BWW Blog: Finding Your Corner of the Sky
The college audition process: it can be daunting, but trust that your journey as an artist isn't meant to look exactly the same as everyone else's. For me, it took plenty of trial and error, but going through all of the auditions and college visits taught me so much about who I want to be as an artist. Through the 32-bar cuts, dance calls, and Unified Auditions hotel room tears, know that you will end up exactly where you're meant to be. But there's a specific decision within this process that isn't talked about enough- the choice between pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) or a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA).
When I went through the college audition process, I was set on pursuing a BFA. I auditioned for numerous colleges, attended Chicago Unifieds, but only one audition was for a BA program. I felt like there was this stigma with pursuing a BA over a BFA, especially in Musical Theatre, and I worried endlessly that I wouldn't be "good enough" for a career in theatre if I attended a BA program. I was convinced- through the blur of perfect headshots and resumes, audition coaching, online forum researching- that I would be a "failure" if I didn't attend my top BFA programs... But I eventually learned what's far more important than a degree type.
Here's the truth: the single letter difference doesn't change your career outlook. To be completely transparent, if you put in the work, it will show- your degree type doesn't define you as a theatre artist. What really matters is the training you receive within a program, not what your diploma says. The best advice I can give to anyone who feels the way I did while going through the audition process, is to focus on how a program makes you feel, as cliche as it sounds. This starts from the moment you walk on campus (or at Unifieds) and into your audition. Are the students and faculty welcoming, encouraging, and excited to share what their college has to offer? The atmosphere within your audition can say a thousand words.
You'll never accurately form your own opinions about a college's theatre program unless you experience everything for yourself. While reading specific anecdotes about each college online can be helpful, keep in mind that this is your own education, not anyone else's- your goals and educational needs are unique to you. I know that there's so much pressure to be accepted into popular schools for theatre (especially from my perspective in the Musical Theatre category), but take a step back and remember this: you are worth far more than an acceptance or a degree type. Just as your education is unique to you, so is your talent. You want to pursue this beautiful art as a career for a reason; remember why you're passionate about it- how the spark when you're creating theatre makes you feel.
Specifically, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to talk to the theatre professors/directors at every college you audition for. Ask about their careers and qualifications, their philosophies, what the curriculum and classes are about, or whatever else you might be wondering. For me, it was important that my professors were currently working in their field and/or had up to date knowledge and experiences to teach us. I wanted to study in/near a major city (Chicago), and learn from professors who actually have firsthand experience in the (musical) theatre world. In the end, that outweighed the worries I had about not pursuing a BFA. Sit in on theatre classes, shadow a student in your prospective major for a day, and see a show! Getting an authentic feel for what your life will look like as a theatre student at various colleges will help you to determine what you're really looking for in a theatre program, as well as what your educational goals are. Keep a journal, write pros and cons lists... anything you can do to easily compare program to program.
I ended up being accepted into some wonderful BFA programs, including one of my top two, but I still chose the BA route after really determining what I wanted out of my education. A BA program tends to be more flexible than a BFA program, so you can customize your education to fit your goals, and to explore other interests, as well. Of course, we have specific required classes, lessons, practicum, etc. as theatre majors, but some classes can be chosen from a few options, and the order in which you take certain classes isn't completely set in stone. At least at my college, double majoring within the theatre department (I'm a Musical Theatre and Theatre major) or in a discipline other than theatre is common, as well as pursuing a minor(s) of your choosing.
Because of that flexibility, I worried about a BA program not giving me enough of theatre... which I've found to be completely false. I just spent this past term in theatre classes all day, straight into rehearsals at night- but I wasn't burnt out or tired of theatre. I was still enjoying my education, because I was able to balance theatre and the rest of my life as a college student, as well as my other interests.... And the fact that we're a BA program doesn't change the incredible work that comes from the students here. It's all about what you make of your education- you're the only person who can define your success throughout college. Do the work. You can always attend a conservatory for graduate school, and pursue your MFA, regardless of if you have a BA or a BFA. Your undergraduate years are meant for exploration and creation.
Don't let any college rejections make you feel inferior as an artist. Even the most brilliant people have faced extensive rejection, as we've learned in recent years with #ShareYourRejection. Keep going- your goals take time to achieve. And while I can't tell you from personal experience, I do still know that BFA programs are the right fit for many theatre students. If that's the choice you make, then that's fantastic! But don't tear yourself down for choosing the BA route- you're meant for something so unique and beautiful, no matter what path you choose.