In terms of auditions I’ll speak as both an actor and a director. Another awesome aspect of attending a University is the faculty really gets to know you. They see your work for four years and they get a really good look at what kind of an actor you are, what kind of work you’ll get, and how you should go about getting it. As I begin my senior year, here at UMD in the BFA program you take an acting class called “Senior Studio.” Half of the class is preparing you for professional auditions and throughout the class you hunt for and workshop what is called your “Keystone” monologue. It is a monologue that is so perfectly fitted for you that you can whip it out at pretty much any audition. As a professional actor it is important that you have a number of monologues that you know by heart that perfectly fit you so if you happen to just hear of an audition that morning you’re not going to freak out and go on a mad dash to find a monologue. All you can do at an audition is hope that your type fits what they’re looking for. That’s really what it’s all about. From a musical theatre standpoint, it’s best to have a 16 bar cutting of an up-tempo, or ballad, belt or not, one from either before 1970 and after 1970.
As a director, I just cast a show out in the Duluth community. For the older male role, it came down to two actors. One had a great resume with many roles that fit the part. However, the other actor had many roles that fit the part, AS WELL as directing credits, film credits, education credits, etc. Both were great for the part, however, I went with the 2nd man because I felt like I could trust him more given how many other things he’s done in the theatre. So far, he has been awesome in rehearsals. When I’m casting a show, I always look at the resume and pay close attention to it.
You also bring up a good point about students not absorbing everything they are taught and while I don’t remember everything I’ve learned I do feel like I have a basic understanding of many things I’m getting myself into. For example, from my studies I’ve learned that if I audition for a Tom Stoppard play I’ll need to pay close attention to the words and language of his scripts. From my Play Analysis and Playwrighting class I’ve taken, I’ll know to go with a monologue with a lot of word play and if I get the callback to make bold choices with my words. If for some reason I’m called back for a Tennessee Williams play (which is not super likely given my type), I’ll know that his characters are often booze drenched, almost always somewhat delusional, running away from a truth, and I’ll know how to add in those layers as I’m reading for the character. The list can go on and on…
And about feeling comfortable with having a degree; the answer is yes. I just feel better equipped and I feel I am taken more seriously. As student I don’t have too much time to do off-campus shows, but in the three that I’ve done, two being Regional, I’ve found that having a degree is a huge plus.
Think of it like this. A person has put in ad in the newspaper to pay $100 for an amazing birthday cake for her birthday party. The only two people that respond and bring a cake to her party is Paula Dean and your neighbor. This person will probably go with Paula Dean’s cake even though your neighbor has won the Blue Ribbon at the State Fair every year for five years in a row with her lemon dream cake. Paula Dean has the credentials.
And in terms of Conservatories, most of them have great programs and you’ll graduate with many skills honed, but what it doesn’t give you are other classes that will give you a bigger and better world perspective like a University does. As an example, last year I took “Philosophy and World Religions.” I found the class to be so interesting and inspiring learning about all the different types of religions around the world that I wrote a play dealing with some Christian elements and that play is being produced in May. If I went to a conservatory, I wouldn’t have been able to take that class, but because I took it I’m getting work. Also, I’m directing a play because I took that class. In December, I’m directing “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre. Before I interviewed with the theatre company to direct the play I talked to the Philosophy professor I had about “If the play was produced, could we start a fellowship with the Philosophy department in this show? Could we get philosophy students to see it?” The philosophy department was so excited that someone is interested in directing it because they teach the play in the curriculum but have never seen it performed. All in all they had my back with this and when I interviewed with the theatre company I told them, “The philosophy department is set to see this show which will sell tickets and they’re going to be a support for the show.” Because they had my back, “No Exit” was chosen to be a part of their season.
It’s all little things like that which make a University setting so worthwhile. If you’re looking for a place to go, I highly recommend UMD’s. They just began a fellowship with the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre much like University of Minnesota has a fellowship with the Guthrie. The professors have incredible experience, the education is well rounded and worthwhile, and Duluth is a sprawling theatre city. And workshops are rarely a bad thing. However, the best education is one that you can fully submerse yourself in. A university will teach you not only how to recreate Fosse’s “Who’s got the Pain” dance, but will make you a more well-rounded person that just a singing and dancing machine. You’ll become a true artist with a toolbelt of skills and knowledge. Skills and knowledge that may seem frivolous at first but will come in handy some time in your life. Is any of that making sense? Any more questions? This is something that I’m quite passionate about. I just want to see everybody that chooses theatre as a career has the tools and outlook to succeed. It’s such a difficult profession!