Acting in BFA in Acting vs. BFA in MT Programs (and more)


<p>Dr. John,</p>

<p>Congratulations on such a loyal following.</p>

<p>There is a notion by some on CC about schools like yours that I would like to put on the table and hear your response. I apologize if it has been addressed previously as I don’t have time to review all the posts. </p>

<p>Some have implied that schools with exceptional MT programs may not be good places for straight actors to attend. Schools that I have heard mentioned in this way are Otterbien, Evansville, Webster and Elon. I guess the idea is one of being overshadowed, kind of the stepsister. </p>

<p>Thank you for your response.</p>

<p>WallyWorld - Evansville does not offer MT, only straight Acting.</p>


<p>Sorry for the delay in replying. Classes start on Monday, and the faculty has been in meetings all this week. This is the first chance I've had to respond.</p>

<p>The notion that Acting majors are at a disadvantage at schools which offer Musical Theatre is fairly common. At schools like ours where all majors are allowed to audition for all shows, singers obviously have a competitive advantage in that they have the skills to perform in straight plays as well as musicals, while non-singers lack the skills to compete for most roles in most musicals. It's also true that musicals tend to have larger casts. So if you're measuring by how often particular majors are cast in "mainstage" shows, then yes, MT's have some advantage.</p>

<p>It may also be true at some schools that Musical Theatre is the more difficult program to gain entry into, and so some students think that MT's must be more talented. At some places, MT may be the better-known, and therefore more "prestigious" program.</p>

<p>But none of this really impacts the training. At Otterbein, the core training for all performers is the Acting, Voice and Movement sequence. If anything, skilled actors have an advantage over students whose primary skills are in singing and/or dancing. </p>

<p>What we try to do is make sure that all of our performers are getting solid training in theatre, music and dance. We also strive to choose productions which offer good acting and performing challenges to our students, and we try to balance the offerings so that there are relatively equal opportunities for Acting and MT majors.</p>

<p>For what it's worth, the Central Ohio Theatre Critics Circle recently named our students as Best Actor and Best Actress in Columbus in the 2005-06 season. They were considered alongside professionals who had appeared in straight plays and in musicals both in touring productions and at Columbus' Equity house. The actor, a senior last year, was named for his work in "Leaving Iowa" and in "Harvey", and the actress, a junior last year, was named for her work in "Leaving Iowa" at Otterbein and in "Little Women" at Columbus Children's Theatre. Both were BFA Acting majors.</p>

<p>And, finally, the most immediately successful graduate in last year's senior class, who was the only woman to make it to the final three in CBS' "In Turn" internet show, was also an Acting major.</p>

<p>Hope this helps.</p>

<p>Congratulations on the industry recognition!</p>

non-singers lack the skills to compete for most roles in most musicals


<p>While that is certainly true…</p>

singers obviously have a competitive advantage in that they have the skills to perform in straight plays as well as musicals


<p>I am not sure if I follow you on that one. Just thinking of wonderfully successful Broadway types that would be unbearable to watch doing Shakespeare?</p>

<p>So, it sounds like the programs more coexist than are segregated. Is that common for schools who offer both disciplines?</p>

<p>Have you identified any personality traits or skill sets that lend themselves better to a coexisting platform for straight actors as apposed to stand alone acting conservatories?</p>

<p>If the potential for overshadowing exists (not saying at Otterbein but generally speaking) then would you say the advantages are more performances to audition for? Would you also say that there are more chances to pursue dance? </p>

<p>That is one thing we have noticed about straight acting conservatories. While there is plenty of “movement” and vocal stuff, the abilities to continue on with rigorous dance courses which appeals to our D are pretty slim from what we have seen.</p>

<p>I think what doctorjohn is saying (and I trust he will correct me if I am wrong in that! :)) is that the BOTH the straight actors and the musical theater actors at Otterbein are rooted in the same, rigorous ACTING training program offered there. That means, essentially (and I hope I am getting this right!) that actors in the MT program are (generally) as equipped to compete for roles in straight plays (Shakespeare, etc.) as are the kids studying straight drama. It follows, then, that (again, in general), kids studying straight acting who audition for a musical <em>may</em> be at somewhat of a disadvantage in that venue, as they are not getting the same training in singing and dance. Of course, so much depends on an individual actor's case, the role he or she is auditioning for, the rest of the actors auditioning, etc. There certainly are probably cases where a straight actor is cast in a musical, and a musical theater person is cast in a drama, and vice versa.
Doctorjohn, am I anywhere in the ballpark, here?

