20-Something Actors, Theatre/Drama/Acting Degrees, and Pilot Season

@Kristi06 you have no idea how relevant that post is to our situation right now! My D has four BFA offers but her agents are trying to convince her to go to a school that will allow her to continue to audition during the four years (basically a BA program). So at this point she is leaning heavily towards the BA at Loyola Marymount in LA because they are ok with their students auditioning…although if she were to book something big she would have to take a leave of absence. Or she could just continue to audition for commercial work which wouldn’t require leaving school. We have been in CA this whole week so my D could visit Calarts and LMU and last night we had dinner with an old friend of mine who owns a successful casting agency. He said he reads resumes from the bottom up so interests and skills are relevant and he does look at the training that an actor has, but it doesn’t have to be a BFA. And he said he gets literally thousands of submissions for one role and he looks through every single one!

@Kristi06 I am so sorry you guys were under the impression that where you get your degree matters. (Hopefully the school didn’t tell you that!) It may have at one point years ago, but the market has changed so much and become so saturated in NYC, even in the past 5 years, that really it makes no difference. And no one should go into debt for these BFA programs if they can help it. :frowning: This is something that I drill into the kids I have advised about theatre degrees. Your D might want to try moving to a smaller market? Best of luck to your D.

@Kristi06, I don’t know how long she’s been auditioning for film/commercials, but honestly, even if you’re established, you can expect to audition for 20-100 things before you’re cast in one. And the fact that the agent saw her three times meant she was interested, but for whatever reason - possibly market saturation of her type, or her personal saturation of her type, or that she felt she looked too old and she needed only very young looks etc - she didn’t take her. That doesn’t mean that she won’t gain representation out of her CMU connections some day.

There are so many factors–many out of your control. Yes, connections matter. But so do many other factors. Like, the screaming–she could scream but it’s not about just that; it’s about the vision of the casting person as to who is doing the screaming and how it sounds etc. You have to keep going, keep auditioning.

One thing that a school may inadvertently give students the wrong impression of are the chances of being cast from an audition. Yes, the market in NYC and LA is brutal. For some people (depending on your goals) regional is a great bet. But chances are and have always been extremely low, even for established actors. The key is getting the auditions–getting out there. After that it’s out of your control.

This is why so many actors quit (any artist really)-facing rejection is tough for everyone, and then to have it thrown in your face all the time is very very hard, especially when you don’t know the outcome. I mean if you could have a crystal ball and know that in, say, 6 years time, after a slew of rejections, you’ll land a major movie, you could keep going; but it’s the unknowability that it is so difficult. And even if you do get that movie, that’s no guarantee you will get another one. I mean, everyone knows this intellectually But it’s one thing to know it intellectually, and another to know it in your gut. I think many students have this idealistic belief - it’s only natural - that they will be different or that they have to pound the pavement for a year, then everything will fall into place, or that all they have to do is audition for a couple of things and they will get cast. It’s just not like that even for established actors.

I slightly disagree with @stagedoormama-- I agree that in some senses it doesn’t matter where you go. But it does in other senses. Some schools will open doors to auditions; this can vary from theatre to theatre, casting person to casting person; but it can open doors. Opening doors and landing an audition (not an open call) is a big deal. But you can’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the only deal. After the door opens, there’s still a very low chance of landing a part, and that’s when it doesn’t really matter; very few people will care where you went to school when they’re comparing the auditions and trying to cast the best person to sell their diet soda or the best person to play a vampire’s boyfriend. Still, you can’t land a part without that door opening, without auditioning in the first place.

But maybe more deeply, as far as the college you go to–I think it matters because it can give you the opportunity to build your community and connections. I read a very wise post once --someone said while it’s great to be handed connections (e.g. be Brad Pitt’s kid), you can also form your own connections. This is true. I know of several grads here on CC who have made amazing use of the connections they built on through their school; in this sense where they went mattered very much.

The fact is a career in the arts is almost like the priesthood–it’s a tough business, and you really have to feel the call. Going to any particular school is never a guarantee of anything, but it can be a factor in your path.

So very true. I think unless a student, or the student’s family, is very familiar with the realities of the theatre business, they often have this idealistic belief. As you say, it’s only natural, but it’s why I no longer recommend this path to any students I know, or who ask for my assistance. It doesn’t mean that I don’t help them if they still decide to take the chance, I always do, to the best of my ability but there just isn’t enough work out there to make it a worthwhile pursuit for the number of kids going in, thinking that they are going to have a performance career. It’s one reason that I cringed, instead of celebrated as some here did, when it was posted recently that yet another college was starting an MT program.

One has only to look at the annual salary/employment figures available from AEA every year. Today, I sat on the other side of the table during auditions for a professional production which won’t take place until 2018. The dozen actors we saw were all extremely talented with very impressive professional resumes having performed across North America and in the West End. They were all called in for the sessions as they are all wonderful candidates for this particular show. In reality, we could cast this show a dozen times over. It’s a very discouraging feeling to know that most of those we saw today will not book the show. There are simply too many talented people for the amount of work available.

