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Drama Major job prospects?

joe047joe047 24 replies8 threads Junior Member
edited May 2009 in Theater/Drama Majors
Alright, so I'm very interested in majoring in Drama/Theater. Ideally I would like to work on plays somewhere, not necessarily on stage either. I would just love to be around theater as a career. How hard are these jobs to come by?

Also, realizing that it is very competitive to get jobs in theater, how plausible will it be that I can find another job as a drama major?

Will employers look down on it because it isn't as academic as some other Liberal Arts majors?

I'm also thinking about English or maybe even anthropology instead or as a double major with drama. Are there any benefits to double majoring?

Also, if I want to go to a theater grad program do I absolutely need to major in drama or can I major in somethign else and then just participate in shows at my school (this would be a possibility) to get experience?

Thanks!
edited May 2009
22 replies
Post edited by joe047 on
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Replies to: Drama Major job prospects?

  • letsfigureitoutletsfigureitout 412 replies7 threads Member
    There are probably many others who are more knowledgeable than me about theater-related jobs/careers and the paths to get there. However, as a mom of a "theater-kid" I have some ideas! Plus, look around this site for wonderful info about education related to theater careers.

    First, what do you want to do? Act? Sing? Dance? Tech (sound, lights, costumes)? Lucky you if it's tech--those jobs are definitely available if you're good! Dramaturgy is another way to go to be "around theater." So, you need to be more specific. . .

    Second, when my S was considering college programs, he was advised by many theater types (directors, theater education coordinators, artistic directors, etc.) that the way to go is to get an undergrad degree (in ANYTHING) and then go on to get an MFA. It was thought that having a broad education in literature, history, and life! was very important to a successful acting career. So, a double major would fit right into that sort of plan. We know many fine stage actors who have followed such a path.

    (My S did not follow this advice; he felt it was not right for him. Instead, he's going the BFA route. We'll see where that takes him!)
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  • NotMamaRoseNotMamaRose 3973 replies117 threads Senior Member
    This was passed along to me by a friend. I thought it was very worthwhile reading for any parent of an acting/musical theater major. This goes to the question of what theater majors learn and how these skills can be used in a variety of occupations/employment in later life:
    *******************************************************
    This is an except of an article by Dr. Louis E. Catron, professor of Theatre at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

    Here's a list of twenty-five skills, traits, and qualities of personality that are usually well-developed in individuals who complete four years of undergraduate theatre study.

    Take special note of them. They are more extensive and important than perhaps you recognize.

    As you think about them, consider how many of these advantages are unique to theatre majors--and that you have far more advantages than majors in most other disciplines.

    1. Oral Communication Skills

    Many students find that theatre helps them develop the confidence that's essential to speaking clearly, lucidly, and thoughtfully.
    Acting onstage teaches you how to be comfortable speaking in front of large audiences, and some of your theatre classes will give you additional experience talking to groups. Furthermore, your work on crews has taught you that clear, precise, and well-organized oral communications are best. Oral communication skills are so important to some employers that they often send management trainees to special workshops. You already have an advantage.

    2. Creative Problem Solving Abilities

    Most people expect theatre students to exhibit creativity in such areas as acting, design, playwrighting or directing, and many companies do recruit creative thinkers. But employers are not always aware that theatre experience also helps you learn creative problem-solving techniques that are applicable to many jobs. Tell them!
    For one example, tech theatre work--building scenery, hanging lights, making props, running the show, and so on--is a particularly good way to learn how to think on your feet, to identify problems, evaluate a range of possible solutions, and figure out what to do.
    The same is true of almost every aspect of theatre. Directing. Design. Acting. Playwriting. Management. And more.
    The point here is that your creative ability, what you've learned about using creative processes to solve problems, can be directly applicable to virtually any job you may have.
    Most major companies believe that a creative problem-solver will become a good employee. That's you

    3. More than "get it done"

    But theatre students learn that just "getting it done" isn't enough. Not at all. It goes beyond that. You learn to do it correctly. In theatre we learn that merely "getting the show on the boards" is pure bush league and totally unacceptable. Whatever your theatrical job--tech, performing, research, management--it has to be done right. You learn to take pride in doing things at your very best level. Of course an employer will value that trait.

