suggest you pursue the profession a little first or talk to those who have and get an idea where you think you could honestly fit in. If you still really want it for the love it and to be the best YOU can be go study! Or else save your money and time because I only saw a few actors get better from day one till graduation and they were the ones who wanted it and took responsibility for there own success. Best of luck!