Rutgers MFA Acting Program

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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    93 thoughts on “Rutgers MFA Acting Program

    1. Matt

      Well, they could just fire the head of acting, if the students revolted, as that is where the majority of the problems lie.

    2. Scott Walters

      Actually, no they couldn’t. Tenure doesn’t work that way — even if the students revolt. They could convince them that the Chair needs to be replaced with someone else in the program, but (s)he wouldn’t be fired, but rather just go back to teaching.

    3. Matt

      Ok, thanks for explaining that, Scott.

      I can understand why tenure is necessary after seeing the other side of the coin with some absolutely vicious students at my university.

    4. George

      Hello Sir… Just know that the gift you have to offer was not meant to be shared in the field you were entering and that’s why you had to undergo a setback so that it would reveal to you the right path you must take. Its unfortunate that tragedy brings out the best in us, but this is true for you so embrace what happened to you (for it was keeping you safe from a distructive future). You have learned a VALUABLE Lesson that many and I do mean many will never come to know in their lifetime. You learned that you are sensitive to abuse…this in truth says something about you morally…not many humans care how they treat the next person but it;s GOOD to know that you naturally have this ability and NO EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION can teach this but LIFE does, so consider yourself living LIFE and learning from it….so continue to share your story but also continue in exposing the the Truth in a false world…Take Care

    5. CBBinNYC

      If you are an actor considering applying to MFA programs, the internet is an interesting way to get information, but I URGE you to talk to industry professionals and other people who know the business before making any decisions. I talked to several working actors and two agents that I interned for (agents who represent many Tony-winning actors … at the time I was interning, a client of theirs had won a Tony three years in a row) and they ALL recommended that I go to Rutgers. Things change, but at this point, Rutgers students (BFAs and MFAs) are getting signed out of their showcase and are getting work. This is not according to some people you don’t really know on the internet … these are industry professionals who know who is working and who is not. But don’t take my word for it. I’m just some guy on the internet. Find somebody you trust (or who has some credentials) who knows the pulse of the business.

      Dennis, I am sorry that your experience was what it was, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt since I was not here at that time and I don’t know anybody in your class. But I can say that this is not the atmosphere at the school now. (“You won’t find joy, play or love,” said an earlier poster. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, in my experience.) It MIGHT be correct to say that Rutgers dismisses more people than the average drama school, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. Make no mistake: Rutgers is an intense program, it’s not for the faint of heart. But the students here are top notch, the faculty here is top notch, and the people who graduate are serious contenders in the industry and serious artists.

    6. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for your comment CBBinNYC. Like you, I will give you the benefit of the doubt about the information you received about Rutgers. That being said, I am sure they are just as many industry professionals that would disagree because this is a subjective business and where there are twelve professionals, six will say one thing, while the other six will say the complete opposite. Yes, there are alumni from Rutgers that are working, but there is probably more alumni that are not working, than are working. Also, when a school says an alumni is working, what does that mean? Does that mean they are making a living wage? Only about 12% of AEA actors make more than $7000 a year and about 2% of SAG actors making a living wage. So if any school markets their alumni as working, that should be defined.

    7. CBBinNYC

      I didn’t say the school made any claims about alumni working … while I was researching potential programs I don’t think I saw any school that made claims about their alumni working. As you said, how can one define what that means? (I’m surprised that 12% of AEA actors make $7000! That number seems high to me!) I think you can get at least a general read on it by talking to people in the biz, going to shows and seeing what schools pop up in people’s bios, looking up recent alumnus’ websites, etc etc. Even if you go to Yale, Juilliard, or NYU, the chances of “making it” as an actor are pretty darn slim unless you know how to make your own opportunities (or have a really really pretty face). But it doesn’t hurt to have some training and connections on your side.

      And, yes, everybody in the industry has an opinion. In this case, I trust the opinion of the people I talked to as agents who are mostly unbiased (they just want good actors who will work, and if a school is producing good actors, they’re producing good actors … they also mentioned Brown, UT Austin and U of Delaware as schools other than Yale, Juilliard, and NYU that are producing good actors right now, incidentally). Of course, everybody has their own opinions about what a “good actor” is, but these guys have a great track record of signing clients who are talented, win awards, and get a lot of high-quality work. I wish I could say their names so people could verify this information, but I think it would be inappropriate to name names.

      Also, for anybody reading this who is considering applying to Rutgers, they have only dismissed one person in the last three years (I’m not sure about before that). Maybe this is a change from past years, but that is the state of things right now. I know one person who left of their own volition, but it had less to do with the program and more to do with the realization that he/she didn’t really want to be an actor (this person was extremely talented, and the program head was very sad to see him/her go).

    8. jan

      Wow, this whole Blog breaks my heart.

      I am an actor currently applying to 15 different Graduate MFA Programs for Fall of 2012 and Rutgers is on my list. There are many schools who have this attrition stamped on their program – some programs which are no longer on my list because I agree with you Dennis, I don’t want my money to be wasted. But also, my first choice school (which I have fallen COMPLETELY in love with) makes it known that it has a right to dismiss any student after the first semster OR first year due to any concerns from the faculty, so I am indeed VERY torn.

      What I am trying to get at, is that, well, it comes from a teacher who has a Studio in LA and who studied with Ron Van Lieu at Yale back in the late 80s. He told me and a small class of 6 other actors one fall day last year, to “KEEP GOING”. And ofcourse we were like: “ummm, yeah, obviously…” But he stopped whatever scene rehearsal he was working on in front of the class and turned to us and repeated those two words: “Keep Going.” This time he broke into tears. A young man, who just had a great rehearsal of his scene in front of my teacher, felt like it didn’t measure up. It’s different, yes, because no one told him it didn’t measure up, he did, but still. NO ONE CAN TAKE THAT AWAY, and CERTAINLY you as an actor cannot. AS ACTORS WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO JUDGE WHETHER OUR WORK IS “GOOD” OR NOT. This is a business where odds are literally stacked up against us.

      An MFA Degree is not the only way to guarantee success in Show Business. I have very supportive parents who are insisting I get that credential, so I am going to get my MFA. But I have a couple friends on Broadway who dropped out of College. MFA Actors do have an easier job getting into the rooms of some of these big Casting Directors & Agents yes, but I believe from the depths of my gut, that if you LOVE what you do, and you put in the time, AND KEEP GOING you will succeed. Hands down. One friend of mine from LA, she is hitting it big in the commercial scene right now, but it took her three years of booking NOTHING, and now she is all of a suddent starting to get work. And praisingly, her agent stuck with her for those three years.

      My teacher said, if there is one thing that he wanted to read on his grave stone was his name, then a comma, and then “who kept going”. I don’t know if I am ready for a graduate program training. I studied with The Moscow Art Theater School in Russia for a year, and I still don’t know if I am ready. But I know I want to keep going regardless if these administrations don’t think I am ready, or make a decision one day, and then a year later change their mind.