    4. Motivation and Commitment

    Being involved in theatre productions and classes demands commitment and motivation. These are qualities that college theatre faculty members and, in some measure, you and your fellow students, probably already possess. By example, we teach each other that success comes to those who are committed to the task at hand. Few other disciplines you study will so strongly help you develop motivation and commitment.
    Many theatre students learn to transfer that attribute from theatre to other activities such as classes and jobs. For employers, that positive attitude is essential.

    5. Willingness to
    Work Cooperatively

    Your work in theatre companies teaches you how to work effectively with different types of people--often very different types!
    Theatre demands that participants work together cooperatively for the production to success; there is no room for "we" versus "they" behavior; the "star" diva is a thing of the past. Your colleagues will usually let you know when you violate the team spirit of a production.
    In theatre, it's important that each individual supports the others involved. Employers will be pleased to know that you understand how to be a team player.

    6. The Ability to Work Independently

    In theatre, you're often assigned tasks that you must complete without supervision. Crew chiefs. Directing. Putting together this flat, finding that prop, working out characterization outside of rehearsals. It's left up to you to figure out how best to achieve the goal. The ability to work independently is a trait employers look for in their workers.

    7. Time-budgeting Skills

    When you're a student, being involved in theatre forces you to learn how to budget your time. You need to schedule your days very carefully if you want to keep up your grades while you're busy with rehearsals, work calls, and the other demands that theatre makes on your time. Good time management skills are enormously important to employers.

    8. Initiative

    Personnel managers call people who approach work with initiative and enterprise "self-starters," people who do what needs to be done without waiting to be asked, without needing to be told.
    The complexities of a theatrical production demand individuals who are willing to voluntarily undertake any task that needs to be done in order for the production to succeed. In theatre, we're all self-starters. We learn how to take initiative, to move a project from initial concept to finality--and to do it well.

    9. Promptness and Respect
    for Deadlines

    Tardiness is never acceptable in theatre because it shows a lack of self-discipline, and more importantly, a lack of consideration for others. Being late for a rehearsal or a work call or failing to finish an assigned task on time damages a production and adversely affects the work of many other people. Theatre demands that you learn to arrive on time and meet scheduled deadlines.
    That's a job-skill. Employers appreciate workers who are on time and do their work as scheduled.

    10. Acceptance of Rules

    In theatre you work within the structure of a set of procedures and rules that deal with everything from shop safety to behavior at auditions, rehearsals and work calls. You learn that you must be a "good follower." Theatre teaches you the importance of rules, a concept that's valued in any organization.

    11. The Ability to Learn Quickly--
    AND Correctly

    Theatre students, whether they're memorizing lines or learning the technical aspects of a production, must have the ability to absorb a vast quantity of material quickly--and accurately . Your work in college theatre will show that you have the ability to grasp complex matters in a short period of time, a highly-valued trait to employers.
    Note that part of this ability is another significant trait: knowing how to listen. If you don't listen, you're likely to make some major error that will damage the production. Listening is a skill for any job and an employer will respect your ability to listen and comprehend.

    12. Respect for Colleagues

    In theatre you discover that a successful production requires contributions from everybody who's involved. Mutual respect is essential. Working on a production teaches us to respect and trust the abilities and talents of our colleagues. A prospective employer will appreciate the fact that you have learned the importance of respecting your co-workers.

    13. Respect for Authority

    Only one person can be in charge of any given portion of a production. The director. The shop foreman. The tech director. The designer. Theatre teaches you to willingly accept and respect authority. That's a trait employers look for in their workers.

    14. Adaptability and Flexibility

    Theatre students must be adaptable and flexible. You need to be willing to try new ideas, accept new challenges, and have the ability to adapt to constantly changing situations and conditions. In one production you may be a member of the prop crew; in the next perhaps you're in charge of makeup, publicity or the box office; in a third production you might have a leading role.
    A worker who is versatile and flexible is highly valued to most employers; both traits prove that you are able and willing to learn new things.

    15. The Ability to Work
    Under Pressure

    Theatre work often demands long hours. There's pressure--often, as you know well, a lot of pressure. It's important that everyone involved with a production be able to maintain a cooperative and enthusiastic attitude under pressure. The ability to remain poised under such tensions in an asset that will help you cope with stress in other parts of your life, including your job.