<p>By the way DoctorJohn, your students and program deserve your attentions way more than this forum does so I don’t see prompt responses as a requirement. </p>

<p>Lisa, I am sure he will clarify because..</p>

that actors in the MT program are (generally) as equipped to compete for roles in straight plays (Shakespeare, etc.)


<p>That defies logic. Let me use the best analogy I can think of. School A offers a degree in Veterinary medicine, School B offers a degree in animal training and school C offers both degrees. (I think we are back to the depth versus breadth issue). This seems to imply that at school C, the Veterinary students are just as versed as the students as school A, and they are just as versed at animal training as the students at school B.</p>

<p>Or another way to look at my analogy is that at School C the Veterinary students are just as good at animal training as the animal training students. Certainly they could both benfit from an animal behavior course but start teaching the animal trainers biology and it takes away from their animal training training.:)</p>

<p>In skiing you can buy skis that are good in the bumps or buy skis that are good at slalom. When you buy skis that can do both inherently they are not as good as the specialized tools. In tennis rackets you can lean toward power or control, you have to give up something to get something.</p>

<p>Wally, you (as usual!) make good points. I will be very interested in what doctorjohn says. You are certainly correct that if a student is dividing her education between acting, singing and dance, she will have less time for straight acting classes, technique, practice and feedback than does the student who is only studying straight acting. However, you seem to be positing that the MORE classes/training a person has, the better they necessarily will be, and we both know that ain't necessarily so. It is not a matter to two plus two makes four, right?
(Certainly, we both believe that training is important, or we would not be on this forum, learning about how best our own kids can pursue their art and craft. I am a huge believer in education and its power.) But there are lots of successful actors out there who don't have much training at all, and certainly a plethora of actors with a ton of training who are not working! :(
Perhaps I am wrong, but I don't think one can be so, well, scientific about this issue of measuring whether MT students are less/more/as equipped to compete for roles in straight dramas as are students in straight drama. There are just too darned many variables to consider in this scenario, including whether the student is the "type" for the role and his or her general appearance. How can we measure that? I just don't know, though someone has perhaps studied it! :)
The other thing I would say is that I am constantly surprised by just what talented actors so many young people in musical theater are today. I have seen kids who are as comfortable performing Henry IV, Part I as they are Pippin. So it would not surprise me to hear doctorjohn and others say that they don't see a big, if any, difference between the acting talent of the kids who audition for musical theater versus those who audition for straight drama. Doctorjohn?</p>

<p>I know that some of the best actors at our school are the musical theatre BFA students, ESPECIALLY when it comes to Shakespeare and period/style work.<br>
The reason, I believe, is this: MT students are really "triple majors," studying intensely in three areas (acting, including at least rudimentary voice & movement skills, singing and dance). Actors are only intensely focused on one area. But the acting classes they take are shared - with a very few exceptions, typically in the senior year (when MT students head toward their capstone training, and the actors take acting for the camera, auditions, etc.).</p>

<p>Also, MT students live and breathe in heightened language (lyric) and metered text (music and lyrics). They must be masters at creating full, rich, truthful meaning and emotion in a "condensed," "abbreviated" and "poetic" form of rich imagery. These are the same skills that a great Shakespearean actor must have. Some of our best Shakespearean actors are MT students.</p>

<p>And MT students are often creating roles in different period/styles in their musical theatre courses, and as such they are required to observe, comprehend and then embody those various periods in performance. Whereas actors are often more limited in their period/styles training in acting classes (Modern American Realism, Shakespeare, possibly intellectual and/or high comedy, and film/tv - which is another variation on contemporary Realism), MT students are studying roles from many different period/styles...the literature available and "classic" enough to study lends itself to more diversity in period/style.</p>

<p>It is not that "more equals better," but rather that the craft of acting is no different when applied to straight theatre or musical theatre. The skills required (in acting terms) are the same. If a MT program offers actor training that is equal to, if not the same as, the acting students' curriculum, then the MT students are certainly going to be competitive in the acting area. To think otherwise would be to presume that the actor training that the MT students receive is somehow inferior to that which is given to the acting majors - and that is just not the case, in my experience.</p>


