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College Theatre and Where to Begin: Part 1 - Is College Even Worth It For Performers?

Are you thinking about pursuing Musical Theatre, Acting, Theatre Studies or any of their related subjects at the collegiate level? Yes? Cool! Are you overwhelmed by the prospect of making decisions at 17 years old that "define" your future? I know I was, so I'm writing a few posts that may help alleviate and redirect some of that anxiety.



When I started to think about what I wanted after high school, I wasn't even sure what kind of guiding questions I should have been asking myself. Everyone told me to "think about what I really wanted" out of the next four years, but I could barely commit to what kind of pizza toppings I wanted on a Friday night.... how was I supposed to know what I really wanted, down to my core?


The short answer is, I wasn't to supposed to know, and the decisions you make at 17 don't actually define your future (like, in an ironclad, irreversible way... you get me). What's more, everyone in this business, even the people who "never doubt" their place in it, tinker around with lots of different skills and career branches. This happens because 1) we must do so to literally survive, and 2) sometimes we like the other things we must do, so we keep doing them and... *gasp*...we grow into multi-hyphenate artists and nuanced people! Very few individuals in this industry are just performers, and honestly, even fewer want to be "just" anything.


So, let's accept that the decisions you make now don't define every aspect of your future, and that it's wise to cultivate more skills in addition to your strong performance abilities. With those ideas in mind, here's the first question this series of posts will address:


1.) "Is college even worth it? I have faith in my talent and I'd save myself/my parents a lot of money and headaches if I don't go. I have things to improve on, sure, but I can figure it out as I go. Plus, every day I'm not in, say, New York, someone else is moving there and making the connections I want to make. Why shouldn't I just go out there now and see what I can do?


An excellent and valid question. College is not for everyone, and I recognize that I come from a place of privilege to be using language that insinuates everyone is gunning for higher education. Let me say, for many people, college is not the right choice for financial and/or personal reasons. You can absolutely succeed without going.


If you can go to college and are just debating whether or not to, the annoying answer is it really depends on what you want and what you know works for you. If you know you are a mature, self-motivated go-getter who is ready to take on the business (whether that's in NYC, Chicago, LA, DC, London, or other regional areas), and you're impatient to get started, then perhaps forgoing college is the right choice for you. Maybe consider taking a gap year to see how you fare, or look into studying with the myriad of one to two year conservatory programs out there (more to come on this). You can always decide to apply for undergraduate studies later, and it could be a great idea to learn what skills you actually need in order to further your success; living out in the "real world" can help clarify your interests and pinpoint what areas you need to focus on - Dance class? Voice lessons? Acting for the Screen? If you still decide college is not the place you want to be learning those things, there are countless institutions in NYC, for example, where you can enroll in one-off classes or limited series to hone those abilities. They might even provide more immediately helpful, current knowledge than you could receive at some universities, considering that they are typically taught by individuals currently working in the industry. Of course, your success on this particular path is incumbent on your ability to self-motivate. If you've got the hunger, the thick skin, and the discipline to begin your career, then by all means, go for it if that's what's calling you!


On the flip side, I think it's safe to say the majority of high school seniors are probably not ready to take New York City by storm. I certainly wasn't; I knew I needed more time to "bake" at a university that would help sharpen my skills and provide an environment where I could figure out what kind of person and artist I am. I needed time to cut my teeth in a multitude of creative interests, and doing so at a university meant 1) I had access to mentors who were specifically there to help me, and 2) I was surrounded by institutional facilities, resources, and experiences that I wouldn't have had the chance to "play with" if I weren't a student there. I also had a lot of growing up to do, plain and simple; if I had gone straight to New York, the city would have chewed me up and spit me out immediately (Hello! I had never navigated public transit on my own! And if you remember from earlier, not only could I not commit to toppings on my pizza, I was afraid to even call the place and speak on the phone. Not ready for the real world, folx...).


Oh, and just a side note that perhaps deserves more time... having a degree and university on my resume has opened up doors for other related job and networking opportunities that I hadn't considered at 17; a fact not to be underestimated when standing in the audition room AND interviewing for that side hustle. A college education holds weight (and in my opinion, a liberal arts one holds more in that arena... more to come on this in future posts).


The biggest case I can make for college, though, is that it's an unparalleled environment to grow the collaborative relationships you will rely on later. The most vital asset any artist has is their community; without folx to create with, bounce ideas off of, and lean on, I don't think most of us would be able to continue down this path. The collaborators and friends you make in college get to witness your work up close for multiple years in succession, develop themselves alongside you, and share a history and sense of place that (hopefully) cultivates deep trust between you. Of course, you can build a community without having gone to college, and I continue to grow mine now in New York City with folx who didn't attend my university. BUT, cultivating community during formative, enlightening years at a college that (hopefully) nurtures and financially supports your efforts is, in my experience, a foundational sort of bond that runs deep. If I had my pick, I would (and do) work with a handful of my collaborators from college over just about anyone in this business, and I cannot put a price on that.



Obviously, every decision comes down to what makes the most sense for you. Anyone working today will tell you that many paths can lead to the same rehearsal room, side hustle, Broadway stage, or film set, and all that really matters is that we show up ready to be a good person to work with. These environments are made richer by variation.


To wrap up, I hope you remember these three things:


1. You are going to be more than one thing. Sometimes that fact will be infuriating, and sometimes it will inspiring and awesome. It will always be useful, regardless of how you feel about it at the time.


2. The most interesting performers are, first, curious people. Regardless of whether you attend college or not, explore subjects that interest you outside of performing. The knowledge you gain will help you create better, more real characters and stories. And honestly, you'll be more magnetic in the audition and rehearsal rooms because of your unique experiences.


3. Community, community, community. You need it, and there are many places and ways to build it inside or outside of college, but do not be fooled into going it alone. Nothing can really be done alone, and everything worth doing ought to be shared. College is a phenomenal place to grow a group of core collaborators, but you can (and will!) find people to lean on outside of a university setting, too.


That's it for today! If you have other topics you want to clarification on, or questions related to beginning your college journey, please feel free to comment them below!

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