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Significance of location for theatre schools

prodooperprodooper Registered User Posts: 14 New Member
edited November 2011 in Theater/Drama Majors
I'm a high school senior looking to apply to numerous BFA and BA programs in theatre/acting across the country, including universities like USC, NYU, Northwestern, and Boston U. I'm also applying to some smaller liberal arts schools like Muhlenberg and Vassar, located in smaller towns and cities.

How important do you think it is for an aspiring actor to be located in or near the theatre hubs like Chicago, L.A. or NYC? I know that Muhlenberg has a wonderful program where I'll learn a lot, but it's also located in Allentown, PA, where there aren't many opportunities for actors. Is the education itself all that really matters (because graduates can just move to New York afterwords), or is location a huge factor for a theatre student's future career?

Thanks so much for your help.
Post edited by prodooper on

Replies to: Significance of location for theatre schools

  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman Registered User Posts: 827 Member
    It can be helpful to go to school in or around a major market since it gives you the opportunity to already know your way around and possibly graduate with some good contacts plus having more of an idea of how you’re going to support yourself while you try to get a start on your career. What’s more important, imho, besides the actual training and real world preparation provided, is that the school brings in industry people for workshops and seminars, has an established alumni network and possibly a well attended showcase.

    Really, though, it all depends on the individual. When I was in New York, I knew people that went to prestigious schools in the city who were surprising clueless about how to proceed and others from no-name schools in the boonies who came with a solid plan and were starting to pick up momentum right about the time the others who couldn’t keep their heads above water were packing up and going home. I moved to LA a little over a month ago and am still feeling my way around, but I understand it would have been much easier to find a place had I come in June or July due to all the one year wonders moving out …
  • stagemumstagemum Registered User Posts: 544 Member
    The major cities sometimes have an advantage in terms of internships, and exposure to theatrical communities, but some of the programs (e.g. DePaul's) are so time-consuming that students have surprisingly few off-campus opportunities. Some exurban colleges are close to excellent regional theaters, where students have a chance to participate in all levels of production. Every program and market is different, and it really is essential for the student to decide what he or she loves and wants, without trying to predict the future too much. I firmly believe that 17-year-olds have a right to be uncertain about their choices, and should base their decisions on whether they liked the "feel" of a campus as much as they should on the long-range professional outlook. If a kid really wants a traditional campus environment, he or she should go ahead with that.
  • NJTheatreMOMNJTheatreMOM Registered User Posts: 3,673 Senior Member
    Both great points! Good luck (break legs?) in LA, Fish.
  • MomCaresMomCares Registered User Posts: 3,140 Senior Member
    I can't say there's a single best choice, since much depends on what you want from your 4 years in college, but I can say that our D is absolutely LOVING the location at Northwestern.

    Her theatre classes frequently involve taking the L-train to Chicago to see shows at one of the 25+ Equity houses in town. In addition, many of the 30+ NU theatre professors also work in the city (and on both coasts), as do many of the visiting guest artists, so there are lots of great networking opportunities.

    At the same time, she REALLY appreciates being on a beautiful waterfront Ivy-league-type campus in up-scale suburban Evansville, rather than adding the stress of daily urban living to a demanding academic and rehearsal schedule.

    She is finding Northwestern's location to offer the absolute best of both worlds.

    Have fun making your choice!!
  • mommamtmommamt Registered User Posts: 135 Junior Member
    Northwestern is in Evanston, Ill., but I know you know that. :)
  • madbeanmadbean Registered User Posts: 3,219 Senior Member
    I agree with all the thoughts shared above. I just wanted to add something else to think about. If the student comes from a relatively small town, rural, non-central sort of community, college might be a good time to see how they adjust to living in or near a big city. The idea is--after graduation, theatre majors often will want to relocate to a metropolitan area like L.A. or N.Y.C. to have more professional acting opportunities. I've seen kids move to the big city after college only to find themselves unhappy with urban living when sprung on them all at once and having to find an apt, a job, friends, etc.

    For kids from big city environments, a college in a smaller town can be a get-away to really immerse themselves in theatre training. Most likely, no matter which type town/city you choose, you'll be very involved on campus for 4 years.

    But afterwards...
  • KatMTKatMT College Rep Posts: 4,035 Senior Member
    When I was deciding between schools many years ago it came down to NYU-Tish, Emerson, Syracuse, and Ithaca. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I had lived in cities, suburbs, and rural environments growing up. During HS we lived in a small town in NH, and I went to a private school where there were about 75 kids in my graduating class... ultimately I decided that Ithaca and Emerson were not for me, although both great programs... and decided between Syracuse and NYU... I decided that because I knew I was moving to NYC when I graduated, and I wanted a more traditional college campus experience for the four years of college I chose Syracuse as the right fit for me. Once in NYC after graduation I had friends who had gone to more urban NYC schools, more rural schools, more suburban schools... in the end I think it all comes down to the fit for the student... :)
  • MomCaresMomCares Registered User Posts: 3,140 Senior Member
    @mommamt -- Ah, so THAT'S why D hasn't been getting her packages!

    Too funny - I frequently confuse Evansville and Evanston since Evansville was D's first acceptance... AND I have a feeble mind. ;-D
  • mommamtmommamt Registered User Posts: 135 Junior Member
    @Momcares---I couldn't resist, so something I would do!!