<p>Lets just take over this forum and have our own conversation:)</p>

<p>I don’t think that discussing the exceptions is the point. Certainly there are some. Yet, on balance the training obtained at top conservatories (like Otterbien) has to be of benefit otherwise why have them? And, to a point, the more training the better. And, it seems to me that 4 years of intensive study is a good number.</p>

<p>If your implication of the randomness of the industry holds true, why is it that the theater company that I am affiliated with has roughly 90 full time Actors Equity Association members (and 10 non members) and to my knowledge none of them have an MT educational background and the bulk of them have either a BFA from a top conservatory or an MFA from a top program?</p>

<p>A couple of nights ago we watched one of our favorite MT type videos, the tribute to Fosse. I have watched that a hundred times and am still amazed at the ability to keep count of the dance, keep count of the music and still make some acting choices. For most people that has to take an incredible amount of training. What are the straight actors doing while they are obtaining that training? There not in the audience watching them! They are studying iambic pentameter, Meisner, stage combat, circus skills and so on.</p>

<p>This is the most interesting discussion on the forum!</p>

<p>Prof, we cross posted. What school are you affiliated with?</p>

<p>I don’t wish to diminish the difficulty in MT yet you must be familure with the intense schedules of study at top acting conservatories, you make it sound like its easy.</p>

<p>What do you make of my point about the members of one of the top repertory companies in the country? Here is the link. Just scroll down.</p>

<p><a href=""&gt;;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

<p>Isnt doctorjohn going to be surprised when he returns!;)</p>


<p>I can address some of what you mention, but only from a student's parent's point of view. I also still have to let folk's know how our son's week is going (very well) on the other thread, but thought this point deserved our attention. Doctorjohn can really answer your questions best, but I'm pretty sure he's in meetings as we speak here - a very busy week ahead for him. </p>

<p>We believe some very important words in Doctorjohn's answer to you were "At schools like ours..." Is it possible the real difference you're sensing is from one school versus another? Without remembering the foundation of the particular school in question, we might not be able to properly understand the strengths of BFA Acting students vs BFA M/T students vs Vocal Performance students, etc. I know further back in the Otterbein thread Doctorjohn mentions that the program for M/T is very acting oriented, he even goes into type/ schools of acting, etc. I know all of the literature/ audition material, etc that our son received stressed the acting component equally as much as the vocals in the audition and eventually the training if you are accepted. This is actually one important factor that appealed to our son, since most of his teachers, directors, etc considered him just as strong an actor as a singer, with his area for greatest improvement being dance. Also, I should mention that we've seen two productions so far at Otterbein - both straight shows and fairly mature features to approach for college - Crimes of the Heart and Prelude to a Kiss. Some of the featured/ starring roles were filled by MT students. They were certainly up to the task. Is it possible that the MT audition process at Otterbein brings forth the stronger actors of that lot to start? Stronger within the M/T lot that is, not necessarily the BFA Acting group. The M/T students might be coming to the program with additional tools of the trade already well in hand. I'm sure other schools might differ in their audition process and training and care to concentrate on voice a bit more or dance a bit more, etc. In fact, I believe the 30 school list shows this in their individual threads. By the way, since I haven't mentioned dance at Otterbein yet, please don't take it to be a slight. They have an extraordinary program and have attracted some excellent M/T students w/ strong dance backgrounds.</p>

<p>Anyway, that's our take on things. Pretty close to what NotMamaRose has to say. I hope Doctorjohn corrects me if I have something wrong here. I normally don't get into these kinds of discussions, but thought we legitimately had something to offer from within now, even though he's a rookie in their world, but raring to go!</p>

<p>I'm affiliated with Cal State Fullerton. Interesting, one of the company of actors, Chris Duvall, went to school at CSUF as an acting major - this was back before we had the BFA in MT (and the new BFA in acting). He also did his grad studies at UCI...</p>

<p>I don't mean to demean the quality of the actor's education - they are busy doing exactly the studies that you mention: Commedia, mask work, stage combat, circus/clown, etc. - but these are specialized voice & movement courses, not "acting" courses, per se.</p>

<p>The actors and musical theatre students in many of the "top" programs have MT students and Actors equally devoting time to the study of the craft of acting, at least through to the capstone era when the expertise study tends to divert.</p>

<p>Hope that is as clear as mud.</p>



<p>I meant to type:</p>

<p>Many of the "top" programs have MT students and Actors equally devoting time to the study of the craft of acting, at least through to the capstone era when the expertise study tends to divert.</p>