      Sorry if this rambles. I wanted to share my thoughts with this forum, but also you Dennis. No one can take that hunger away (unless you let them), and that willingness to keep going. I think God rewards these types of people.

    9. Dennis Baker

      Thanks Jan for your comments. I, and I am sure many readers, will be encouraged by what you wrote. I wish you the best of luck on your MFA journey. It sounds like you are wise beyond your years, and I am sure whatever decision you make will be done with the utmost consideration. As you have read, it sounds like Rutgers rate of attrition may have decreased. The main goal was to get people to think and question what is going on in graduate acting training and to be aware of what has happened to some students. I would encourage you, if you can, to try and find out the attrition rate from your first choice school. That is easier said then done, but when making a finical decision this big one needs to see every side of the program.

    10. Elliot

      For what it’s worth…

      The top in the country (places like NYU, UCSD, and Yale) do not cut students from their MFA conservatories. I’d be wary of applying to any school if there was a cut system in place. Of course, you can be kicked out of any program if you’re not doing the work or if you’re not producing, but on the whole that should be few and far between. Even Juilliard, which was famous for the second year slaughter, has ceased cutting students and, instead, has limited their class sizes.

    11. Jan

      This is true Elliot, however, Rutgers University, Harvard University, UC-Irvine which I am not mistaken DO have attrition rates BUT they are also in the top 10 best MFA schools in the country like Yale, NYU, and Juilliard. Some schools feel the need to kick you out to show you how show business works (aka, you can always be replaced) and some seem to want to spend the time and work with the actor.

    12. Elliot

      I have a couple friends who went to Harvard/ART. There’s no forced attrition, they both graduated with their full slate of classmates. UC-Irvine, likewise, takes about seven or eight actors. No forced attrition. I used NYU, Yale, and UCSD as an example because those are pretty widely known as the elite places to go, and if they don’t utilize a cut system, then why does any school? Especially when we’re talking about graduate students who presumably have decided acting, tough as it is, is their row to tow.

      My larger point is that actor training has change a lot. Rutgers and, I think, DePaul are the only two programs I can think of that cut actors. I also don’t think they “kick you out to show you how the business works.” They kick you out because they don’t want to teach you anymore. Now, a person can still get kicked out of any school, but by and large it should NOT be a recurring thing, in my opinion.

      Also, Rutgers is not a top ten school. I think if I had to rank it it would be: Juilliard, NYU, UCSD, Yale, Old Globe/USD, Brown/Trinity Rep, ACT, Harvard/ART, UC-Irvine, and Delaware. Rutgers hasn’t had artistic influence in some time.

    13. SayItLoud

      1. This idea of ‘top MFA’ programs makes absolutely no sense, if you stop and think about it. If you add up the so called top 10 programs, they get less than 200 students per year in total. Now, if they are so good, why do they limit that to 15-20, sometimes 7-8 students per year? Is it because there is no need for top actors out there? – now, that is a ridiculous notion. Clearly, there is demand coming from the industry. Is it because there is no demand coming from people wanting to attend? That we know not to be true. Or is it because there is a shortage of real talent out there that could be educated into becoming top actors. That’s against the main definition of acting school.
      2. Now, are these really ‘top schools’? A top school must be a leader in the industry, a trend setter, a visionary. Are they? Over 90% of the films made lose money, even though they are made for ‘commercial’ reasons and not for art.. over 90% of the plays (including on Broadway) lose money and over 90% of the actors cannot find work (including actors coming out of these ‘top schools’). If these schools are ‘the industry leaders’ they look like terrible leaders, don’t they.. There isn’t another industry that can claim leaders that show such sub-mediocrity in influencing the industry positevely..
      3. Most of the ‘top MFA programs’ should be banned. I simply do not understand how they get away with calling their programs ‘graduate’ programs when in fact they are nothing more than ‘vocational’ schools. One recent example is Juilliard’s MFA program – they made it 4 years and actors training is exactly the same as undergraduates or people who get a certificate.
      4. Most of the ‘top MFA’ programs entrance selection is based 100% on a 2-4 minute audition – with total disregard of people’s records – that is the most obvious proof that these programs are ‘vocational’ schools and not graduate schools. For a vocational school it may make sense to admit students on what you can see as talent, because they have no record to base the decisions on. For graduate school, disregarding ones record is total BS. These ‘gods’ pretend that they can look into someone’s eyes for 2-3 minutes, or often times not look at all or not listening at all, and tell with 100% precision what his/her future is going to be. So, who needs to look at an existing record, right? Totally, against any notion of a true ‘graduate’ program.
      5. Quite a lot of the heads of the top MFA acting programs do not hold any level of graduate studies. For some of them, their educations clearly come from vocational acting schools.
      6. Are these schools really in the 21st century? Most of them are relics of a century long gone, it’s just that the school leadership is too impotent to adapt.. or worse, it’s too ‘convenient’ not to adapt.. One example is the example that Yale is using by pointing to Meryl Streep. Think about it, Meryl went to Yale 40 years ago and she probably followed a program designed decades prior. Does anyone truly believe that a student going to Yale in 2012 will be able to function the same way Meryl does today, 40 years from now? In the era of iPad I really do not think that anyone is that naïve.. so, why then, these ‘top MFA programs’ continue to do what they did mid last century?
      7. If all of these things were happening in a 3rd world country, I do not believe that anyone would call them ‘top MFA programs’.. rather would think of ‘corruption’ and ‘crooked’ first.. that’s what these ‘top MFA programs’ seem to be. A disgusting charade.. or better yet, a scam that keeps perpetuating out there only because people are too afraid to take them to court to force them to disclose what the ‘real’ deal is. False, deceptive or misleading advertising is illegal and they should stop it.
      8. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs change their admittance procedure as well as programs to adjust for true ‘graduate studies’ rather than ‘vocational studies’ as they are now.
      9. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs post their records that they have internally, or force them to collect those records to indicate what graduates do 1-2-3 years after graduation.
      10. Everyone should demand that all MFA acting programs clearly spell out their admittance criteria. If you look at the ‘profiles’ of people who graduate out of these programs there is a strong indication that they select mostly blue/green eyes/blond red hair/ white skin for anyone to really believe that in the 21st century only those people are talented or ‘pretty’.

    14. Erin

      I can’t speak to what Rutgers’ admission process was like in the past, so it may be that they used to accept more students and then cut them later. This year, however, they invited 15 MFA candidates to a “callback weekend,” telling us that they planned to offer acceptance to 10 students.

      The callback audition was only a very small part of the weekend. The majority of time was indeed spent on workshops and classes; almost all the acting faculty taught sample classes, and then the prospective students were allowed and encouraged to observe current students in acting and movement classes.

      It was a great experience. The faculty seemed to care very much about making sure students knew what they would be getting into, as well as getting a sense of us and whether we would be good fits for their program.

      So I get the sense that, however things may have been in the past, Rutgers is currently trying to do just what is suggested on this website: be more selective in their acceptance to avoid attrition later on.

