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Student Blog: Why I Decided Not to Get My B.F.A. in Musical Theater

"Just because you don't have B.F.A., does not mean you're an unqualified actor."

I have loved musical theater for as long as I can remember. It was a passion passed down to me from my mom, Wendy. My earliest memory of musicals is when she would play for me some of her favorite movie musicals like The Sound of Music or The Wizard of Oz on VHS tapes. I could watch those movies over and over again and never get bored.

As I got a bit older, I got to see musicals come to life on stage. Growing up in New Jersey, not far from Manhattan, I got to see Broadway shows starting when I was only around 4-years-old. I loved the thrill and excitement of seeing an actor live on stage, singing and performing their heart out. I knew from then on that I wanted to be like them, that I wanted to be on Broadway and perform on a great, big stage, like so many of us do. It's such a light-hearted dream, a dream that's gotten me through some hardships and kept me inspired.

But as the years went by, and it was eventually time to decide where I was going to go to college, my dream wasn't seeming so light-hearted anymore. Instead, it felt like pressure.

A lot of aspiring actors are told in high school that one of the best ways to "make it" in the professional theater business, is to get a B.F.A or, a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Particularly in acting, or musical theater. There's a bunch of colleges that offer these programs, some of them having very prestigious reputations. Musical theater B.F.A programs typically consist of a very small class of students each year, so the audition process is quite competitive.

Students from my high school were preparing for these auditions starting Sophomore year. They were spending thousands of dollars for coaches and classes, and getting ready to fly to different states for auditions by the time we were Juniors. I, on the other hand, had no idea what to do. I knew I wanted to be a performer, but I had other interests and wasn't ready to make such a big decision. There was also all this pressure about everything it took to prepare for the auditions, and I wasn't in the right mental state for all of that comparison and competition.

I dealt with a lot of anxiety as to what I should do. Do I commit to getting my musical theater or acting B.F.A while I'm still in high school, or do I look into other options? It felt like the clock was ticking. If I wanted to go to one of these programs I had to start preparing as soon as possible, and I was already behind.

I started weighing my options. For example, I knew I loved writing. I was always told I was good at it, and as I got older I started realizing I could potentially do it professionally. I also loved learning about different aspects of the arts, like film and television. Heck, I was even considering looking into Zoology, because of my love for animals. But I was always wondering if I would lose my title as a performer. That I wouldn't be considered a "good actress" anymore because I would choose not to attend an acting program.

As the high school years passed by, I felt more lost as to what I would do in college. That's when I received some advice from my Mom. She explained to me that I can always be a performer. No declared major or degree can make it so that you are not a thespian anymore. You can always choose to perform no matter what. But, if you have interests outside of theater that you haven't had the chance to explore, college is the perfect time to do so. Better yet, do your research and find a university that not only has a theater department, but also has classes that will allow you to explore other interests. Just because you don't have a B.F.A., does not mean you're an unqualified actor. In a casting room, in the end all that matters is whether or not you're right for the part. You don't have to commit to one of those programs if you don't want to.

I chose my school, The New School, because not only is it in New York City, but because it has excellent theater and writing departments. Freshman year I not only took theater classes but also writing classes, film classes, and even an environmental studies class. I had the chance to dip my toe in different fields. By the time I was a Sophomore, I decided to double major in theater & journalism. I am loving it. I get to study the two subjects I'm most passionate about, work on each craft, and even combine them from time to time.

Some days, I felt insecure about my decision. Sure, B.F.A. programs give you access to great connections and resources. I was worried about missing out on that. Then I thought of Jessica Vosk, who was slaying the stage as Elphaba in Wicked! on Broadway a few years back. Jessica worked on Wall Street before starring in a leading role on Broadway. When someone on Instagram asked her if it was possible to 'make it' as an actor without studying theater in college - she said yes! She recommended taking classes in or out of school, finding auditions on your own, talking to vocal and acting coaches, etc. It is possible!

In the end it's not even about 'making it.' Our time in college is about exploring who we are. It shouldn't revolve around tons of pressure, worrying about making super meticulous plans or stressing over what everyone else is doing. Don't be afraid to experiment and find the best way to pursue your passions for you. I am so glad I took the time to try different things, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of their time in school to do the same!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Abigail Connolly