Hello, this is my first post on this website. I've viewed it many times over the years and I would just like to give my insight on some things I have though about.
First off, I do not by any means intend my thread to be offensive to anyone. I am an avid believer of studying a major in which you love and thoroughly enjoy. College/University are some of the best years of your life, all of which can begin by completing a degree of a subject in which you are passionate about and plan to pursue as a career. This is merely just a thought I would like to share. I wouldn't even go as far saying it's an opinion.
As the title of the thread says, my question to all those on this forum, is it really necessary to have a degree in acting in order to be successful in the field as a serious profession? As I look through all these BFA/ BA acting programs offered at prestigious schools and conservatories like Carnegie Mellon, New York University, Yale, Rutgers University, Fordham University etc. the list really can go on for days, I really do wonder, is it truly worth paying an unbelievable amount in tuition to attend a university for an acting degree? I understand, of course, the greatest actor that ever lived can learn something new about the craft every day, but I honestly believe, that at a certain point it has to be said, that acting just cannot be taught. It can be examined, it can be perfected (to a degree) but really a person either has 'it' or they don't. I don't believe this as much when it comes to technical theatre, costume designing or even directing as there is certainly a lot that goes into those fields that require more than just a knack for the subject. However, I feel this is not as much the case with acting.
My main issue with an acting degree is really the curriculum the people in these programs follow. It seems to me that regardless of how many movement and voice classes a person takes, their true fluency and charisma on stage really comes from the heart. It comes from an ability that a person is simply born with and maybe taking classes might make it better, but I believe that no amount of movement or voice lessons will ever make a person an actor. Performing is something a person is born with. It is a way of expressing yourself beyond the use of words; you turn to acting, singing or dancing to let a side of you that is otherwise hidden come out and be on full display. Similarly to how a person is born with a knack for mathematics, another person can be taught to improve in the subject yet they may never have a real feel for it, I believe acting is an art form that no teacher can perfect or improve. As far as the financial aspect goes, I honestly find it hard to justify paying 50,000 dollars a year for a degree that does not guarantee a career after university and may even limit you to pursuing another field. This is especially strengthened by seeing the hundreds of successful TV/Movie/Stage actors that not only didn't get a degree in acting, but also didn't get a degree of any kind for that matter. When I look at the successful alumni that most of the more notable acting programs/conservatories boast of, I am actually surprised by how few there are. You would expect that spending so many long hours in a studio studying and practicing acting would ensure you to have something an 'untrained' person doesn't, when it seems that in the real world, that is not the case at all. It's about perfecting your audition and while you may be a fantastic actor that has gotten even better due to training, someone that has had no training and not as much luck as you may ace an audition and get the part simply because there is no amount of training that would make that specific individual a better actor. It seems very risky sending your child off into this big, scary world to pursue a career that is largely based off of luck and first impressions. If you're a great actor but is out-done by a better one every time you audition (and that better actor may or may not have a degree in acting), coupled with the immense amount of debt, you may have a few VERY difficult years as a young adult. A good example would be James Gandolfini. He was the star of the long running HBO series, "The Sopranos" and is definitely a successful actor. He attended Rutgers University and earned a degree in Communications. A quick internet search will show you that he is definitely one of the more famous Rutgers alumni (as far as acting goes) and yet he didn't even major in acting or theatre. He was simply born with the passion and talent to act and he was perfect for a certain role that now has made him very successful. Clearly no training could have ensured a better chance of success.
I don't believe this is as much the case with a degree in theatre as you learn a whole range of crafts and improve each area. I also believe a degree in a more broad theatre program can lead to many different jobs as it teaches you communication skills, dedication and hard work as well as what it takes to work in a group. However, whilst a degree in acting may teach you some of those, it can definitely limit you to being good at just one craft rather than an array of different abilities.
I also am not a fan of the rigorous and heartbreaking process a child must go through just to be admitted to an acting program. Your child/teenage years are some of the most sensitive times of your life. A certain experience can certainly have an impact on who you become as an adult. A performer of any kind can also tend to be a very sensitive individual since they make a career out of showing a very personal side of them. The two put together makes it very hard for a young person aspiring to be an actor. I think, in many ways, it's truly a lot to ask of a child to not only have good grades, deal with emotional stress, take standardized exams as well as not only live up to your aspirations but also those of your parents/guardians and then, on top of all that to have to audition to be admitted to a school. I find this especially odd since many of the top-rate acting conservatories actually teach a student to audition well. It seems to really contradict the entire point of auditioning in the first place. Once again this all stems back to being lucky. This process also seems extremely nerve wracking and stressful for a young person to endure when they're just beginning the next chapter of their lives. This also seems like a very un-academic atmosphere to me and makes it seems as if every day is a competition.
I also find that in some ways, a conservatory can almost be harmful to your craft as an actor. Art is completely subjective. There's really no right or wrong if you can justify your reason to do something. A teacher is really just teaching their own method and whilst it may be very good, who's to really say it is any better than your own. The head of the drama department at NYU might have a very different approach to acting than say, the head at Carnegie Mellon, yet really which one has a more credible method? The answer is neither because that is the approach that makes THEM successful and yet it may not work for someone else. I hear that the 'method' approach to acting is usually, at the very least, introduced in most acting conservatories; however, at the same time I know that an actor like Daniel Radcliffe is definitely not a 'method' actor. Does that mean that everything he's done is wrong, simply because a drama teacher at a prestigious school believes there is no other way to acting? OF COURSE NOT. Just like every profession, different people excel in different ways. Speaking of Daniel Radcliffe, he is a perfect example of the lucky few as well as of a person who is simply born to act. He got his start very young, and whilst he most likely has had some form of training since, he was born with the talent; in fact, he was born with enough talent to make him successful at a young age. Has he had a great deal of initial luck? Definitely. Were there other 'auditionees' who were just as talented and suited for the role of 'Harry Potter' but just not as lucky on the day? Certainly.
The main point of my thread is really just to say, as with everything, there is no one way to a career. If you are not fit for or are not in favor of attending a BFA program, this certainly does not mean you will have no chance in being a professional actor. In fact, I believe studying in a BFA conservatory might give you the tools to be a professional actor but might limit you from taking many different kind of electives in college. As you grow up, you change ever single day and whilst you thought a career in acting was the only thing you wanted to pursue, an elective in psychology, English, biology, history etc. might open you up to a world you never explored before. I also think that the teacher of a subject is really the make or break element of a class. The teacher can either inspire you and make you more determined than ever to be an actor, or sadly, they may destruct your love for the subject. This is especially true when it comes to the programs that follow a more 'break-you-down' sort of approach and to even those that encourage a 'cut' of an amount of students after a year or so.
Once again, this thread is not in any ways meant to offend. It is just to start an interesting discussion on the subject of pursuing an acting degree. ANY viewpoints, insights or opinions are 100% appreciated!