    15. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for the update Erin. I am glad to hear the admission/application process has changed. Ten to twelve is the number they accepted before, which at times only half of that graduated. I hope the evaluation process, once one becomes a student, has also improved. All the best to you.

    16. Matt

      Dennis, hope all is well with you.

      I’m late to some of the recent posts here, but thought I’d comment as they’re interesting to me.

      @Sayitloud: The market is saturated. SATURATED- there should probably be less MFA programs, and that’s happened with Alabama Shakespeare’s and Denver Center’s programs closing recently. Others are recruiting smaller classes and less often. You can get an MFA in Theater studies, there are programs that offer that sort of well rounded theater education- there’s no time to do most of these things with professional training and rehearsals, it’s exhausting as is. Graduate training is just professional training at a university level- they like to give out a degree, except Harvard. You get your degree from Moscow because they also believe it’s a ridiculous notion to award someone a masters degree in acting 😉 You ultimately (at least I believe this is what other actors want) want to work with good actors, people who can act, not people who want to study in a non-vocational way- although there’s nothing wrong with that.

      The admittance criteria is: Be talented and good looking- in the opposite order. One casting director told me, and this would be for making a school a top program: Get a bunch of good looking people who can kind of act and then try to get them cast in tv and film upon graduation.

      So I agree, most of the graduate programs throw out the same stock predictable people year after year. The hope is that some of these people can actually act. Casting directors don’t like to think. Agents don’t like to think. They want to know what is in front of them. A lot of programs are also ‘finishing schools’ in a sense, looking for people who they can simply polish up. Other places ride their reputation for years, sometimes decades.

      @Elliot: Your top 10 list, is littered with a few programs that have so-so actors coming out of them and are developing a reputation for having some awful showcases- and those statements are coming from an agent who attends these showcases, along with some friends who have seen some of the people coming from these schools. Hint: the schools are in Providence and San Francisco. Or they’re just out of touch: Try Delaware. Knew a guy who got into San Francisco, went to visit, and turned it down based on the acting he saw.
      And my talentless ex-girlfriend went to Harvard, but she was gorgeous….so I’ve got some opinions about that 🙂 Some schools offer better connections than others. Like the schools in that top 10 list- although Rutgers is up there at least in new york city.

      I know people who have gone to some of the programs in your top 10 list and every school has people who: Didn’t get an agent, didn’t work very much after school, quit acting. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this, but it’s just how things work. For a lot of people, unfortunately, grad school is the best thing they ever do. It’s just a hard life and lots of times when you’ve come from some money or a supportive college environment and you’re a smart intelligent person who is then thrust into the world and the realities of acting outside of the ivy league or your studio, it’s a tough transition- I’m not saying you don’t know that. Or there are people who have gone to these top 10 programs and then go into academia in a couple years- nothing wrong with that. It’s as competitive as ever, especially trying to get past being an adjunct.

      @Erin: It’s good to see that things have changed over there regarding giving students a sample of the training- at least they’ll hopefully know what they’re getting into. I think the economoy squashed the idea of cut systems from now on.

    17. SayItLoud

      @Matt said:
      The market is saturated. SATURATED- there should probably be less MFA programs..

      saturated with what?
      Get a netflix or an amazon account– they claim tens of thousands of movies.. it’s soo hurting to see how difficult it is to find anything that has any kind of cultural value. Drinking, killing and sex.. 99% of the movies that fill these databases. This centralization gives you a time perspective for the evolution of the industry.
      Pretty close to zero, zilch, nada.. shameful!
      The market may be saturated with the last century puppets, which is exactly what these so called MFA programs cultivate year in and year out.

      in other fields, a top university prepares top notch talent, especially in graduate programs, so they can build a better industry for the future. your limited view seems to fit right in with the narrow-minded approach of the so called MFA programs. These are Not graduate programs! They are just ‘vocational’ programs that illegally hand out MFA diplomas.

      Any serious graduate program, before they accept anyone must look very closely at the academic performance and accomplishments through college of an individual if they expect these individuals to be the leaders and educators of the industry of tomorrow. But they don’t!
      The current MFA programs have only one interest: to perpetuate the status quo. They have been doing it for 100 years.
      Look carefully what they claim their alumni accomplished – a role in a tv show no matter how minor is something they jump up and down about. How sad is that.
      Very little, if any, of mentioning about individuals who actually accomplished something new, who took the leadership to change the industry for the better.
      That is what all of us should expect from a top graduate MFA program! Because they keep the keys to the gates that create job opportunities for the next generations.
      Imagine if technology companies did the same thing they did 100 years ago.. how many jobs would be out there.. wouldn’t you say that the ‘market was saturated’?

      So, no, the market is Not saturated with top notch individuals who are smart, talented intellectuals who could set new directions and creativity for the future. Who could help create and open new markets and new opportunities for all. Who could advance the craft in ways that would reach more people and educate the populous. Who could bridge over intellectual and academic fields for the enjoyment and cultural understanding of many.. That’s just not so.
      No, the market is not saturated. On the contrary, the market is empty.. like a huge void that these gate keepers have been working hard for dozens of years to keep it that way. Can’t you see how empty the market is..
      Maybe the top universities should institute term limits for their professors since they keep on doing what they learned 50 years ago – therefore, they look for those skills that they can recognize, being impotent in understanding anything else..especially, running away from anything that has to do with intellect..
      Their novelties go about a new interpretation of a Shakespearean play.. How sad is that..
      If anyone asked me, I would fire all of them on the spot. Their time has come and gone. They had their opportunity to create value for the society and failed miserably.
      Out with the old, in with the new. Let new minds come in, give other people these opportunities and see what happens. Just clean house!
      Each one of these MFA programs should be able to accept hundreds of top talented, intellectuals so there is a better chance that a few of them will come up with new ideas that could foster growth and open up new markets. When you let 10 people in, there are zero chances for change. In fact, there are zero chances for these people to participate into a vibrant industry.

      You only need to look at the statistics to understand what’s going on. The industry would rather hire someone with no acting skills before they hire the so called MFA graduates. That’s how much the industry values these programs..These programs are not fooling anyone, but the people who pay the bills and waste their time.. so the ‘old-school’ professors can keep their jobs and perpetuate the old school for dozens of years until ‘their’ retirement.

      Having a 2 minute audition in front of 1-2 ‘gods’ as a determinant factor for getting into graduate studies program is an insult and should be rejected by everyone.
      Graduate studies should be about the intellectual prowess first since the majority of these people will end up teaching the new generations, fostering new opportunities, opening up new markets and creating art like never before.

      So you are wrong – the market is Not saturated with smart, creative and potent people.. on the contrary. The market cries for help you and people like you just don’t hear it.