<p>More coffee, please?</p>


You said, "In skiing you can buy skis that are good in the bumps or buy skis that are good at slalom. When you buy skis that can do both inherently they are not as good as the specialized tools. In tennis rackets you can lean toward power or control, you have to give up something to get something."</p>

<p>You just succeeded in slamming most of the people on this MUSICAL THEATRE forum with this analogy. If I take your comment too seriously I would have to assume that for every moment your talented daughter spends on dance, she is sacrificing becoming the best actor she can be. Puh-lease. Why does this feel like a contest to see who is more dedicated, more talented, more trained, the "straight" actor or the musical theatre actor? </p>

<p>You sound like a guy who likes a good argument, so I hope you take what I'm saying here in an impersonal way. Your point about the members of the company you linked is not made. Just because musical theatre actors CHOOSE to act in musicals, more often than not, does not mean they are not capable of acting in "straight" companies or Shakespearean companies. </p>

<p>You are posting on a musical theatre forum, so maybe you are wondering if your daughter is going to be shortchanged because she is not a singer? I'm pretty sure you want the best for your daughter. As parents with kids in the performing arts, we need to let them work with who they are and what they have to offer an audience. We also need to encourage them to compare themselves only with themselves, not with others.</p>

<p>I can also offer my personal experiences in terms of acting by MT students.</p>

<p>When I was studying my BFA in MT, I had a heck of a time getting musical theatre roles (I was NOT the most talented singer, believe me - think of a Laurie-type in Oklahoma, who sings like Jud!), but I was always in the running for the top acting roles - especially Shakespeare.</p>

<p>My ability to handle the heightened emotional and language demands of the straight plays lent itself to these opportunities.</p>

<p>I went on to study graduate ACTING, which is where I really started getting the leading roles (by that time, I my body type had grown into my vocal type).</p>

<p>BTW, the actor training I received in the BFA was identical to the Acting BFA students' classes. Heck, we were all in the same acting classes through the junior year - it was a small pool of the schools' "finest," and the acting teachers never expected less of us, nor did they "dummy down" the training for the MT students. At that level, we were all expected to be the finest actors the school had to offer.</p>

<p>And there was an excellent point in the most recent post by mtmamma - the acceptance of MT students who are excellent actors. In the most selective MT programs, pretty much ALL the students applying are assumed to bring substantial experience in singing (otherwise, why audition at a top school that admits so few students relative to the numbers intested?). The craft that delineates them as superior, if not dance (remember, not every school evaluates dance for admission) is ACTING. </p>

<p>The most qualified students who audition for our MT program must be actors. Period. We can't slow down the rest of the acting students' studies for a glorious voice - we recommend those glorious voices study music as a vocal major.</p>



<p>Chis Duvall is fabulous! He was so stinking good as Syracuse and Ephesus in “The Comedy of Errors”, its not funny. Good Job!</p>

<p>Mtmommy </p>

<p>You need to calm down. Less coffee please. </p>

<p>I have posed legitimate questions and used legitimate analogies as I see them to question notions that are not intuitive to me and have never once done so personally.</p>

You are posting on a musical theatre forum, so maybe you are wondering if your daughter is going to be shortchanged because she is not a singer?


<p>It’s a waste of time to make suppositions about people whom you know nothing about. I post on the MT forum because the theater/drama forum is dead. She is a singer, takes two lessons a week by an accomplished opera singer and two lessons a week in “Broadway style” from a former teacher at the Cincinnati Conservatory and has done so for years. She has a pretty voice and has just been cast as a principal in a fall musical.</p>

<p>Chris was an undergrad when I did my grad acting work. He was brilliant, even back then.</p>

<p>He played Touchstone in our As You Like It, and had one of THE FUNNIEST ideas I have ever had the pleasure of (trying not to) laugh through on stage - a carrot "sword fight" over the love of Audrey! It was by far a highlight of my grad experience! Especially when the two doing the fight were trained in combat, so made it look so darned good!!</p>


