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.

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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. Pingback: Rutgers MFA Acting Program « aaron klinefelter

    2. jb in ca.

      dennis

      I came to this blog from collegeconfidential. I am a pro actor since WAY before you were born and find myself now coaching and mentoring young actors around here [LA] so began to educate myself more about theatre programs, which brought me to that site.
      You are so right-a weekend of workshops is the only way to make a decision on MFA candidates for such an exclusive program. Even the Guthrie, where a student of mind just went to callback weekend treats it too much like the first audition and wastes the opportunity.
      Whatever else you have or have not learned you are an excllent writer by the way. And please know, from one who’s been in this biz for years, nothing can stop you if you are determined to make a living in the theatre or film. What the academics think of your talent is of little importance in the real world

    3. jb in ca.

      Dennis
      I don’t teach, as an actor with kids-now graduated-involved in our local high school’s theatre program I’ve been called on over the years to assist, and wound up coaching and mentoring the serious ones who audition for theatre programs[our high school’s dept. is subpar]. I love doing it, would like to do more, have been approached about teaching acting for an ROP class at the school next year. I prefer just to coach as I can’t turn down work in order to teach a class. Much of the time I just direct a student to a particular coach if I don’t have the time, but what I find lacking is anyone who has the right knowledge to guide them into the best programs-regular high school counselors can’t help them, so I”m more and more interestd in getting the scoop on these places. Most kids have non pro parents who cant be expected to know how to evaluate the choices. Though I have been impressed with the level of sophistication of the parents posting on college confidential.
      One thing I noticed when my daughter was auditioning for schools[she wound up at Tisch] was an arrogance that they “knew” in 3 minutes if a kid was good or not. In general I found that many academics had more confidence in their judgement than the pros who make their living at it year in and year out. So many callbacks for role in a TV pilot, for instance, even with very well known actors. In a small selective program such as Rutgers I would personally want to spend a day in an acting workshop with the candidates, and see their depth once the nerves are not a factor. Such cuts as you describe point more to a failure on their part than on yours.

    4. Matt

      I just wanted to write this for any actor considering the above program. I thought I’d give a second opinion. I agree with Dennis on many points. To go through what he did feels like a betrayal and can knock the wind out of you. I applaud his efforts to continue his journey despite this abrupt and temporary shift in his life.

      I didn’t stay at Rutgers for a year and a half, like Dennis. I made it all of three weeks. I found the teaching of the head of acting to be very abusive. However, what I found to be abusive, may be seen as a kind of kick in the ass necessary to get people to grow, to be exceptional artists, to be genuine and authentic- it’s something that many people lack because of the way our society works. The girl who received this devestating blow in my class most certainly was not any of the above. In fact, she was quite mentally ill, as she confessed to us during the first day of class which made me have even less tolerant for the sort of treatment the actors were receiving.

      Be certain, this is old school training all the way. The mentality is: this profession, this life in the theatre/entertainment industry is unforgiving. You can’t be okay, you can’t be good, you have to be fucking brilliant. We will be harder on you than anything you’ve ever experienced. Your trip and fall into the profession will be less than that of those who simply don’t know how good you have to be to have a chance at success.

      The head of the program is known in NY actor training circles as being out of her mind at times. She’s also known to be a brilliant stage actress and teacher. When it comes to teaching this work there aren’t many people doing it better.

      Mr. Esper is not considered to be gentle, either. And if you haven’t guessed it already, Meisner himself was very abusive at times, both physically and mentally to his students- including the head of Rutgers.

      Some actors that went through the MFA program thrived on it. They appreciated the challenges, but were able to shrug off the criticism and negativity. Others, like myself, were highly sensitive to it and questioned what the point of it all was.

      If you have a sense of yourself, know who you are, are an honest/courageous artist and human being who can say what he/she thinks, then this might not be the sort of work you need.

      If however, you have a thick skin, can deal with harsh, and at times, personal criticism, and deal with the fact that you may not even graduate, even though you’ve shelled out thousands to be there, coupled with the fact that there is no chance you’ll even have a career after you graduate, then maybe this is what you want.

      But…you won’t find joy, play, or love. You will be part of “the machine”, set to have a great career in New York or LA, to take on anything fearlessly. In the end, will you enjoy what you are doing? Will you be happy? It’s for you to decide.

      There are many paths up the mountain and “difficult” does not necessarily mean better or more likely to guarantee anything.

      There are no guarantees. There are only directions to go in. Pick the direction that fills you with excitement.