      @ Erin
      You look at Rutgers from the perspective that you were one of the ‘lucky’ ones to go to the callbacks. This is playing their game.. I bet that made you feel special and talented.
      However, you should also know that those people have a behavior not worthy of a 5 grade bully – I’ve witnessed stories of how they basically yelled at people who came to auditions and insulted them in ways you cannot even imagine (all that for people paying the fee and spending the time to prepare to be subject to that kind of behavior) – words and behavior that you wouldn’t expect from a low level/uneducated individual, let alone from someone teaching at graduate studies..
      It is only a matter of time until you will get a taste of that..

    18. Scott Walters

      @SayItLoud As a college professor (although not in an MFA program), I must say I find your comment painfully apt and would only quibble that it doesn’t go far enough, because all of those people that were trained over the past 40 years (most MFA programs have only been around since the late 60s and early 70s, really) are running the nonprofit theatres in the nation and spreading that superficiality throughout the field. MFA programs most often create compliant cogs for the “theatre industry,” not the kind of independent thinkers that make an art form vibrant and innovative. They do this through the exercise of undue power as noted in Dennis’ original post. And your insistence on the intellect as the basis for that vibrancy and innovation is exactly right. Technology has allowed artists, through things like blogs, to share ideas and create a powerful art form, but a quick look around the theatrosphere reveals the superficiality of our “thinkers.” Artists don’t read, don’t write, and don’t think. Our MFA programs “train” people in the same way dogs are trained to do tricks: unthinkingly and without question. Do some smart, talented people make it through without being completely stifled? Of course. But only by resisting.

      If I had my way, we’d set up a program filled with strong, opinionated people like you, @SayItLoud, and let you all wrestle with ideas together until you created something worthwhile. I’d like to put your comment on my blog to give it greater distribution.

      Well done. Your disgust is deserved.

    19. Matt


      people like me???

      Ok, easy there, I’m on the same page as you. Honestly, I have no idea why there needs to be a graduate level training for this vocation. It seems this system is not really helpful toward generating a greater quality of theater life, but SayItLoud and Scott, for both of your to act as though people are just trained like monkeys and have no appreciation or sense of art and artistry and the world around them is sheer lunacy. Marketability or making a living fitting into some ‘type’ to appease industry people is, for any good training program, a small or even non-existent part of the program. The majority of people who are committing their life, time, and money to a craft- while having to deal with these inane market demands of the non-artists- want what you guys want- an end to this commercialization of this art.

      The “saturation” is that there are too many actors and not enough acting jobs, unfortunately- thankfully we can all make our own work. I think we are completely on the same page about this, though. So, I apologize if my last post came across as though I was putting you in your place. I get the outrage- I really do because I say all the same things myself, I just don’t know where to start and I’m pretty sure most others don’t either.

      The worst thing though is hearing that even more people should be admitted to get graduate degrees in a craft, when they can already explore a myriad of other options involving theatre studies that involve getting a degree- where they can also do some acting and explore alternatives to the concentrated militaristic (at times) style of the conservatory. Scott could probably relay the difficulties in landing a job in academia, especially when you have to pack up and move far away sometimes in order to continue pursuing what you love, so I just can’t see admitting even more people into something where the numbers are already so ridiculously stacked against a person who is looking for an income.

      Anyway, thank you both for having the courage to question what the heck we’re doing. Completely heard, understood and appreciated 🙂

    20. SayItLoud

      @Matt said:
      The worst thing though is hearing that even more people should be admitted to get graduate degrees in a craft, when they can already explore a myriad of other options involving theatre studies that involve getting a degree- where they can also do some acting and explore alternatives to the concentrated militaristic (at times) style of the conservatory.
      MFAs should not be for becoming an actor. The fact that the MFA programs are ‘selling’ that notion is downright an insult.
      MFA programs should be ‘graduate’ studies. Becoming an actor is a craft, you can learn that at any good vocational school.
      Getting an MFA should be about becoming a ‘leader’ (educator, communicator, creating and implementing new ideas/programs, in addition to acting) the acting profession – just like it is with any other graduate study programs.

      Just ask the MFA programs to stop selling a vocational program as ‘graduate studies’. It’s false, misleading and hurting everyone!!

      The MFA programs on the market today should be banned – they are simply a fraud!

      @Matt what you don’t understand is that top graduate schools should create leaders and innovators who can take the industry forward.

      How many people are hiring people who can type on typewriters in the 21st century? Because that is exactly what the MFA programs are delivering today. Surely, you can’t find a job if your skills are reduced to typing on an old typewriter instead of using the iPad..

      The field has been hijacked by impotent people. It’s that simple.

    21. ChrisR

      I feel the need to clarify something here. I didn’t read through all of the comments on this page, so forgive me if this is redundant …


      People are throwing around the term “forced attrition,” and, given the dearth of reliable information and statistics on MFA Acting programs, these inaccurate comments on this website can be potentially damaging.

      Furthermore, nobody has been “cut” from the MFA program in years. To the best of my knowledge, a couple students have been “asked to leave” … but this IS different than being cut. One of these students who was asked to leave refused to leave, graduated, and ended up having a very successful showcase.

      Don’t get me wrong: Rutgers is not without its flaws. It’s not a program for everybody. But let’s set the record straight here.

      As far as the value of an MFA program, everybody is entitled to their opinion. But, when you attend an off-Broadway or Broadway play, or any play at a good regional theater, check the bios … I’ll bet most (or at least many) of the younger actors have MFAs. This isn’t proof that an MFA is necessary or even proof that it isn’t a ripoff … in fact, I’m quite sure that, monetarily, its is a ripoff. But I’m also quite sure that, for the most part, people who attend these MFA programs leave significantly better actor actors than when they started, and that’s worth something.

    22. ChrisR

      One think I forgot, re: Rutgers …

      David Esbjornson is the new head of the program, and he has big plans … plans that would address the concerns of many of the commentators above that feel MFA programs turn out drones, or that they are out of touch. We’ll see how everything shapes up, but it’s at least an interesting thing to consider …

    23. Dennis Baker

      ChrisR, Thanks for your comments. If someone is asked to leave, I would consider that forced attrition, verses the student on their own accord. Are you able to provide more details on the student who refused to leave? Is each student who is asked to leave able to refuse the request? Are they automatically enrolled in the next semester’s classes, even if they were initially asked to leave?

    24. ChrisR

      Ok, I should start with definitions here …

      If a program has a policy of “forced attrition,” to me that implies that the program accepts more students than they intend to graduate. For example, many programs, especially BFA programs, cut a specified number of students after the first year. While Rutgers does, on occasion, ask a student to leave, they intend for every student they accept to graduate.

      And no student in the past few years has been “forced” to leave. I don’t know the exact circumstances of the students who were asked to leave, but my understanding is that, for the administration to formally dismiss a student, there is a very involved series of procedures that must be followed, and the administration has to demonstrate concretely to the university that the student deserves dismissal. So they “ask” students to leave. Sometimes they leave, sometimes they don’t. I understand both decisions … I’m sure it’s no fun to feel unwanted, but it’s also not fun to waste money and a year or more of your life. As far as whether they are automatically enrolled in the next semester’s classes, that I do not know.

