April 13, 2008 by Dennis Baker
Students who have been applying and interviewing at Rutgers have found this blog and been emailing me to ask my experience with the M.F.A. acting program. I thought about what to say as my goal was to share the facts more than give my opinion. Below is the email I sent out. My opinion is clear but I based it on the facts of what happened in the last three semesters and the mindset of the program.
There is a lot to say about the Rutgers MFA acting program. Know that I was recently dismissed from the program, so I am speaking from that perspective. I would recommend NOT applying for Rutgers. The head of acting flat out lied to a class about the dismissal policy. She told the class at the beginning of their first year that no student would be ambushed in a meeting in regards to being dismissed. Students would be given clear communication if they were going to be kicked out. Then they tried to kick out a student the end of their first year without any communication that they were in trouble or on probation. In fact that student asked specifically of their progress and the teacher said that one would know if they were on probation and if one was not on probation then that means things are going well.
Their point of view is to have students come to Rutgers to “see if they are actors”. Anytime during the three years they deem that you are not an actor, they have the power and desire to kick you out. That way of thinking is based on faulty logic because wasn’t that same student a good enough actor to be selected out of a thousand people that auditioned? In fact some students were good enough actors to be accepted into multiple programs. “Being good enough” is not a measurable quality.
I know when one is auditioning for graduate schools they are excited about any school that is interested in them because they are so hard to get into. Note that Rutgers’ audition process is seeing your monologues in New York, Chicago or California and then having a five minute meeting if they ask you to visit Rutgers. That has changed this year as I hear they had “callback” auditions which means performing your monologues again for a different professor. What more does that tell you about the student? If the faculty are looking to see if a student fits into their specific acting program would not a weekend of classes and workshops be a better way to measure if a student fits the program? (This is done is some programs like Yale, Denver, and Delaware, who call it forced attrition) Each year Rutgers selects fourteen students, and the last two years they have only graduated eight people per class. If they had a more detailed audition process they might select less students and the dismissal rate would decrease. I think most students would rather not be selected into a program then being kicked out half way through.
Therefore the question to ask yourself is are you willing to pay $12,000 a year with about a 50% chance of not getting your degree and being stuck with the debt?
Lastly, I will end on the idea of the reputation of the graduate acting program. The rumor online and one I unfortunately blogged about is that Rutgers is the #3 graduate program in the country. I wonder if this is a left over idea from when William Esper was teaching and head of the program. His studio is consistently been ranked #1 in Backstage Magazine polls which is voted on by subscribers. One should take poll results lightly, but at the same time the results do say something. Also when Esper left most of the faculty left with him, the core of what makes a program great. In my opinion what was good about Rutgers happened when he was here and the current program is not the program that Esper created. Yes, Meisner is still the foundational acting philosophy, but I am talking more about the mindset of the faculty and how the school is run as a whole. I could be wrong as I was not at Rutgers during Esper’s reign, but something to think about.
The links below have to do with MFA theater education and something I wish I read before applying:
More Theater Education ideas found at: http://tribaltheatre.pbwiki.com/Education
April 13, 2008 by Dennis Baker
It looks like I will be able to visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in early May. The last time I was there was my senior year of high school, a decade ago. That still sounds weird. A group from my high school would take yearly trips. I went my sophomore through my senior year and also attended the Summer Seminar for High School Juniors. The seminar was a two week submersion to all things Shakespeare. We took classes and seminars on everything from acting to theater management to costumes and various other responsibilities that go into running a huge theater. We also had the opportunity to see every show that was running. Between my school visit and coming back for the summer I got to see every show they produced that year. Great shows including Death of a Salesman, Blues for an Alabama Sky, King Lear, Rough Crossing and Pentecost.
There will be five shows running for the two days that I will be there: Fences, Coriolanus, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Welcome Home Jenny Sutter, and The Clay Cart.
Of that list the only play I have seen is Midsummer and I saw it ten years ago at OSF. From the picture and reading reviews this production is a high energy, sex romp that seems to hit on many decades. Bill Varble of the Mail Tribune says, ” The fairies are the key. They live in and represent an alternative world that exists next to and intermingles with the workaday world of Athens and the Court. If we believe in the fairies, the play’s world comes to life. f the fairies are timeless, the humans are living in a late-’50s-to-early-’80s kind of time. The young lovers â€” Emily Sophia Knapp as Hermia, Tasso Feldman as Lysander, Christopher Michael Rivera as Demetrius, Kjerstine Anderson as Helena â€” are as lusty and confused and foolish as ever. f these fools seem to spend most of their time in the dawn of the Reagan years, the Mechanicals are ’60s holdovers, stoners maybe, in over their heads without being over the top. Ray Potter as Bottom finds a balance between amiable befuddlement and simple dignity. This ‘Midsummer’ is a spectacular kickoff of the Bill Rauch era at the festival, and more. It is a revelation.” In true repertory spirit Ray Porter play Puck in the last Midsummers and now he is playing Bottom. I am definitely curious.
Fences is another play I am excited to see. I have not been able to see an August Wilson play yet and having read The Piano Lesson I do enjoy his writing. This production, one of the cycleâ€™s two Pulitzer Prize-winners, offers a complex and emotionally wrenching portrait of a man hopelessly bound by duty and outdated values to a life of few rewards. The review at the Ardest Forest Inn website says, “In a riveting performance, Charles Robinson is extraordinary in his portrayal of Troy Maxson, pitting his traditional mind-set against the periodâ€™s dramatic social change to maintain firm control over his family. Ultimately, this flawless, stimulating and unforgettable theatrical experience, under Leah C. Gardinerâ€™s honest, sure-handed direction delivers a seamless blend of theatrical elements thatâ€™s destined to make a memorable mark in OSF history and should not be missed!”
Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter is directed by Award-winning Chicago director Jessica Thebus and is about U.S. Marine Jenny Sutter returns from Iraq, she lays down her rifle but isn’t ready to pick up her children. Buying some time, Jenny takes a one-way trip to nowhere–a desert community where misfit residents gently nurture her wounded spirit and nudge her back to her own humanity. It is written by Julie Marie Myatt. Varble mentions, “The real antagonists are Jenny’s pain â€” she’s not only missing a piece of her leg, she keeps a terrible secret â€” and a world that doesn’t want to hear about it. We like our invasions shocking and awesome, our occupations short and sweet, our wars to be winners. We pass the cost down to our children and move on.
Technorati Tags: ashland, bill varble, fences, king lear, mail tribune, midsummer nights dream, oregon shakespeare festival, rough crossing, theater, theatre, welcome home jenny sutter, king lear, rough crossing, shakespeare