<p>Many MT professional actors, as well as many BFA MT students are very good at straight theater/acting. I do not agree that they are not equipped to do Shakespeare, etc. To the contrary, many who pursue MT, could have done a BFA in Acting program and/or are cast in straight dramas. They ALSO can sing and dance. It doesn't necessarily follow that they are not competitive in the straight acting venue. Just looking at BFA programs, I know that many BFA in MT students are cast in the straight dramas at their colleges. Look at the top BFA in MT graduates from CMU, for example, and you will see that many of them have very good acting credits from their time at CMU. At Tisch Mainstage shows, students from CAP21 are cast in straight dramas where they are competing against those in the BFA in Acting studios. Just to get into most BFA in MT programs, one must be able to act. My child was only trying for BFA in MT programs and didn't want straight acting, though she has been in several dramas. She was waitlisted for ACTING at CMU, so even a MT kid may have acting chops. My D's friend was recently on Broadway (while in HS) in a musical and she was about to enter Northwestern this fall but is deferring as she is cast in an upcoming off Broadway play starring a recent Tony winning actress. I've seen her as the lead in many musicals but she also is a terrific actress and does straight drama as well. </p>

<p>I think one reason that the degrees you see in the company at Oregon Shakespeare Festival do not include those with a BFA in MT isn't because those folks can't act but because those folks likely are not pursuing that company in the same proportion as someone with a straight acting degree would be. I can't say whether every MT actor is a great actor but certainly someone in MT can't be in it if they can only sing. Many ALSO do straight acting and do it very well. My child prefers MT because she loves to sing, dance and act, but certainly would consider straight acting jobs. She was called back this summer for a role in an Off Broadway play, and while her love is MT, she'd have considered taking it, believe me. </p>

<p>I also agree with Lisa and Eve that the quantity of hours spent in this or that class from one degree to another, doesn't necessarily equate with who is the better actor. BFA in Acting students take movement, voice/speech, mask, and such on top of acting. A BFA in MT student studies acting and then also dance and voice. Some people do a few things well and some do one thing very well. Just different sorts of people. </p>

<p>I don't quite agree with the ski analogy as you were talking EQUIPMENT, not training. My kid is a ski racer. She trains in Giant Slalom and Slalom (and yes, has separate ski equipment for each). She happens to do a bit better at GS than Slalom, but trains in both and competes in both. Her Slalom training clearly does NOT dilute her training in GS. To the contrary, she competes on a Div. I Varsity College team. Her results are often better in GS but I can tell you that NO coach would tell her to ONLY train GS. She trains and competes in both. My theater kid trains in singing, acting, and dance (sounds like your D who is pursuing BFAs in Acting ALSO trains now in singing and dance as well), and she will audition for both musicals and plays and has played leads in either genre. Will she opt to join a Shakespeare company like the one you are affiliated at? Likely not her first choice because as much as she likes to be in a play, she would not totally give up musical theater in sum to be in that company long term. I suppose anything is possible but she prefers to do both and if given a choice, would choose MT, though is skilled at and enjoys plays. I can think of so many people I know that are very good at MT and are even pursuing MT in college and beyond, who are ALSO very good actors who have done straight theater too.</p>

<p>PS, I feel odd about discussing this on an Otterbein thread but conversations tend to lead to this or that and Wally, you mentioned that your D is pursuing a BFA in Acting but would like some singing and dance. Some BFA in Acting degree programs offer that. For instance, at NYU/Tisch, Playwrights Horizons and Lee Strasberg studios offer some vocal and dance classes for the BFA Drama student. Some BFA in Acting schools have Dance Minors that are possible to do. Elon comes to mind with that. Perhaps USC.</p>

<p>Re: USC above, just want to add that it has a BFA in Acting but also has a Minor in MT or in Dance. So, a kid like yours (Wally) could get some singing/dance in addition to her BFA in Acting focus. Just one example.</p>

Okay, it's early for a Saturday and I may have misread parts of this discussion ... I think the question you are really asking is if the actor training is somehow "dumbed down" at Otterbein for the sake of the music and dance classes. To my understanding, Otterbein is one of the schools with an MT major where this is not the case. The MT majors take exactly the same acting classes as the BFA Acting majors. There are only eight of each and they are all in the the same acting classes together and thus the MT majors lose nothing in the actor training like they might at some schools though they might perhaps get less sleep due to the combination of acting, music, dance, plus all the gen eds. ;) CMU is another such program as are, I believe, Webster and Arizona. As Doctorjohn pointed out, the big difference is in casting opportunities within the school for straight actors like me who have limited usefulness in MT productions. If half the productions are musicals, that's half I would have little chance of being cast in which is why I chose not to audition or apply there though I've heard nothing but good things about Otterbein's training.</p>

<p>P.S. Yay for Geneva! :)</p>