      Now, although I’m defending Rutgers, I do think that if a school (especially one that is choosing a class of only 12 or fewer students out of hundreds of applicants) has to ask even one student to leave, that is a failing of the admissions process. Luckily, Rutgers has changed their admissions process as of last year, and they now have a callback weekend similar to that of Yale, NYU, Irvine, and other schools. The have accepted only 6 new MFA Acting students for next year.

    25. Amanda

      As one of the six MFA actors that has been accepted into Rutgers for this fall I thought I should explain some things behind my reasoning for attending this school.

      Now I read this blog and did extensive research about the program so that I would not be blindsided come my callback weekend in March. This included talking to Rutgers Alum, and even emailing Dennis for more specific details behind his experience. I went to callback weekend already rooting against this program and hoping that when I left it would be an easy place to write off. Instead I had a rough weekend because I found myself really enjoying the experience taking/sitting in on classes, and I got to be my “no bullshit,” self while talking with the faculty.

      I brought up these experiences I read on this site, and I was probably more blunt than I should’ve been. The faculty then gave me the handbooks that stated all rules, and they were honest about flaws that were from how they ran things in the past. Rutgers was open about not being perfect, and with their new Chair they hope to mend the unfortunate reputation they may have developed. One faculty member said she was about to retire and instead decided staying in light of all the new changes.

      So I have a philosophy about this whole MFA experience at Rutgers it’s “If I hate it I will leave.”

      I am giving it a try and I have to remember I don’t have to stay. I would like to stay so that way I don’t have that much in loans to pay back, but regardless no one is making me go. If many days while I am there in a row where I am scared to go to class or find I am pushing myself through something I do not want, I will end it. There is no sense staying in a toxic environment when you have control enough to end the situation. I had to go through this sort of thing in my undergrad and without delving into details I made a decision to remove myself from a situation that was internally harming me.

      I was fortunate enough to have my pick of some of the best programs in this country for my MFA and I chose this program because it felt like the right fit to me regardless of its flaws. I don’t feel obligated to go nor do I feel as if I am “one of the lucky ones.” I’m simply going based on my experiences so far with this program. You can’t hate on anyone for giving it a shot. It’s life, and no matter what I will take something from this experience whether it is good or bad. At least I will have learned something in the end, and I will be grateful for that.

      Hey if it goes up in smoke and they are bullies I will be thankful I have a great support system behind me to help!

    26. Dennis Baker

      Thanks Amanda for sharing your recent findings. I am glad to hear that you were honest, did not let go of your power and kept faculty accountable as well. All the best to you.

    27. SayItLoud

      I bet you are happy and proud to be one of the six accepted into Rutgers.
      Did they tell you why you were chosen? I bet you feel you are very talented and that should be the reason to be in grad school. Did they tell why they chose only 6 people?
      Did they give you the statistics of the last 10 years about the job prospects, once you graduate? I bet you didn’t ask all these questions, did you.. Instead, you felt you were one of the chosen ones for some reason that you don’t understand but you really don’t care as long as you are in..
      You say “they were honest about flaws that were from how they ran things in the past.”
      Were they really?
      Are they still running a graduate program as they would a vocational program – I bet that hasn’t changed. Are they disclosing up-front the ‘exact’ admittance criteria so everyone knows, just like any graduate program in any other areas? I bet that hasn’t changed.
      Have they stopped putting the emphasis on audition as the main reason for admittance into a graduate school? I bet that hasn’t changed.
      Are they teaching the same skills that go back to the time of Stanislavski? If so, remember that typing on a typewriter used to be a very sought after skill that paid good money.. a while ago.. not anymore.
      Look around you – can you tell if the other five ‘lucky’ ones have been admitted because they are exceptional individuals with a stellar academic record? I bet that hasn’t changed.
      So ask yourself – why do you want to go to an MFA program that is virtually a vocational program that has nothing to do with ‘graduate studies’?
      You may choose to look away and avoid asking all these questions – because you are happy today to be one of the chosen six…
      But ask yourself: would you want to be just another actor looking for work?

    28. Amanda

      @SayitLoud I think you did not read my post. As I clearly stated I do not feel lucky or honored, and honestly I was just trying to put another perspective out there. Believe me I have no need for anyone to tell me why I got in. I was accepted into some brillant programs and hey if they were not honest with me I can always leave. Leaving something is not difficult but taking a risk takes some serious balls. As to your comments about being “just another actor” down the line, well maybe from where you’re sitting. From my view I could care less, and if anyone reads this in the future I hope they are able to take what I have said with a grain of salt. Anyone who reads any of these things should not take them so seriously therefore they will not make assumptions. You do not know my motives for seeking an mfa and while I respect your opinion I ask that you do the same for mine and not jump to conclusions. Assumptions are easy to make but in the end they can be very untrue. Also I did my research on the number actors working from the program…etc. I asked questions like many you said to numerous highly qualified people in the industry and compared that with information I was given from the program. So I put my very intelligent self to work to really decide if this was what I wanted to do.I’m not lucky I’m just an actor who feels this is what is best for me at this time in my life. Hopefully I am right but if not oh well! Live and learn right?

    29. Elliot

      @Matt When I say “top ten” I think any list has an arbitrary element to it, and you’re right… I think so-so actors probably come out of all the programs I listed. I think good actors probably come out of them too. No one should let a school saying “yes” or “no” to them determine their value as an artist and as an actor.

      @SayItLoud I don’t really have a problem with graduate schools admitting people based on their audition. If they are strictly taking students based on how they look, I think that will be to the detriment of the school and the actor. Can you book work based on being attractive? Sure, but I don’t think its a sustainable career. I also don’t have a problem with these schools existing or people choosing to get training at them. It’s about the individual and what he or she wants. Again, if someone doesn’t get into a school I don’t think they should view the admissions process as “gate keepers” or as people who control their lives. That’s the same thing as giving power to someone behind the table in an audition.

      The one thing I’m a bit confused about is your point of view that an MFA should be more academic based and less training based. I could be wrong about that being your opinion and if so, my fault and I apologize. There are MFAs in this country that are based around a general “theatre studies” curriculum, but an acting MFA should be like any other MFA like sculpting, painting, film direction, etc in that I feel a majority of it should be spent in the studio working on the craft.

      Also, if a program is still teaching exclusively one style of acting (re: Stanislavski) I personally would avoid it, and I know a lot of MFA programs don’t start the work from “here is the method you will learn.” Some do, I am sure, but from my experience working with actors who have MFAs, their programs seemed to be more about finding your own way as an artist combined with a lot of technical training in voice, speech, stage combat, etc.

      I didn’t go to an MFA program. I did my training through classes in New York. I don’t have any regrets about how I went about it, and I’m happy with my training. Having worked with actors who have training from formal acting schools like Juilliard or RADA, actors with MFAs from NYU, UCSD, Yale, etc etc, and actors who have taken classes here and there, I have to say I’ve had a fine time working with all the various “types.” Ultimately, it’s about what you want out of your training and how seriously you take yourself as an artist. I don’t feel any of the paths are “scams” just because, having seen the results, all of those paths have created fine actors and also, as @Matt said, some so-so actors.