    I lived in Chicago for three years and my sister lives in Evanston just down the street from the campus, so I couldn't resist. From all your other posts, you certainly do not have a feeble mind! Hope your daughter get all her packages! ;)
  • EmsDadEmsDad Registered User Posts: 1,387 Senior Member
    Regarding the OP, whenever I mention Muhlenburg to my (big city) D she quotes from this scene from "42nd Street" (complete with the Jerry Orbach intonation):

    I'm sorry show business isn't for me. I'm goin' back to Allentown!

    What was the word you've just said, Allentown?
    I'm offering you a chance to star in biggest musical
    Broadway's seen in twenty years and you say: "Allentown?"
  • JakeRokuJakeRoku Registered User Posts: 63 Junior Member
    You are going to be so busy with classes that, personally, i dont think it will matter where the college is. College life is still college life. And enough schools have successful senior showcases that you make the connections you need with that. I certainly wouldnt have time to focus on building a network during these next four years.
  • hoveringmomhoveringmom Registered User Posts: 383 Member
    If it's not too late to jump in--by coincidence, my son was just at callbacks at a prestigious regional equity theatre. He didn't get the part, but while we were waiting, we were chatting with the casting assistant (I think!)--anyway, a couple of the people auditioning had graduated from Muhlenberg, and when they left holding area, the casting person turned to me and said, "Oh, Muhlenberg's a terrific program, they come out so well prepared." He went on to praise the program.

    My somewhat garbled point is that another thing to consider is how known & respected the program is to theatres. True, Muhlenberg is in Allentown, but if it has strong connections to prestigious theatres in - in this case - Philly & NYC, then that's invaluable. I agree with Fishbowl, that it's more about the interns and who they bring in, their connections, etc. And you personally. New York was too much for my own son (personally).

    I think another thing to consider is if you're on a need based scholarship or not; that is, if you couldn't possibly afford being there and are tight of money. I noticed CC doesn't often bring up the money aspect, but it is a reality for some folks. New York was terrible for my son that way because students did their socializing at restaurants & bars they thought were 'cheap' but which were out of his reach (professors even recommended particular restaurants as cool). Whereas my D is at Williams, which is isolated and no one can really go anywhere. That sounds hard, but for my D it's great; it equalizes things -she couldn't afford going out anyway. Money and budget is a reality for some kids, so I hope you all don't mind my bringing it up.
  • NJTheatreMOMNJTheatreMOM Registered User Posts: 3,673 Senior Member
    I'm glad you brought that up, hoveringmom. It would have been a concern of ours if my son had gone to school in NYC. I have heard other people whose kids go to school there say that it's hard for them to keep within a reasonable spending money budget.

    New York may be unique in that way, though. My son is currently going to school in Boston and is not having a difficult time being thrifty, thank goodness
  • EmmyBetEmmyBet Registered User Posts: 2,934 Senior Member
    hoveringmom - as this process goes on, you'll see lots of conversation about money. Most people have to keep that in consideration in their final choices. Where to apply - not quite so much.

    My D made her final choice between an expensive prestigious private BA and a second-tier (academically) local private U that offered a BFA and a large scholarship. While we were prepared for the high cost BA if that was the best fit for her, we did explain that she could have a lot more opportunities if we weren't spending every last penny just to pay the school's basic bills. She chose her school for the BFA - but the financial bonus has been very significant for her (and for us).

    I agree that NYC is more expensive than other places - one gift we gave her as part of the scholarship deal (literally this school is 1/4 the cost of several others she could have chosen) is unlimited train tickets to the City. She said that's really been the only thing that's made it possible for her to afford to enjoy it (she uses her own money for theatre tickets, food, etc.).

    Her scholarship also makes it possible for us to be lenient if she needs to use her summers for unpaid internships or even programs that might cost money, if they are good for her training and resume. Otherwise she would have been limited only to income-producing summer jobs, and the hope there was a show she could be in on the side.

    These are all very important issues when people are choosing schools. She made sure virtually all of her choices had city access - to one city or another (NYC, Boston, Twin Cities, Providence, Baltimore) - so she pretty much knew she'd have that element no matter where she got in.

    I asked her when she was home if she ever wished she were right in Manhattan - she never applied to any schools there, just a little too loud and bustling 24/7 for her taste - and she said not really. Although she's more comfortable there now and could imagine it, she said it's just too costly - and then took the opportunity to thank me yet again for the train tickets!

    The financial aid at BFA schools varies so widely that people tend to apply and then just wait and see what they can get. Just about everybody is told here to have, or already has, at least one financial safety, as with any college applications.
  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    On the one hand, I agree that it can be very easy to spend money in NYC, I also know that the students there have a tremendous access to free and very low cost entertainment opportunities -- especially theater. At least for NYU, there are also alot of eating places that cater to the student budget.

    I agree that it is easier to not worry about money when you're in a location like Williamstown, but going to NYU does not per se mean that the student will have to spend a ton of money.

    As for the location of the school in terms of future opportunities: to me, this is alot like the BA / BFA argument. There's no right way or guaranteed way to ensure future employment. IIRC, Hilary Swank drove to Hollywood and lived out of her car (or something like that; the lesson is that she went there unknown and with few resources). Working actors come from all backgrounds and locations.

    The benefit I can see for basing in an area where you think you might want to live later is to have that built-in social and support network when you graduate.

    Although my D is at Tisch, my personal feeling is that every student should base his / her college and major choice on what feels like the right place for them at this time in their life -- and not just for what it can get them in the future. No one knows what will happen in the future. To me, it would be a sad thing to make this decision on a job hope, and then either decide that's not the job path you want, or to go through all that and still never get hired!
This discussion has been closed.