    16. A Healthy Self-Image

    To work in theatre, you must know who you are and how to project your individuality. But at the same time, it's important to recognize the need to make yourself secondary to the importance of a production. This is a tricky balance that, although difficult to accomplish, is a valuable trait that employers treasure.

    17.Acceptance of Disappointment--
    And Ability to Bounce Back

    Theatre people learn to deal with dashed hopes and rejection on a regular basis. Who hasn't failed to get a role he or she really wanted or a coveted spot on a tech crew? You learn to accept that kind of disappointment and move on. You try again. Employers need workers who are resilient enough to bounce back from this kind of frustration.

    18. Self-Discipline

    Theatre demands that you learn how to control your life. More than other students, you are forced to make choices between keeping up with responsibilities and doing things you'd rather do. You learn to govern yourself. An employer will respect that ability.

    19. A Goal-Oriented
    Approach to Work

    Many aspects of theatre involve setting and achieving specific goals. In employer's terms, you've learned to be task-oriented and capable of finding practical ways to achieve goals.

    20. Concentration

    Busy theatre students, involved in a production or other theatre projects while also taking a heavy academic load, must learn to concentrate if they are to succeed. Acting classes in particular stress concentration, and once you have learned that skill as an actor, it can be transferred to other activities.

    21. Dedication

    As you work in theatre you learn to dedicate your very being--to doing your best to create a successful production. There is dedication to that show...to your home theatre...to theatre as an art.
    Many theatre students discover that committing oneself to a given task is deeply rewarding. Employers respect workers who have learned the value of dedication.

    22. A Willingness to Accept Responsibility

    Theatre students sometimes have an opportunity that is seldom given to students in other disciplines--the chance to take on sole responsibility for a special project. Being a production stage manager...a designer...a crew chief...a director. Students with other majors seldom have anything even close to these lessons. You can expect employers to value this unusual ability.

    23. Leadership Skills

    As a theatre student, you have many opportunities to assume leadership roles. You may, for example, assist a director or designer and lead other volunteers, serve as a crew chief, or even design or direct a production yourself. In the nuturing environment of theatre, faculty help you learn from mistakes so you become a better leader. Leadership training like this can open the possibility for comparable opportunities in a company that hires you. Can you think of any other major that offers this opportunity?

    24. Self-Confidence

    Theatre training teaches you confidence in yourself. Your accomplishments in theatre show you that you can handle a variety of jobs, pressures, difficulties and responsibilities. You develop a "Yes, I can!" attitude. Of course an employer will treasure that.

    25. Enjoyment -- "This is Fun!"

    You've discovered already that theatre people mystify civilians when we say we're having fun. Non-theatre folk shake their heads when we tell them that, and they ask how it is possible to have "fun" in a job that keeps us working night after night, sometimes until after midnight, doing something that calls for a grinding rehearsal or work schedule day after day after day, that makes us miss going to a movie or a concert. "That's fun?"
    Yes. It is. We've learned how to find enjoyment in what we do. That's a valuable attribute.
    We can adapt that to other jobs, find ways to enjoy other activities. That positive attitude will mean a great deal to any employer.
    AND MORE. MUCH, MUCH MORE
    You get the idea. That list of 25 advantages is a start. No doubt you can add to it.