    30. SayItLoud

      You seem happy and satisfied with your choice. Good for you!
      I haven’t read your entry? You should love your confidence..
      My point is that an MFA should not be for people who want to become actors.. only..
      Also, ’clearly’ you know why you got in..but ‘clearly’ they do not make the criteria public.. maybe it is good for you, but it ‘clearly’ hasn’t been good for the industry overall. People coming out of these programs have done nothing more than perpetuating the status quo… that was established somewhere in mid-last century..

      I do have a problem with an MFA that accepts people, primarily, based on ‘audition’ – and so should you. The concept of an acting school is that acting is a craft and can be taught. When you talk ‘graduate’ studies, though, you should expect something more than just an ‘impression’ formed over a 2 minute audition that someone is ‘talented’.. In fact, there are no statistics that show the correlation of being admitted into a school by some subjective commission and talent.. it’s such an old fashioned concept that I can’t believe people still accept it as the status quo.
      More, look at the film industry: people would rather hire actors who have no school at all than actors that come out of these MFA schools.. when the industry gives these schools such bad marks, you know something is fishy. Acting, as a profession, receives very little or no respect from the industries that these people are supposed to work in.

      An MFA is the wrong avenue to create an actor. Acting schools that focus on teaching the craft should be more than sufficient. But awarding a graduate degree to someone should mean a lot more than “yeah, she/he is very talented and we saw that in the 2 minute audition very clearly”. An MFA should be the engine for creating the new and making a vibrant industry that takes ‘more people’ forward.. not just expect that it will give somebody a role in yet another Shakespearean play with a new twist..

      That is why I believe that a powerful academic record should be the main requirement rather than an ‘audition’ – to prove that there is intellectual prowess first.. Talent without that profound intellect should not fly in the 21st century.. we need people who have a profound ability to understand human society and behavior along with an extraordinary ability to ‘communicate’ powerful messages; we need people who have the ability to create new segments in the industry, new art forms and advance the society overall.. that’s what an MFA should stand for.. but they don’t! You are pointing to other MFA programs that might be able to do that..I disagree. there is no reason for the MFA in Acting programs not to look at these issues from an ‘actor’s’ perspective. Problem is, many of the people who teach and control these MFA programs should retire.. Their time has come and gone and they should step aside rather than keep this industry in the dark ages forever.. They have failed and failed miserably for the past 20-30 years. It’s time for them to go.
      I have an example that I use that I hope can help to make the point. Remember the famous line: Greed is good! I watched Wall Street a few times over the years and every time I watch it, it hurts to hear that line.. Michael Douglas has talent, but he screwed up the ‘message’ of that line, and in the process, he created a tool for the greedy and the careless.. I’ve heard that line from brokers, wall street bankers, tv commentators etc. it is just amazing how big of an impact that line has had over some segments of our society..
      Michael Douglas acted that line, in a very credible way (he even received an Academy Award for Best Actor for that movie), the way the film directors expect actors to do it – to be themselves.. so, his ‘message’ to the world came out as “greed is good!” while it should have been “greed is good for Gordon Gekko!.. think about that.. how many financial disasters might have been saved if Michael Douglas had gotten that ‘message’ right..

      MFA’s should have a much higher standard. Much higher than saying ‘talent’ after a 2 minute audition..

    31. Elliot

      @SayItLoud I think we just disagree with what an MFA program is for. As to a “two minute audition” determining their class, I think the review is a little more detailed than that. Most programs have multiple rounds of auditions. There’s really no other way to evaluate one’s talent, and I disagree with the notion that a person with a 3.7 and a good essay is more able to engage in or will benefit more from conservatory training than someone with a 3.0 and a so-so essay. I’m not sure how a transcript tells you someone would be a better fit for the school than an audition, an interview, a callback audition (sometimes a second callback audition) and then a final weekend of callbacks, classes, and interviews. I think most schools are using that model now and that is genuinely a lot more attention one gets in a professional environment when looking for a job.

      Which isn’t to say the actors I’ve worked with from MFA programs aren’t leaders or curious or aggressive in exploring *new* paths of theatre. I’ve met quite a few interesting individuals where I’ve worked and my opinion of them has been pretty high as they are engaged artists, many of whom credit a lot of their artistic curiosity to their training. A well prepared actor should be able to do this AND tackle the major plays in the canon. I’ve worked with people who have MFAs from the so-called “big schools” and I think their programs prepared them well to be these types of vital artists. I’ve also worked with really qualified people *not* from those programs and I’ve found they can be just as prepared. I suppose its a difference of philosophy. Our training programs in America for actors are largely tied to universities, but I don’t think they should be spaces where practice is sacrificed for theory and pure intellectualism is given preference over artistry.

      I agree with you that actors are not taken seriously by many in the industry, but that’s not exactly the fault of the MFA programs seeking to train actual actors. These schools are not telling their students they should sell out hard and work on getting six packs as soon as possible. Respect for acting has been an issue since… well, at least since Uta Hagen wrote her book. If you have a problem with Hollywood, I’ll join the chorus, but singling out MFA students and teachers when the mess can be laid at the feet of studio executives, agents, managers, publicity agents, marketing executives, and directors much more readily strikes me as counterintuitive.

      Who in your opinion should retire? All of them? I’m not quite intimately familiar with the programs and I haven’t taken classes with an MFA teacher, at least that I’m aware of. Like I said in my prior post, I didn’t go through that system of actor training, but I don’t think they’ve failed the students I’ve worked with and for. I’m interested as to which schools/faculty has earned your ire.

      I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean with the Michael Douglas. Are you saying he didn’t transform enough into Gordon Gekko and that, as a result, he created sub-prime mortgage lending? I disagree. I think Wall Street bandits just missed the point of the movie and I don’t necessarily think Michael Douglas had anything to do with Bernie Madoff being a vicious criminal. If someone reads The Catcher in the Rye and decides to shoot John Lennon, I don’t think we should arrest J.D. Salinger. It’s also worth mentioning that Mr. Douglas is not formally or classically trained.

      From my experience, MFA students and faculty aren’t running a game of three card monte hoping you won’t see the scam. For what it’s worth, In the Continuum, a play about how AIDS effects both America and Africa was created by, I believe, two young actors with MFAs from, I think, NYU. The Civillians, an off-Broadway group that produces docu-drama and develops shows for months came out of UCSD’s grad program. So new art does exist out of those places. They are very valid training institutions.

