Teaching Drama

Is College Right for Theater?

Today we’re featuring a guest post from Irene Gonzalez from theater4teens.com.

This seems to a bit of a hot topic lately. Those of you who just finished your junior year in high school know that everyone is asking you, “What college are you applying to?” College is a touchy subject and people in the theater industry will give you many different answers. Well, since I’ve been asked, here’s my response.

I believe if you are passionate in a subject area and you have the drive and unique talent for it….go for it. If theater, or dance, or singing is what you absolutely want to do with your life then do it. Who really has the right to tell you that you can’t follow your dreams?

Being active in the performing arts for most of my life, I’ve come to realize that high school is not usually enough for a performer or someone who is aspiring to have a career in theater. Even if you go to a fancy arts school, you are still missing a lot. I encourage you to take classes after school and seek outside education during high school, but even with that “” it is good to have more.

I have heard arguments on the other side too. I have heard people say that the worst nightmare for any performer is to waste castable years in college. I don’t believe that’s true. In college, you can still work professionally and build your resume and still study and get a degree. Some people are lucky and go straight from high school to the stage, but that’s not the norm. I think it’s those people who take the time to really work on their craft as a young person and keep learning throughout their whole career, those are the ones who excel above and beyond!

On your resume, there is a section for education. Where you studied could separate you from everyone else. The university you choose may be in the casting director’s hometown, who knows? By earning your degree, it is an extra plus because it shows you made a commitment and stuck to it. After all, a show wants to know you are completely committed to all rehearsals, events, and shows. Saying you graduated from a university is the ultimate sign of commitment and determination.

Then you will hear some people say, ‘Theater is not a respected major.” People around you may aspire to be doctors, while you want to be on stage. These who pursue becoming a doctor learn a lot but have to go to 8 years of school and then more depending on their specialty. They are passionate enough to go through all the struggles. They need that education and they are proof that if you truly love what you do, you will do the work and succeed.

So consider: the same goes for theater. Taking a degree tells the world you take this profession seriously. Look at Bernadette Peters and Marilyn Maye. They never stopped working when they were teens, they went to college, and even at their ages now, they are still working in theater.

There is a reason for theater majors to exist. It trains you to be a successful performer in all areas and gives you back-to-back experience in putting on a production. It is also a great way to network. Many who work in the university and who attend along with you are professionals. You will find many people in the casting room who graduated from where you did. They will know what you went through and they will respect it.

With all career paths, whatever you choose to become, you will constantly be looking for an edge that will set you apart from everyone else so you will be noticed. The fact that you graduated will speak louder than your belty voice.

Working professionally and going to school is hard, I am not going to lie. But I think your location matters. There are great schools in NYC, LA, Michigan, and Chicago. They are also near the action. Be smart about location and university. It is possible to do both at the same time “” work and study. You will have to work 10 times harder than everyone else, but if you are a theater major in the first place, this shouldn’t be any big surprise.

Then your other consideration is: what about your family? I’ve been really fortunate to have supportive parents, but I know not everyone does. Some parents don’t support their son or daughter studying theater in college. If this is a big issue for you, that if you choose to do a major in theater they will not support you financially or emotionally, then your way to stardom may have to be different but it can still be achieved.

My advice would be to major in English, math, or even business if those are the directions that your parents are encouraging. Since your parents have gone above and beyond to help you since you were born, a college major is not worth losing them over. Besides a college education will always be of value to you.

But when choosing your university, consider its location and see if you can find any community theaters around. While on campus, focus on your degree studies, but also consider joining a drama club and see if you can become friends with the theater majors. You can learn a lot just from watching the homework they are doing and you may be able to work part-time at a community theater.

If you can make it to NYC, Chicago, or even LA, then do it! But just remember: your parents want what is best for you, so listen to them. You can compromise and at the same time, keep working on your craft in your spare time. Your actions will speak louder than words and you too will find your way.

Don’t be afraid to tell people you want to major in theater. If someone says something to you, just say to them: ‘Hey, I am going to a university to study to achieve my dreams. Who are you to judge?” Working hard is the best way to succeed.

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About the author

Craig Mason