Choosing a Performing Arts School

Contributing Writer, New York Film Academy

If you’ve been bitten by the acting bug and are looking to pursue a professional career in film or musical theater, you have likely put plenty of time and research into finding the best schools for realizing your dreams. Whether you starred in your high school’s musicals or spent your free time acting in homemade movies with friends, taking that next step into the academic world of performing arts presents myriad options.

While most universities and colleges offer acting programs through a theater department, they generally provide you with plenty of theory but little practical experience or advice from professional working actors on how to truly make it as a successful film actor or musical theater performer. And though there is educational merit in spending four years studying and performing the works of Brecht, Chekhov, and Beckett, if your goal is to have a fruitful career in television, film, or musical theater, such programs aren’t exactly going to teach you how to nail an audition or understand the economics and processes of film and theater production.

All aspiring actors have to pay their dues, performing in bit roles or rarely seen plays while paying the rent waiting tables. Just watch any film or show about aspiring actors, like the hilarious Party Down, which followed a group of fledgling actors and performers biding their time at the titular catering company, and you get a sense of an actor’s struggles. To call the industry competitive is an understatement, with thousands of young actors moving to LA and New York every year to follow their dreams of getting on the big screen or Broadway. But getting that “big break” isn’t just a matter of luck or who you know; choosing a school that focuses equally on the craft of acting along with the real issues you’ll encounter—from putting together a demo reel to having actual experience on a real film set or Broadway stage—can make a huge difference.

There are no shortage of film and musical theater schools out there, but when researching ones that will actually place you on the right track, it’s best to look at institutions that set you in an environment with instructors who have the experience and professional know-how of being successful in the acting world.

Do you dream of appearing in an independent or Hollywood production and succeeding as a professional actor, but are unsure on what it actually takes? Look for schools with programs where the focus is on acting for film. It’s uncommon for aspiring actors to have a full working knowledge of all aspects of the filmmaking process, but at some schools, acting students work directly with filmmaking students to learn every aspect of the process involved in film and television production by working directly on set.

If you see yourself treading the boards on Broadway as a musical theater star, search for schools that offer ample real-world experience, particularly those in close proximity to and/or those offering programs in New York City itself. Your schools should also offer extraordinarily strong programs in music, dance, and acting—you need to hone your skills as a triple threat!

Of course, simply enrolling in a performing arts school isn’t a shortcut to a lifelong career in film acting or musical theater. Aspiring students need to have a genuine passion for their craft and ultimately will get back what they put in. If you are not wholly committed to taking advantage of all the resources provided by the school, then a career in waiting tables is not far away. But by dedicating yourself to understanding the technical and professional foundations required to realizing your acting dreams, you can set yourself on the path to acting and musical theater stardom.

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