    32. SayItLoud


      The deplorable status of the industry proves you wrong. Most MFA programs admit around ten or even fewer students – and they still cannot insure that once actors graduate they can find jobs. Actually, deplorable is too nice of a word for this.. it’s shameful! It’s a 20th century mentality and process. Its time has come and gone. Why do you need vocational schools, undergraduate programs and MFA programs to pretty much teach the same thing? I watched recently how Julliard added their MFA to the mixt.. based on exactly the same thing they always have done for people who get a certificate or a BFA. Absolutely shameful!
      I did not give you grades or any criterion for admittance – the top schools in other areas outside MFA acting have figured it out and it seems to be working quite well.
      It is all based on a 2 minute audition – because if the ‘gods’ don’t say you showed ‘talent’ in those 2 minutes you are out. Honestly, it smells bad.. more like corruption, or worse. Who can look you in the eye and in 2 minutes or less tell your future? I know some charlatans coming from the 17th century who can do exactly that.. and most of all, why would you do that at the MFA level? You cannot tell ‘talent’ otherwise? You definition of ‘talent’ is too narrow.. way tooo narrow..
      I am sorry but you absolutely missed the point with the example I gave you – I rest my case.
      Aside from that, I am amazed at your inability to see how the industry could thrive instead of staying in a sorry state for so long..
      We need more intellectual power to enter this field.. you seem satisfied with what we have. I don’t think you should be..
      Once again,
      MFA’s should have a much higher standard. Much higher than saying ‘talent’ after a 2 minute audition..

    33. Elliot

      @SayItLoud You’re giving way to much power to people who audition actors calling them ‘gods’ and you’ve ignored my point that a two minute audition isn’t all the base their admittance on. If you applied to a graduate acting program and didn’t get in, then screw it and keep going after your goals and your work.

      MFAs are training programs, they’re not academic. In your reply said you didn’t give grades for a criterion for admittance, but in your reply before that you said a powerful academic record, so I’m gobsmacked as to what you think they should be looking for. This is an issue of what we both think these programs are. You seem to think they’re an academic institution, I think the fact that they’re in universities is incidental to what they are: Conservatories. So Juilliard has an MFA, it doesn’t change the program.

      Schools that aren’t MFAs are based on academic records because they’re training academics. If you’re getting a Ph.D. in drama, you don’t audition. If you’re getting an MFA in sculpting, they review your sculpting work.

      Again, who do you have a direct problem with? Which programs, which graduates have you worked with that have given you such a negative taste of training. If you think my definition of talent is narrow, then fine, it’s narrow. If you want to be a theatre practitioner in the general sense, great, go do it. From the people I’ve met, I don’t think MFAs, BFAs, or training programs are interested in graduating dumb people.

      The industry is in a bad state, yeah, but you’re coming at me histrionically citing examples from movies as if an actor who made a choice you thought was poor someone represents the state of actor training in graduate school or can be related to it when it’s not. That it somehow represents “uniformed artist.” It seems like you’re against training an individual in voice, speech, technique, and movement and want them to jettison those staples for script analysis and political theatre; both subjects which tend to get covered in most methodologies and schools. I gave examples of people doing exciting work. If that’s not good enough for you, please tell me what is.

      What I gather is that you think an MFA is an academic degree and feel that it shouldn’t be a pure professional actor training degree. I think it’s fine that it is because there are other ways to create theatre professionals outside that one degree, that one path. I’ve responded to this because I don’t think actors should be disrespected for how they choose to train. This is a hard industry and if you make it through graduate school, you’ve put in some time. Just as I don’t wanna be judged for not having an MFA, I don’t think artists should be looking down at those who pursue or who have done graduate work.

    34. SayItLoud


      You say: If you’re getting an MFA in sculpting, they review your sculpting work.

      Exactly! They don’t ask people to make a sculpture in 2 minutes in front of them to prove their talent, do they?

      Once again, the audition should be eliminated from the MFA admittance criteria – what is the ‘point’ of the audition at the ‘graduate’ studies level? Supposedly, you already have a body of work that many more people have seen and evaluated already. Why do they pretend that doesn’t exist? And if you don’t have that, you should not belong in an MFA program anyway.

      Your previous point that the audition is the only way to identify ‘talent’ is just not true. You are confusing vocational acting programs and even undergraduate acting programs with what should be ‘graduate level’ acting programs – mind you, that is a very easy confusion to make since most of today’s MFAs are nothing more than vocational programs.

      An MFA is a ‘graduate’ degree – graduate level should be much different; as I mentioned, the expectations should be that the program creates leaders in the acting profession – and that doesn’t mean just ‘actors’ the way they have been since mid-last century. This is the 21st century. Leaders don’t just look for jobs – they create jobs. Leaders don’t fight for a role in play or a tv show – they create the plays and the shows of tomorrow by using the means of tomorrow not of yesterday. Leaders don’t just look for existing paths in an industry – they craft new ways and even new industries. If the MFAs don’t find and foster these leaders than who does? In the era of the iPad you can’t think and act like in the era of the typewriter. Problem is, most of the people who control the industry and the MFA programs have no clue of what a leader is or should be in today’s environment– in fact, most of these people still live in the 20th century.. “Talent” today should not be the same as “talent” in 1950’s or 1960’s.. unfortunately, these MFA programs behave as if we are still living those times.

      An MFA is also a terminal degree – so the expectation is that once you graduate you are at the highest level possible academically, and are ready to start teaching the new generations of actors. So what are these people ready to teach the new generations? You know the answer to that: same old stuff they learned – therefore, perpetuating mediocrity and confusing people like you that it is still ok to do this even though we live in totally different times.

      Honestly, it strikes me how narrow you choose to look at these things and how ‘willing’ you are to accept the status quo. I think you need to challenge yourself to see beyond that.

      In the example I gave you I used words like “communication’ and “message” – unfortunately, those words don’t seem to make a difference to you.. “Talent” at ‘graduate studies’ level in the 21st century should show that you not only have acting skills/talent, but that you also have powerful communication skills and an extraordinary talent and intellectual prowess to read and “understand” texts in the context of human and societal values, extraordinary leadership skills (among other very important “talents” that I would not mention here.). That’s where a stellar academic record comes in. In Wall Street, Michael Douglas is a talented actor – we all know that. But at best, he is a mediocre “communicator” and his reading/understanding skills in the context of human and societal values are even lower.

      Here is a thing: I don’t care much about what is being done at vocational school and undergraduate school levels. I am Ok with that – not happy, but I can live with it.
      But why would you screw around with the MFA programs? I think I know the answer to that and so do you, don’t you..

    35. Kristen Adele

      Hi There All,

      The program has changed incredibly since Dennis was there back in the day (new head of program, new curriculum, new professors and new facilities). I chose to go to Rutgers for my MFA back in 2009 (in spite of the fact that I visited this blog) and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

      I think most of my classmates would say the same. We have all been very busy working since May and I think that is the truest testament to the excellent training at Rutgers.

      Please check out the current success of the MFA Class of 2012 on our new site: and I wish you all the best!

      Kind Regards,
      Kristen Adele

    36. Dennis Baker

      Kristen, can you expound, and be specific, on how you think the above issues have been remedied? While I am happy for you, and glad you feel things have changed, I think it is always good to talk in specifics. Do they have a more rigorous accountability in reviewing students? Do professors still make claims that students should get jaw surgery, when they have no medical experience or education to give such advice? Except for the chair, voice, and movement teacher, the faculty is the same. Thanks and all the best to you.