    5. dennisbaker

      Thanks for the comments Matt. Even though the head of acting “is considered to be a brilliant stage actress” I would contest that does not make one a good teacher. I feel the head of acting is not a good teacher and I believe Meisner does not have to be taught in an abusive manner. A Los Angeles teacher who studied and taught with Meisner disagreed with the way the manner in which Sanford Meisner taught and therefore the LA teacher teaches in a non-abusive manner. A good teacher can take the content and teach it in a manner that does not ridicule you or demean you as a person. There is a skill in teaching. There is no skill in someone who copies the abusive manner that they received when they were a student.

      Maybe Esper teaches the same way I do not know. I still wonder if the department was still run better. I wonder if he was more hands on as the head of the department. The current head of the department is very detached. He was falling asleep during the final scenes one year when he was suppose to be there to review the students work. He did not attend all the shows, but yet had say in how the student was evaluated.

      I don’t think the program sets you on a career path in New York or LA. The actors that work consistently from Rutgers are mostly from the BFA program. The BFA program has different teachers. The department itself does not hold the MFA students in much regard. They are proud of the BFA students and put up with the MFA students who are over the hill and not young enough to be in the market. The only thing that one gets from Rutgers graduate program is the piece of paper that says you have an MFA so one day you might be able to teach. Hopefully that graduate will be a teacher that can communicate Meisner’s style of acting in a manner that does not be little the student. But they will have to learn that somewhere else because they will not get that at Rutgers.

    6. Pingback: Students protest Mike Daisey's Invincible Summer | Dennis Baker New York Acting Blog

    7. Pingback: Rutgers Ranked 3 | New York Acting & Theater Blog

    8. Lizzy Siddal

      Great blog. I am writing an article on the grad school experience for actors and have come across multiple accounts of the head of Rutgers’ verbal abuse. My conclusion thus far from the aftermath reported, is that it is not anything more than abuse. There is no up side or silver lining to it that I can glean from the interviews. It does not make actors have a thicker skin, but creates a chasm in their psyche to be overcome. Good luck to the folks who are sticking it out with lots of support. FYI, I went to a grad school in NYC and the head of Rutgers’ program applied for a teaching job there and did not get the job. My favorite teacher once said, “Your work ethic is your reputation.” And I totally believe him.

    9. Carly Johnson

      dennis,

      I’m currently planning on auditioning for the Mason Gross @ Rutgers BFA Conservatory.

      I just have a question for you… do you have any feedback from what you observed of the BFA program…and if it was as overrated as the MFA???

      Thanks!!!!!!!!1

      Carly

    10. dennisbaker

      Thanks for the post Carly. I do not know a lot about the BFA program. There is a good opportunity to study at the Globe in London. I don’t know the rate at which they cut students. Also Meisner is a specific style of acting and lends itself to have teachers of the old school variety, ones that are pretty harsh. I would recommend taking some Meisner classes in the city to see if it is a style of acting that you connect with. The facilities at Rutgers are poor. Personally I think Rutgers as a school itself is not that great.

      For any undergrad theater student I would recommend getting a minor or second major in a degree that will help when you are not working as an actor. Something that compliments your artistic bent like graphic or web design (also in high demand and you are able to freelance). Or maybe a business degree which also will help you as an actor as you will understand the business aspect of acting, something they don’t spend much time on in theater programs. This might be frowned upon by students and faculty who might claim you are not focusing on the art. DO NOT let that deter you. The art will not put food on the table when you go months without an acting gig. And when you do get that acting gig it will still probably not put food on your table. So also get a degree in something that you enjoy and can also pay the bills!

      PLEASE read “A Modest Proposal,” by Tony Kushner in American Theatre, January 1998: 20-22, 77-89. He gives some good reasons why one should get an BA degree vs. a BFA degree. You can go to Theater Communications Group and order a back order. If they don’t have that issues, email me and I would be happy to mail you a copy of the article. Keep me posted and best of luck to you!

    11. jabriela

      Hi Dennis,
      I’m so sorry to hear about what happened for you. I attend the UCSD/La Jolla Playhouse program and love it, but know of a lot of people who have had negative experiences at even the “best” programs in the country.

      I’ve had some challenges here, but really feel like I’ve grown enormously– the most frustrating part was the application/audition season for 4 schools, none of which I really knew that much about before– do your research, applicants! I lucked out and ended up at the perfect place for me, but could easily have been miserable somewhere else.

      To that end, I started a website (www.mfaactor.com) to demystify the hellish mfa audition process; hope it’s helpful to those currently navigating the mess grad school applications have become.