    It seems almost incidental at this point to mention that theatre majors also learn about theatre. Most students who choose a theatre major do so because their training will prepare them for a career in the theatre, and it will. Theatre students learn to use their voices and bodies and minds and hearts to make magic on stage.
    Clearly, though, they learn much, much more. Few people choose to set out on a difficult, demanding four-year course of theatre study because it will make them good candidates for employment in other fields.
    But it will.
    Far more than any other major, theatre is excellent training for virtually any job.
    The trick is for you to recognize the advantages you have.
    And to be sure you educate any prospective employer!
    Make clear on your resume exactly what you have learned. Some employers may think that all an actor knows is just memorization and the ability to walk on stage without bumping into furniture, and tech people know only how to put up a flat. Tell them what else you've learned. Teach them!
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  • joe047joe047 24 replies8 threads Junior Member
    Does anyone have any ideas? I'm beginning to finalize my list of schools to apply to for next year and any input on this subject would be helpful.
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  • NotMamaRoseNotMamaRose 3973 replies117 threads Senior Member
    Ideas for what, joe047? Which drama schools to apply to? This thread is about employment prospects for kids majoring in drama. Please give us more information so people can be of real help.
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  • joe047joe047 24 replies8 threads Junior Member
    I meant ideas on the original subject. I'm the OP, and was just trying to generate more interest in the thread. I'm really uncertain about what I'm going to do next year and job prospects for drama majors is playing a role in what I'm applying to certain schools for and which schools I'm applying to. I don't need advice about schools, just the questions I asked originally.
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  • HeddaHedda 75 replies9 threads Junior Member
    I have a BA in Theatre from a fairly well respected state university. I'm an English teacher. There are carrers, and prospects...but you do need to feed yourself, and more than likely, your family:)
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  • joe047joe047 24 replies8 threads Junior Member
    So did you have to double major in english to do that? Or was the drama major ok?
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  • NotMamaRoseNotMamaRose 3973 replies117 threads Senior Member
    joe, I think that depends on what level the previous poster is teaching at. Many public high school systems would not only require a major in English, but also some kind of education in, well, education/teaching. Private secondary (high) schools can hire pretty much whoever they want, so that means they could hire a theater major to teach English if that is what the school deemed appropriate. But most public school systems (K-12) require teaching certification, which is another layer to worry about. And to teach at a college level requires more than that: often a master's degree in the particular subject, at least.
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  • HeddaHedda 75 replies9 threads Junior Member
    My teaching credential is in English/Theatre, and my Master's is in Secondary English Education. With most professional occupations, you need more than just a BA or BFA...

    I do have to add my personal opinion of the college experience...your BA is not job training. That is what advanced degrees are for:) Enjoy your college experience!
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  • eloiseleloisel User Awaiting Email Confirmation 11 replies0 threads New Member
    I have worked behind the scenes in theatre for may years now. If you don't need to be on the stage, you can work regularly - even be in demand. Some ideas, costumer, lighting, stage management., set design Apply to a school like USC with a great program. If you grades are decent, you'll have a very good chance.
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  • joe047joe047 24 replies8 threads Junior Member
    really? Asweome! That's just what I wanted to hear. Will I still be able to get jobs if I'm just getting a BA in theatre though, and not a bfa?
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  • emileelimeemileelime 1 replies0 threads New Member
    yes, it is competitive to get jobs in theatre - but having a theatre degree can sometimes lead to many more opportunities than a lot of other majors. for example, a degree in political science is much more difficult to work around than a degree in theatre because the latter teaches you so much about working with other people and can be applied to many areas of work - including business even!
    like eloisel said, being on stage is much more competitive than being behind the scenes. however, if you would like to be on stage, i strongly suggest looking at SMU Meadows School of the Arts. it gives you a great base for performance, backstage work, and a foundation in the liberal arts curriculum. i am currently there right now and if you have any questions about that - or other schools like it - feel free to message me. =)
    a BA could be a little bit harder to work around, but then again if it's somewhere that gives you a great basis in the business, it shouldn't matter.
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  • mattslick1mattslick1 1 replies1 threads New Member
    I have researched a lot on the drama major and I can say YES it is possible to get jobs with just a BA or BFA. But there are some employers that want more experience and ask for MA or MFA. A Masters degree opens more doors for you.
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  • gapyearmomgapyearmom 36 replies2 threads Junior Member
    I was a theatre major (one of my majors, anyway) way back when at respected State U. I can tell you that my parents hated it, absolutely were convinced that I had wasted my time by majoring in/working in this -- to their mind --- worthless degree/field.

    They could not have been more wrong. The early part of my career I worked in entertainment (lighting and special effects design-- on the road with Julie Andrews, theatre, tv, casinos, and theme parks). I lived overseas, I traveled the country and the world. It was a blast.

