Open Forum

Topic: Decisions Decisions...

1.  Decisions Decisions...

Posted 10-28-2013 23:24
From talking to fellow performers in high school, who want to continue to do it professionally, one question keeps showing up: B.A., B.F.A., or Conservatory?


Duncan Kinzie
Region II Rep


2.  RE:Decisions Decisions...

Posted 10-30-2013 13:36

Unfortunately, it's difficult to come up with a straight answer about what path is best. You mainly need to find out what works for you and your learning style.To make it even more difficult, these programs even vary by school!

Dramatics published an article about this subject that I think is pretty realistic and educational:

Personally, I made the choice to pursue a BFA at a state university. I wanted a well-rounded education in a multitude of subjects outside of theatre (I've always loved studying French and Biology, just not enough to get a degree in them), but also more specific training in acting and individual attention. I also need a challenge in order to learn, and for me, a BA program wasn't cutting it. A BFA required a yearly evaluation and audition, demonstrated progress, and higher expectations from my professors. This gave me more motivation to succeed. 

If it helps to lessen the burden of this decision, keep in mind that it isn't only about the degree, it's about what you do with it. Years after you graduate, your experience in the field, the opportunities you pursued, and the connections you made may very well outweigh the type of degree you have earned. Just merely having a degree never got anyone the job! A degree will open a door, but it's all up to you once you walk through it.

What does everyone else think? What kind of degree did you pursue and why?

Ginny Butsch
Community Manager
Educational Theatre Association


3.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-05-2014 15:59
I'm not an actor, but as someone who works with actors all the time (in addition to writing plays, I just directed my first short film last weekend) and lives at ground zero for the film industry, I thought I'd weigh in.

As others have said, you need to pick the best school for you.  Here in LA, we have UCLA, which has a BA program, whereas USC and Cal Arts offer a BFA.  Then, there are straight up conservatories like AMDA and AADA (I live right across the street from them), which personally I wouldn't put in the same tier as the other three.  (Of course, there are many others, many with very respectable programs.)

Charlie has laid things out nicely, and there's no need to reinvent the wheel.  But I will add a few things:

I've never particularly cared, when casting, whether an actor has a BA or a BFA, though I do look at what school he went to.  Maybe that's just the snob in me, but when it comes to resumes, I do want to see what training an actor has and who she's worked with--to see if we have a mutual acquaintance.  If she says USC, for example, I may shoot off a quick email to one of my USC friends to see what I can learn.

Acting requires drawing from a base of life experience and knowledge, so the fear many of us have with a strictly conservatory style program is that you will be very well trained technically, but you won't have enough of a base from which to act.  So if you go to a conservatory, I want to know what you've done to round out your training with the real world.  (Which is why, if you put a gun to my head and told me to choose, I'd say BA or BFA before conservatory.)

As Ginny noted, your degree may open some doors, but as time goes on, your other experience is going to become relatively more relevant.  And, as one accomplished writer/director friend has noted time and again, he's never gotten a single job of consequence in this business that wasn't through a personal connection.  For example, one of the actors we used in the film I directed was a guy I saw in a play a few years ago.  I remembered how wonderful his performance was, emailed the director, who's an acquaintance of mine--and soon after, we cast him.

So whatever you choose, if you want to act, polish your craft in whatever program best suits you, but then make sure that you learn how to function in the business, because whether it's acting, directing, writing or anything else, understanding what it takes to be a working professional--which is something they too often don't teach in school--will ultimately make the difference.

And one final thing to note.  Most of the actors here in LA are in somebody's class, a way of maintaining their chops and continuing to explore and develop as actors, so it's not as if you have to pick one school, get your degree/certificate and then stop.  There are always ways to continue...


Jonathan Dorf
Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
Los Angeles CA

4.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-05-2014 14:02

We've met several times in the past, and I hope you are well, my friend.
I just came across your posting and I recently gave a seminar at a well-attended WACAC fair in the Southwest.

FIND the BEST school for YOU. Be open-minded.

Be attentive to opportunities. (colleges cast seasons, see where you might fit)

Identify what's important to YOU.

Conservatory vs. 4 Year.

  • college experience

  • liberal arts classes

  • departmental shows

  • ·not professional training; it is designed for the region to please the season subscribers, faculty & staff.

  • ·no link to the industry

  • Education for Education's sake. That's a good thing. School is fantastic and forever.


  • Practical training

  • Immersion in one area

  • Reflective of industry / current

  • Prepares you for the business quickly & is YOUTH DRIVEN

  • A youth driven industry: Nickelodeon wants you NOW, Disney wants you NOW

  • Look at the alumni: How old are they? What are they doing?

    (here is a short NYC angle: WHY TRAIN IN NYC? It's the highest caliber of teachers and students, and the highest standards in the industry, the filters are present.)

     How do you plan to get where you want to be?

    You need to learn how to act, at a higher, more challenging level than in the past.

    Learn how to find representation.

    Learn how to audition from people who are doing it.

     With so many different platforms for original content, we are involved in a different game than in the past.  It's no longer 3 networks, ABC NBC CBS. It's no longer,  "go to college, study theatre, and go to NYC. with 50 talent agents and 30 casting directors in town., you'll have access easily as a new face in town, and everyone will know you quickly".  Many doors are closed to those who are new in town, especially if they don't have local or recognizable credits. Many more people are trying to get into the arts now than in the past. Now, cable stations have original programming, showtime, hbo, bravo...

    There are so many more diverse feeder systems than in the past: reality tv, the internet etc.

    Remember this: Every school is different, every product of that school is different, every actor is different.

    When all things are equal, in a vacuum, it's the character and work ethic that helps the actor rise to the top.