    37. Kristen Adele

      Hi Dennis,

      Great questions!

      1. David Esbjornson is the new chair of the department and he has a philosophy that employs a much more rigorous audition/interview process for students. The department has started doing a callback weekend where potential students are brought in for several days, experience and participate in classes, and get to meet the entire acting faculty. David’s idea is that in doing a more thorough job of screening students on the front end, the need to “cut” students will be completely eliminated.

      2. As far as jaw surgery is concerned, no one I know in the program received such a recommendation from anyone on faculty during my time there. I am sorry to hear that was the experience for any student.

      3. One other major change since your time there is that there most definitely a series of audition classes for students in their 3rd year of the MFA program. They are mainly taught by Emmy nominated casting director, Pat McCorkle and agent/former casting director, Billy Serow. Several guest cast directors, agents and managers are also brought in over the course of the year to help with professional development and transition.

      4. One of the biggest changes to the MFA program is that students will now spend a year at Shakespeare’s Globe in London as the BFA students have done now for years.

      I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to respond with more questions!

      Kristen Adele

    38. Raymond McAnally

      Hello All, my name is Raymond McAnally.
      I’m a 2005 graduate of the MFA program at Mason Gross (Rutgers). I was in the last class to have Bill Esper full time and know the program well, as I have kept in touch with graduating alumni by running The Rutgers Theatre Alumni network (on my own dime and time- I take nothing from the University, but do it simply to network all these talented graduates who speak the same training language).

      I’ve made a living as a union actor for six years now, been out seven. I’ve done principal roles on Network and cableTV, Film, a Broadway tour, Off Broadway, Regional Theatre, Commercials, Voice Over, Video Games, etc, etc- you name it, I’ve booked it pretty much (as long as it doesn’t require singing, haha). My Rutgers training prepared me for every bit of that work- I learned as much as I was willing and the rest keeps coming over time.

      My MFA not only gave me the confidence and skill set to book work consistently, but the support I received has lead me down some wonderful paths of self creation- first in short plays, then sketches, and now a full fledge comedy production company, Daily Fiber Films, and a feature length script in pre-production. The last regional play I performed, I played seven distinctly different characters. I received an award nomination for the role and it was my training from Rutgers that made the performance each night possible, professional, and consistent.

      I write this all because I can honestly say I got what I paid for at Rutgers and it continues to feed me as an artist and as a career performer. I thought someone looking at this who is struggling with the decision to go to grad school or not, should hear from those of us who don’t carry any baggage from the experience. Zero. Well, I had a crappy roommate one year, but that wasn’t the programs fault, haha.

      I was ahead of Mr. Baker by only a few short years, so I know the faculty he speaks of… but I did not have the same experience and neither did the majority of alumni who graduated from the program (I know because I hear from them on a daily basis). I wish I could “LIKE” a thousand times Kristen Adele’s posts above, because she is a recent grad and knows the program as it stands better than myself and by far far far better than Mr. Baker. Please remember, Mr. Baker did not get the experience of completing the program, let alone have first hand knowledge of it three years later.

      If you are looking for answers about Rutgers, feel free to contact me and I will gladly put you in touch with alumni, like Kristen, who know the program and what it is today- you can email me at or find me on Facebook.

      @Dennis- I hope you understand that I do not bring up your not completing the program out of any malice, but simply to illustrate your limited perspective of the program and it’s training. We met once, when you auditioned for me and others at Mile Square. I probably should have said this then- Please remember, you’re not the only one who made an investment in Rutgers. Those of us who graduated made an investment too. An investment we take pride in. I worked hard to make it through that program. What I learned there gives back to me daily, so I continue to get a return on my investment. Mason Gross has graduated hundreds of talented performers. So, I ask on behalf of those hundreds of graduates who did not have your negative experience, that you take our investment in our degrees into account the next time you wish to speak with authority about Rutgers. Because as this thread shows, you know less and less about it. Let us and our work speak for itself. And I hope you continue to find our own fulfilling career and path.

      Raymond McAnally

    39. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for the comment Raymond. The goal of the blog post was to shed light on an unethical event I witnessed by the leadership of the Rutgers MFA acting program. Through this blog post, and the student government that was created when I was there, the goal was for something like this to never happen again and for improvements to be made in faculty accountability and a higher retention rate. I applaud those efforts being made and through the comments have let those experiences be known to the readers of this blog post. And while there is new leadership overall, I applaud with some hesitance because some of the faculty members that participated in the unethical behavior are still in leadership at the program. I think I have been quite fair in allowing all types of experiences of this program to be shared so that prospective students have a clear picture of the positives and negatives of the program.

    40. Shelley

      Hello Dennis,
      I have read your blog with interest and wonder if you can help fill in some informational gaps for me. As you probably know, the MFA and BFA acting programs at Mason Gross have merged. My daughter has been accepted into the BFA program. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to email me and let me know which professors who were problematic in your MFA experience are still on staff. I am trying to gauge how much the program may have changed, and without knowing the faculty composition before compared to now, that is difficult. They did have a comprehensive 2.5 day callback process that was very informative for my daughter. Still, as we try to make a choice between two excellent programs, I’d like to dig a little deeper.
      Thank you!

    41. CBBinNYC

      Shelley – I’m sure your daughter has made a choice at this point, but I felt compelled to reply publicly anyway, as it’s clear that people still show up at this blog post when researching Rutgers. To preface this, I just graduated from the MFA Acting program in May.

      The answer is that the program is vastly different from when Dennis attended. The head of acting is different (the head of MFA/BFA acting is the head of BFA Acting that was there when Dennis was around, but Dennis was in the MFA program so he didn’t have her as a teacher), the chair of the program is different, the whole design of the curriculum is different, though Meisner training is still a major part of the training. Things are changing so rapidly that I scarcely feel qualified to discuss the particulars of the program, and I’m only 2-3 months out! I don’t necessarily agree with all of the changes, from a philosophical standpoint, but the conditions that Dennis speaks of in his post are very distant from the current reality.

    42. Dennis Baker Post author

      CBB, thanks for the post. As I mentioned before I am glad to see changes have been made in the theater department. Hopefully for the better. You mentioned that the head of acting is different then when I was there. According to the Rutgers website that is incorrect. The head of the MFA acting program when I was there is still currently at that position.

    43. ucsd grad

      Dennis, I feel for you and your emotional baggage. If it’s any help, I have sabotageing emotional baggage from GRADUATING from UCSD. I want to leave it off my resume so I won’t risk such a negative conversation topic ruining my audition. But I usually list it because I insvested so much and deserve a lot in return. None of my gigs can be traced to UCSD, but they want to take credit, and I find this nauseating. If they’d kicked me out they wouldn’t be trying to take credit, and I think this would uninhibit me.

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