    When my eldest was born I felt like I needed to stop traveling. So I went to work for a Big 5 management consulting firm that was attracted to my unique perspective and get'er done skills thanks to my theatre background (see that list of 25 posted above by someone else. Those are right on)

    Years in theatre helped me far more than any business undergrad ever would have. Not being like every other business/econ major candidate got me into a top 5 MBA school and my distinctly quirky theatre perspective helped me graduate with high honors and job offers in hand.

    Far from being worthless, my theatre background has not only provied me with benefits and advantages galore, but its also a fond memory that I can look back on and know that I did what I love and its really hard to fail when you are doing what you love. Plus, I have tons of cool stories to entertain my kids with.

    If you work in the field forever, or just a while or not at all, I say you can't lose.
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  • hotNcoldhotNcold 39 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Great answer, Gapyearmom! Following all these theater threads and looking through the plethora of offerings in the Directory of Theater Programs, it's easy to be a bit overwhelmed. When you realize that there are thousands of theater graduates being turned out every year, to fill what are probably only dozens of jobs, you start to think of arts education as a giant Ponzi scheme. A vanishingly small percentage of graduates will even make enough money in the profession to pay their college loans. Most will end up in other professions. A few will go on to graduate study in theater, and a very small percentage of those will end up with a college teaching job. As in a Ponzi scheme, they rely on the continuing influx of new suckers majoring in theater to earn their living. Unfortunately, our American Idol culture encourages the idea that young people can go into theater and soon win fame and fortune, when the odds of that happening are probably slightly worse than the odds of winning the lottery.

    But that is why your answer is so good. People say that if you are able to do anything else, don't do theater. But to survive and thrive through the rigors of a good theater training program, you have to be so very smart, in so many different ways, that you probably could do just about anything else! That is a valuable asset in an economy that changes as rapidly as ours. It's not like engineers and investment bankers don't get laid off, too! As a young man, I also heard the siren song of the arts and majored in music. Composition, of all things! Talk about a useless degree! But like you, the degree led me to all kinds of great experiences and jobs; things that most folks don't get to do. If the quest is for knowledge rather than fame and fortune, it will be rewarded, sometimes in surprising ways.
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  • hotNcoldhotNcold 39 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Of course that answer raises another question. The BFA Acting may be great as preparation for just about anything else, but is it a great path to a career in acting? The numbers just don't add up. Even the most prestigious schools can only claim a very small number of graduates who are actually making a living acting. Look at the program from any show, and if education is listed you'll see many different backgrounds. The idea that a college degree can make you an actor is a fairly recent and unproven one. So what is the best way to nourish that magical, innate spark that makes an actor? If you don't have that spark, can all those Meisner, Chekov, history, improv, etc. classes create it? If you do have it, will they feed and nourish it into a flame, or put it in a box so that you sound like so many other BFA actors, consciously "Acting Away!!!"? Is there another route? Would anybody in their right mind make a $200,000 (or more) investment with so little hope of any kind of return, other than the chance to spend another $100k for a graduate degree?