    When you get out in to the business, you are a product of that school, so you must be aware of who else has graduated that program.

    Is it well known to agents and casting?

    Are they camera-ready?

    Are they trained to audition?

    How does the Program start you off in the business in NYC and/or L.A.?

    Do you get trained in how to run your Personal Business?

    You need to know how to run your career as a craft and as a business.

    I hope that this helps..

    Charlie Fersko

Charlie Fersko
New York NY

5.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-06-2014 07:19
You have some very good advice here, I do not have much to add.  I would tell you what I tell my students, find a school that fits and get the BEST training you possibly can.  To me this means a BFA or Conservatory.  I know someone else mentioned they like to see kids with more life experience than a conservatory offers when casting - I would argue (as a graduate of a conservatory) that we pretty much have the same life experience.  Yes, we are working at our craft all day long, but we were also college students, so in and out of love, friendships, etc.  I will also say, as a HS teacher - everyone is telling you that whatever decision you make now will shape the your whole future etc etc.  Know that life is long.  It is not uncommon at all to change schools, degrees, etc.  Allow yourself some room for discovery and re-discovery.

Just my .02.

Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey Davis
Plainsboro NJ

6.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-06-2014 09:13
Wow!  Charlie has great comments.  You should print and save.  Networking is a big consideration.  When I go to film festivals I meet a lot of west coast students who attend USC, UCLA, and Chapman.  They have great networking.  However, sometimes students don't get acting opportunities at a big school even if they were in every school play in high school-- simply because of the number of acting students.  That is one thing to ask about.

Duncan, The other thing I would suggest is during these years to take a photography and a computer graphics class--even if it is at a community college.  The entertainment field is so competitive and you would be amazed at people's creative business cards, post cards, resumes.  I know that you can hire these things done, but when you start out you are poor.

Vicki Bartholomew
Sherwood OR

7.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-06-2014 10:21
Charlie is dead right on all this and summed it up very clearly. 

Apologies to all if what follows is inappropriate for this forum but I wanted to call attention to it as it is relevant to this discussion.

At Festival for the past several years, I have put together a workshop/panel of folks from UNL, Univ of Evansville, University of the Arts, University of Houston, and Wake Forest University (and an occasional other school)  - representing BA and BFA programs, liberal arts/conservatory/mixed, public and private, large and small to address this question. While we of necessity tend to use our own programs and institutions as examples, we are each committed to NOT recruit but to try to explain how many different routes there are to any one goal. The answer of course is "it depends." We BRIEFLY lay out the philosophy behind the approaches and try to succinctly sum up what that approach means in practice. Every program is different and the range of approaches we represent helps make that more clear. We hope that the outcome of our discussion and lengthy Q&A is that each person attending has a better idea of how to determine their own needs and develop a list of questions/criteria to use when researching programs. 

I encourage you (or anyone else interested - especially HS teachers) to attend. We have a short handout that we provide that can be shared with students. 

the program details this year are: BA? BFA? OMG! What you (or your students) need to know about College and University Theatre Programs and their differences. It will be held Friday afternoon June 27th 3:30-5pm in the College of Business Admin. room 132

John Friedenberg
Director Of Theatre
Department of Theatre & Dance
Winston-salem NC

8.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-06-2014 08:32
Folks here have done a far better analysis than I could on the various school options. I would just add this: 

Don't overlook the less glamorous, paying jobs that are out there as you learn and hone your craft. Corporate video, training films, voice over, etc. Sure, these types of jobs might not teach you anything in terms of character analysis, but there's no better teacher for learning your lines, hitting your marks, and not wasting a clients' time and money with endless retakes. Because let's face it: It's called Show Business for a reason.

Becoming a working actor means exactly that-working. And it might not be Broadway, but as we say in my house: "It's a gig."

Scott Piehler
Drama Director
Lilburn GA

9.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-07-2014 02:04
I would just echo what Scott said about there being numerous ways to be a "working" actor.  One of my friends does a ton of voice-over work--she's been a regular on an animated series for several seasons--and it's a great (and fun!) gig for her.  Also, while pay structures have changed a bit in recent years, commercials (particularly nationals) can be gold if you can find them.  Other actor friends do cruise ship gigs, youth touring shows, etc.  EVERYTHING you do is experience.

Also, to clarify my earlier comment about conservatories, while I have many friends who have gone to them and many who teach at them, my concern isn't so much about the life experience that one can potentially lack, but a broader base of knowledge.  If all you learn is the best way to hit a high C or to dance, you're not learning about sociology or psychology or foreign cultures or the other things that make you a well-rounded human.  And I do think that's important, because technique in a void is a little like learning theory without application.  Having said that, there are a lot of ways to gain an education about the world.  Another friend of mine never went to college at all, and yet from the age of 6 to his mid 20s had a film and TV career that most people would envy (the last film he did was Kinsey with Liam Neeson).  Though he had no formal schooling past high school, he made up for it by traveling like crazy and reading a ton--and he's generally one of the best informed people I know.  Bottom line:  there is always more than one way to skin a cat.


Jonathan Dorf
Playwright/ Co-founder of YouthPLAYS/ Co-chair of The Alliance Of Los Angeles Playwrights
Los Angeles CA

10.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-07-2014 15:44
And it is something to put on your resume as you start out.

Vicki Bartholomew
Sherwood OR

11.  RE: Decisions Decisions...

Posted 06-21-2014 20:45
Thank you all for the wonderful advice and keen insight. To update: I've chosen to attend Chapman University this fall. It's a small liberal arts school just south of LA. I'll be majoring in a BFA in Screen Acting, which uniquely balances education in theatre and film. I'm hoping this will be a nice middle ground.

Duncan Kinzie
Region II Rep
St. Louis MO