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:
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