I agree with connections about connections. Having a particular school on your resume may not matter, although at times it will, what does matter is the connections that you may have made while at a particular school. That was the case for my daughter, and it has kept her working continuously since graduating. Had she not gone to her school, she likely wouldn’t be where she is now. It’s possible that she’d be somewhere else, equally successful, but unlikely. So, for her, it worked out well. This is such a crazy business, though, and it’s so unpredictable, it’s important, as has been said for as long as I’ve been on CC, and probably longer!, that graduating with debt will make this difficult path, even more difficult.

I stopped looking here when the thread went to page 2 and now I’m getting email notifications that it’s come back to life. I guess Fishbowl was right in telling me that I wouldn’t get off that easy! haha I might have to pass the ball to her since I’m uncomfortable talking to parents which is why I never participated here when I was in high school.

I thought when I posted this thread that it would go without saying that earning a BFA guarantees you nothing other than you will have the opportunity to acquire a rock solid foundation in the craft of acting far beyond what you could get from taking once-a-week classes and you will have a college degree. Period. A LOT more goes into forging a career than just that.

The numbers I offered are merely the 20-something actors who booked pilots this year which is a tiny percentage of all the people out there in that age range who call themselves actors as well as a very small percentage of those who attended college acting programs. For instance, I count five Juilliard BFAs and in the approximately eight years in which those actors could have graduated, Juilliard Drama has turned out 144 actors around half of whom were in the BFA track. That’s around 7% which is beyond outstanding considering that it would be much lower at the other top schools. Carnegie has one out of 192 and NYU has 8 out of 1600 if they were to only graduate 200 per year even though I meant it when I said that the Tischies are tearing it up this year because, relatively speaking, they are.

While I can’t speak for the numbers in NYC, around 127,000 people come to LA to be actors every year. Around 2,000-3,000 have Theatre/Drama/Acting degrees with around 200-300 of those coming from what are usually thought to be top schools. I’ll posit that percentage-wise, the numbers with which I started this thread indicate that it’s a pretty good way to go assuming that you can pull it off without burying yourself in debt to the extent that you won’t be able to afford to be an actor after you graduate. From a craft perspective, I could go on about what I saw of the work being done in some of the big name LA technique and scene study studios when I audited, but I will leave it at saying that you will be much better off getting your foundation in college. There are some of what I call finishing teachers and audition coaches that I recommend for those who have the kind of foundation that you will be best off getting in college who really are great, but that is a different subject.

Another thing I thought when I started this thread is that it would go without saying that if you are going to do this, it had better be out of pure love given the small likelihood that you will ever make a living from acting. This is something that was drilled into me from the very first time I took a pre-professional level acting class. As a wise one once told me, “Expectation is the mother of resentment.” There are two things that you do not want in your professional life that lots of degree’d actors have: Debt and Entitlement. You want little of the first and none of the second. Trust me. Neither will serve you.

One more tidbit I will offer is that you need to forget the idea of “luck” which is simply what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Also forget the idea of “It’s who you know.” No, no, no, no, no! It’s who knows YOU and who will vouch for you which comes about as the fruit of an intelligent application of Politics, Personality, and Craft which is the updated version of the great 90’s teacher Milton Katselas’ oft repeated saying that it comes down to “Acting, Attitude, and Administration.”

There is so much more that I could say, but I’ll hold off unless somebody says something that makes me get into those things since it’s real world career stuff and deffo not about college per se. So you think college audition season is tough? Just wait. I really am starting to believe that it takes a recessive gene. haha

I recommend all of the kids (and anyone planning to go into acting professionally) to read the Audition Update website, especially the section called “Bitching Post.” It’s a very eye-opening (and sobering) window into the life of actors auditioning in New York.

Or, you know, get them to move to Chicago where it is much more humane.

@Kristi06 I’m sorry your daughter is having such a hard time. I have witnessed the insanity with my own child who recently graduated Tisch. You are right, for a one line role she will be competing against at LEAST 1500 other girls. Even non paying roles are hard to get!

But we have witnessed something different. The kids that are getting work right out of NYU, some of them already series regulars, in real studio movies, fully supporting themselves from acting ( less than a year after graduating!!) … had NO connections. What they all have in common is a great look, they look very young, and many of them are ethnically ambiguous or Latino. We have learned, your looks is the most important thing that agents and casting directors are looking for. Talent second. And all of them are talented too.

If your daughter is white and can’t play a 16 year old, it will take her longer. But your daughter clearly has talent, so it could happen for her. My daughter knew going into this that this is a marathon, not a race. And one of the beauties of Tisch is that she was well used to the competition and the rejection. There was no guaranteed casting in school and she had to beat out HUNDREDS of kids for a role in a mainstage. She also was auditioning for NYC casting directors and agents weekly in class. She has become an auditioning pro. And she got used to the rejection. This prepares them for the reality that awaits at graduation.

