Manhattan’s The New School has launched a new Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramatic Arts program, which is an undergraduate version of its storied Masters of Fine Arts program. The Wall Street Journal took a look at the auditions for the program and the realities of the job market these students will face upon graduation.
The program is overseen by Pippin Parker, the head of The New School’s School for Drama. His team has recruited almost 300 candidates from across the country to audition in New York City for acceptance in the program.
Parker’s sister, actress Sarah Jessica Parker,is on the program’s board of advisors and attend the auditions, too. Of the program, she says, “I’m a small player in this, but the theoretical sounds extremely promising.” However, Sarah Jessica Parker is quick to point out that watching the auditions is an experience of mixed emotions, adding, “It’s a mix of the feeling of great hope and agony. Somehow the long exit out of the room always breaks my heart. I know a lot of young actors come to the city with an enormous desire to be famous and wealthy and to rise quickly. There’s such an emphasis on celebrity, but it’s the boneyard of culture.”
The New School’s approach to the BFA program understands that few of the graduates will go on to become financially successful actors. A quarter of a student’s credits required for graduation must be in a non-theatrical discipline and the entire curriculum will focus on how theater skills can be utilized in the traditional job market.
That approach demonstrates a recognition of the job market actors face not seen in most undergraduate theater programs and also reflects the reality of the program’s price tag. The $38,000 a year tuition at the New School is only the bottom floor for the additional costs of living, which are considerable in Manhattan. The article points out that considering roughly 90% of actors are unemployed, it’s a huge gamble for teenagers to make at their age, with many of them likely to graduate with college loans well into the six figures without any solid prospects of earning enough to pay that debt off.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that earning an undergraduate degree in acting in this program or any other will increase the chances of a young actor becoming a success. Whether these students will one day join the “boneyard of culture” that Sarah Jessica Parker refers will probably involve the same hard work and luck by which hundreds of successful actors have reached the top of their profession previously.