    OK, so now you know why I'm hotNcold. Much as I love theater, much as I think that my extraordinary 16 year old D has as much of that spark as any b'way actor I was lucky enough to work with, I still have these questions. Maybe the answers are unknowable, but I'd love to hear any thoughts others may have.
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  • 43212344321234 745 replies181 threads Member
    most actors start out young, so they don't usually end up going to college, though some do. i agree with what you say. studying acting seems like an enjoyable experience, but it doesn't seem all that helpful in leading up to an acting career. i've looked at the background of chinese actors a few years ago, and noticed that most of them did not have acting backgrounds. maybe it's different in China, but most of them started out doing things like radio DJ, journalist, etc. A very few percentage who came from studying acting is actually doing it as a career. i think what it all comes down to though is ambition, determination, and perseverance. and i absolutely hate the idol culture trying to lure young people into thinking that anyone could become a star. what an evil scheme trying to get people's money! sure, maybe some of the cases are true, but that's like what? .0000001% out of the rest of the nation? it's silly, really. but i also agree that if you want to do it just because you like it, just because you think it's fun, just because it helps you learn about yourself and about life, then it is worthwhile. otherwise, be realistic and don't expect anything big out of it.
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  • fishbowlfreshmanfishbowlfreshman 807 replies20 threads Member
    I got a pm pointing this discussion out, so I'll bite ... This won't be the popular thing to say and I'm probably not the best person to say it, but ...
    The BFA Acting may be great as preparation for just about anything else, but is it a great path to a career in acting?
    It's as good as exists in the US depending on the student and the program. Got any better ideas? ;) Actually, I do. Get the profession involved and come up with a true professional standard of accreditation like the British have ... http://www.ncdt.co.uk/documents/NCDTAccreditationGuide-08.05.07.doc Someone pointed that out on another forum stating that he/she/it thinks there are less than ten American BFA schools that would even come close to meeting that standard and I tend to agree.
    If you don't have that spark, can all those Meisner, Chekov, history, improv, etc. classes create it?
    You can free your voice and body a bit, become very literate in the approaches to acting and maybe even become somewhat accomplished, but ... no. Absolutely not. You have "it" or you don't. She was born with it. It's not Maybelline ... although most of the greats seem to have applied a healthy dose of Maybelline as well ;)
    If you do have it, will they feed and nourish it into a flame, or put it in a box so that you sound like so many other BFA actors, consciously "Acting Away!!!"?
    That depends on the individual actor, the program he or she chooses - and is chosen by, and how he or she digests what is offered. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell if you'll respond to the training at a particular school until you're there. Some thrive. Some come away in the "box" you've described and some who weren't ready end up getting crushed or burning out. Then there's the problem that so many acting "teachers" in BAs, BFAs, MFAs and non-scholastic studios are at best marginally competent with the worst being complete charlatans ... Good acting teachers seem to be pretty rare. (Hint: The best teach you their technique to help you find your own) Before anyone accuses me of being on my high horse, know that I've been hearing that from more and more people out in "the world." To quote one fairly acclaimed director I've had a master class with, "There are too many schools graduating too many badly trained actors who were marginally talented to begin with into a profession where even the best trained and most talented have a hard time."
    Is there another route?
    You can always take your chances at the unaccredited, nonscholastic studios. There are probably some good ones out there.
    Would anybody in their right mind make a $200,000 (or more) investment with so little hope of any kind of return, other than the chance to spend another $100k for a graduate degree?
    I've always thought anybody who would pay $200,000 for any college degree must have a lot more money than sense! LOL Seriously, it seems that a lot of very talented people cripple themselves right from the get go by taking on upper five and six figure debt going to those places. Actually, there are a few in my program I wonder about and we one of the less expensive ones. As parents, some of you might want to think about how that money could be better spent ... like using it to support you kid after he/she graduates from an equally good program that costs half and much and tries to make a go of it in the profession.
    most actors start out young, so they don't usually end up going to college
    Are you talking about famous TV and Film actors in Hollywood? Most working actors in high end American theatre do have college degrees and most do indeed have BFAs or MFAs. The MFA seems to actually be the most common degree in the big repertory theatres ... not to say the training at all MFA programs is great, either ...

    But ... I say don't worry about it. If you're an actor you're an artist and most artists never make a living at their art. I hate how our society tries to force people in their youth into some yoke we're supposed to wear the rest of our lives. It's about happiness in the end. Follow. Your. Bliss.
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  • hotNcoldhotNcold 39 replies1 threads Junior Member
    thanks for your candid, point by point answer, fishbowlfreshman. It pretty much jives with what I've observed. and also with what I've experienced myself in my own field, music. I'll definitely take a look at the link to British accreditation standards that you posted. Loved the maybelline comment, reminds of a story that used to be told about Nadia Boulanger, one of the great music teachers. A young man came to see if he could study with her. Loaded with degrees, awards, honors, etc. After he played, there was a long silence. Finally she said, "But my dear, you are not a musician. There is nothing I can do for you." Sad, but what's even sadder is that he is probably tenured music faculty somewhere now...
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  • frozenchosenakfrozenchosenak 42 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Wow! Your excerpt from an article by a College of William and Mary professor is excellent. I will pass it on to our son and other theatre moms. Our son is experiencing concerns over the economy and with only a year and a half until graduation is doubting his ability to "get the acting jobs" needed to survive. Hopefully, this will calm his fears about his abilities and be open to whatever the future holds...
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