@theatreGoddess - I completely agree with you about the “benefits” of the larger program at NYU - those kids learn to fight/survive early on!

I agree with this. My D has been working constantly since graduating 8 years ago with a BFA from Tisch. I don’t feel she gets work because of who she knows. It really is about who knows of her.

For one thing, the peer group from Tisch alone give one another work. Her friends are working and she is working and they each provide one another with work. Sometimes this is on major projects (inc. Broadway), but sometimes more minor too. On a more minor note, right now my D has a yearlong residency at a venue where she is performing monthly concerts of her original work. She has a guest artist every month. Each guest artist is a friend/peer from Tisch’s BFA program. A couple of them have starred in Off Broadway shows, one has been on Broadway and TV, another stars in her own TV show, etc. My D has cast her Tisch friends also in her own original theater productions sometimes too.

Another thing is to get yourself out there and make work for yourself. People will come to know you through your work. One thing leads to another because as people become familiar with your work, that leads to being asked to come in for this or that project. She doesn’t rely on auditioning to find work and to make it in theater. Truthfully, she doesn’t have much time to audition. Further, if she is booked up all year with projects and shows, she has to not audition as she could not take the job anyway.

Another thing is to diversify and do many theater related things. My D hardly ever auditions. She works nonstop and turns down offers (even an offer on Broadway, or a lead in a regional production or an offer to produce her show at a major regional theater). She has three simultaneous careers in theater and music and each one could keep her busy. But what is good is if one area is not super busy, she has the other areas to focus on. On the other hand, it requires turning some opportunities down as it is hard to balance it all (a good problem to have).

My D has a huge network at this point. While her peer group from Tisch remains a very strong network, it has broadened a lot since graduating. As more people know of her work, she meets or works with other people and through that, develops a reputation. This has led to more work. She didn’t enter this field with “connections.” But due to all whom she has met during her college years and professional career, many now know her. That leads to more offers to work on this and that. Likewise, her friends from Tisch (that doesn’t include every graduate) are working in the field, many at the highest levels. I am impressed with the success of her friendship group.

By the way, my D has also been the other side of casting and sometimes holds auditions, but sometimes makes offers of roles to those who have a good reputation in the field without ever having them audition. Likewise, sometimes my D is cast in things without ever having auditioned. Being seen performing can lead to offers down the line. I think a lot of time, roles are cast that way.

Yes. What @soozievt says is definitely true, but you do not need to be a great musician to make it happen in your own way and you can accomplish lots of things towards that end while you are still in school.

My alma mater has a good alumni network, but not nearly as expansive as schools like Tisch or USC and what exists from the Drama department is mainly centered in NYC. However, immediately after graduation, I was able to hit the ground running in LA with top tier rep, a pie survival job at a production company, a nice place to live with chill roommates, and a mobilized network from which I was able to expand organically - to soon include some influential Trojans and Tischies - and it had nothing whatsover to do with the LA showcase which was kind of a fail my year no thanks to its out-of-the-way venue.

How? It started with me having gotten hip to the self-production craze early on and showing up on campus with a handful of short screenplays that I had labored over the summer before while taking the time to acquire a working knowledge of filmmaking. I then made it a point to get to know the film students with whom I began to collaborate. Some my projects, mostly theirs. This led to me gaining the attention of the local filmmaking community with whom I worked during the summers and ending up with some films that I was in doing well at small festivals and a couple of others - one written by me - gaining lots of praise at big ones.

In the meantime, I was making it a point to reach out to working alumni from both the Drama and Film departments via social media - mainly Facebook - and by senior year, I was well positioned on their radar. Honestly, I didn’t even think of it as “networking” at first. I was just sincerely curious about what the people who were ahead of me were up to. But I realized that I was doing something right when an Emmy winner who I had never met in person and had no idea was visiting campus tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big, surprise bear hug when I turned around. haha It’s also how I got to know Fishbowlfreshman who graduated from the same high school four years ahead of me even though I had no idea that she was “Fishbowl” at the time until she inadvertently outed herself to me. Sorry, but you have no idea how hilarious that name is when attached to her. haha

So, kids. What are some of your core competencies you can nurture that might help you along in the future? You’re actors so you have lots of them right there within you. Ponder it. I’m sure some of you are also thinking that “networking” is phony and cheesy, right? I did at one time, but nope. Just be interested and ask interesting questions. It’s what will make you interesting.

Exactly…you don’t to be a musician or songwriter. Many of my D’s peers from her MT and Acting programs are directors, playwrights, and choreographers. Some started theater companies. Some are producers. They all studied acting (and/or MT). But they also create new work. The work my D creates, she also acts in. So, use whatever skill sets you have. Make work…it can mushroom in many ways.