Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Please, Please Stop the Madness

So in the February 24th edition of Stage Directions Magazine, there is an article entitled "URTA Launches National Showcase Calendar." The calendar "provides a way of tracking the many school showcases produced each spring in New York City." Here is the money quote as far as I am concerned:
Each spring more than 70 schools with professional MFA and/or BFA programs in acting, performance and musical theatre produce showcases in theatres throughout the Big Apple. With some schools offering both BFA and MFA degrees, more than 80 showcases are presented over the months of March, April and early May. Each showcase seeks to introduce a graduating class of performers to casting directors, agents and other professionals in the nonprofit and commercial theatre, and in related industries from cruise line productions and corporate industrials to advertising, film and television. Showcases allow training programs to provide invaluable assistance to graduates transitioning into an always challenging job market.
 Some quick math sends a chill up my spine. Let's say that each showcase averages 15 grads -- that's 1200 actors trying to get a foot in the door in NYC. I know that these programs think they are doing their students a service, and no doubt the students think so too, but I just find this horrifying.

First, why are there that many BFA and MFA programs in this country?

But aside from that particular elephant, what rips my heart out is the thought of so much wasted talent pouring into a theatre scene already bursting at the seams, where actors who actually have their Equity cards experience 85% unemployment. How many of these talented young adults will spend five-ten-fifteen years searching valiantly for chances to practice their art, only to come limping home battered and disillusioned.

From an ecological standpoint, it is so wasteful; from a human standpoint, it is almost criminal. There's got to be a better way. Why keep flooding the system?


CultureFuture said...

Okay, I agree with you about the criminality of flooding New York to a higher degree, but the question "Why are there that many BFA and MFA programs in this country?" seems so strange to me. After all, that's 1.4 schools per state of the union. If we had a decentralized art system where these students wound up fairly distributed around the country, that would strike me as a fairly low number of schools.

The Director said...


I spent an hour talking to my cousin (an aspiring actor) about avoiding NYC and focusing on regional theater. It's exactly this kind of thing that horrifies me as well. Nothing wrong with a little NYC, but why go to a market that's oversaturated?

It's like there's nothing wrong with pizza, but why open a local pizza shop in a shopping center that already has a Papa John's, Dominos, and Pizza Hut?

Scott Walters said...

CultureFuture -- I might agree with you if these were every BFA and MFA program in the country, but these are just the ones who do NYC showcases. I think Tom Loughlin has some info on the number of BFA and MFA programs in the country, which I would guess is much higher.

Scott Walters said...

Nice analogy, Director.

Adamflo84 said...

I was at U/RTA's this year.
What else are we suppose to do?
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, my local regional theatre, has the reputation, deserved or otherwise, that even if you live here you have a better chance of getting cast if you come from New York. Many people didn't get cast, in their home town regional theatre, UNTIL they moved to New York to audition.

Just not sure there's a lot of other viable options. And if I'm wrong I'd be glad to hear them.

Plus I know that the market is over saturate with young male actors; however, personally I'm just trying to wait out those who don't have what it takes until I am old enough to play more "character actor roles."

And the number of BFA/MFA acting programs is based, in some part, to the interest in perusing acting. If nothing that part should be an encouragement that there are so many young people out there who want desperately and maybe naively to follow this profession. Yet my generation is dogged for not being passionate or talented enough. The numbers show it isn't for lack of trying.

Jeff Green said...

The presumption is that the Theatre degree grad. or particularly undergrad. is truly a prep. for working in particular field. Most people end up working in a field other than their undergrad. area of study. Daniel Pink in Whole New Mind argues that the MFA is the MBA of the future. My Linked In connections would provide annecdotal support...lots of Theatre MFA's working in a wide variety of executive positions across a variety of company's entertainment, publishing and otherwise. The grad. degree was essential...theatre or other arts field.

Zak Berkman said...

As someone who attends many of these NYC showcases, I must partially agree that the system does a disservice to the actors emerging from these BFA and MFA programs. But this is not due to the math of too many theatre majors or masters.

There is no dearth of people across the country wanting a shared live experience as rock concerts, sporting events, professional wrestling, religious institutions, Broadway, and even many regional theatre prove year after year. Even with all the techo-distractions (ipods, Facebook, BLOGS), people will still gravitate towards great storytelling and creative expression.

So in theory these BA/MFA programs could be fostering the next generation of communal experience-makers - the creators of the next wave of meaningul and entertaining shared events. But instead the model at many of these schools is one of training people to join a "pick me" mob - be it in New York, L.A., or in between, that undermines the true inherent skill and power of an actor - their empathy, their bravery, and their imagination.

No undergraduate or graduate program providing showcases to their students should do this without also substantial training in general management, play development, community engagement, and Arts-In-Education. Perhaps that's unrealistic due to budgets and finances - but in the long run those actors will be able to sustain themselves and potentially thrive, resulting in a better reputation and potentially more income/involvement from alumnae for those schools.

Just my two cents.

Zak Berkman
co-founder, Executive Director of Artistic Programming
Epic Theatre Ensemble

working group said...

Great post Scott... as I travel around the country I talk with students a lot. and I encourage them to deny this "accepted" model.

I've written my own post about it at my website entitled TO THE GRADUATING CLASS:

And I hear the arguments like the one here about St. Louis all the time. I don't buy them. Disclosure: I am a full time playwright and actor and I work out of Iowa City, Iowa. I travel the country with my work and it's possible because I deny the system.

Kids think an MFA is a door being opened. There's some thought if you go to a school or bide three years of training at any MFA program that you're entitled to go to NY and work constantly... it's not the way it goes...