      There’s also a great book called “Acting is a Job” which is very bs-free and had a useful chapter on grad school in the bigger picture.

    12. dennisbaker

      jabriela, thanks for the comment. I am glad to hear that you loved UCSD. I hope the experience I had is not the norm. I hope everyone comes away with with a positive, productive experience from the MFA program they attend. I have a greater concern that might becoming harder and harder. If you have not read Jill Dolan’s post, do so, she goes into great detail of why this might be the case.

      I will check out the book. I think a big component of having a good graduate experience is the actor not giving up his/her power in the interview/acceptance process. I think many actors are so excited to get accepted into a program (as they are so hard to get into, like you said) that they don’t realize that the school might not be the best program to attend. Also it is hard to get unbiased information about the school and its faculty. The students I talked to at Rutgers said the school was great and their were no real issues. Not until I was in the program did I realize the dysfunctional leadership issues that are there.

    13. Lydia

      Dennis,

      Thanks for your great blogs! I loved both this site and your original Backstage article (I followed it from jabriela’s website actually: http://www.mfaactor.com). I’m curious to know if you’re looking to apply to another MFA program.

      I’m an actress in NYC and have just made the decision to hold off my audition process until next year… Thus this year will be about saving money, researching, and preparing for my auditions. I will not be looking into Rudgers! Also, do you know of any other sites that could help get a better student/first-hand perspective on MFA programs?

      Thanks again and I’m glad to have found this site! 🙂
      Lydia

    14. dennisbaker

      Hi Lydia,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I am glad it has been a help to you. I applied to a couple of MFA programs right when I was dismissed, but nothing come of it. I am currently studying for my MA in Educational Theater at NYU.

      As for more websites, David Milstone is attending University of Houston’s MFA program. His link is under my “Links” section. Also there is the blog Angela Learns to Act. I believe she is attending Florida State. There is not many out there. Good luck.

    15. Nicole

      Dennis,
      I’m currently researching MFA Acting and MFA Directing programs and I stumbled onto your blog. Overall I’m having a very hard time finding reliable sources on these MFA programs.

      I am so sorry for what you’ve been through, and I was wondering if you had any more information on other MFA Acting programs who practice forced attrition. Obviously these grad school don’t always own up to this practice and I was hoping to get an insider’s perspective. I went to an undergraduate institution for Vocal Performance which had such a practice. The decisions were completely arbitrary and had more to do with which professor’s studio you were in than your actual talent. I would never dream of attending another institution like this because I think it is the totally counterproductive to keep your students in constant fear of being kicked out.

      Anyway, I would be greatful for any information you could provide (positive comments about programs too!)
      Thanks!

    16. dennisbaker

      Hi Nicole,

      There are not very many sources out there and the reason for this blog. Its even hard to get students who are in a program to be truthful about the situation. I would recommend looking at the above links that I referred to Lydia.

      Once you audition and get accepted into a program I would encourage you to put that program under a microscope, especially if you are paying for it. Ask really hard questions and don’t accept a program just because they accept you. There are many positive programs out there and I hope you find one.

    17. ovid

      I can vouch for the truthfulness of angelaacts.com

      I’ve trained for my MFA from the Florida State University/Asolo Repertory Theater for Actor Training and I LOVE it. My decision to attend this program follows from conversations with acting teachers and directors at Yale, NYU and Juilliard–the training that the Asolo offers its twelve students (it auditions over a thousand) and the benefits that it provides them with make the program one of the top-ranked, best and choice institutions at which to prepare for a life as an actor.

      http://www.asolo.org/Conservatory/tabid/59/Default.aspx

      I am writing you because I am having a SENSATIONAL experience here earning, not only my Master’s in Fine Art, but also my Equity card, a $400+/mo. stipend and all for no tuition. The small class size (of twelve) allows for plenty of one-on-one contact here with master teachers in acting, voice, movement, text-analysis and skill-specific workshops including Capoeira, certification in stage combat and musical theatre. Instructors are always willing to meet with students outside of class for extended periods of time (for free of course) demonstrating the program-wide devotion to instilling artistic integrity in each student. Each graduate of the program participates in a well-attended New York Showcase held in the heart of Manhattan. Graduates of the program, including Tom Holtz, appear and star on and off-broadway as well as in film, radio and television.

      I cannot recommend this program enough to extremely talented, ensemble-oriented team-players. The volume of human-contact that this tight knit community entails is somewhat overwhelming and it is great training for working very closely with others in a community of any sort (a cast, patrons of the arts, theatre personnel, filmmakers etc). Area donors make everything possible, which is living proof of the communal (almost familial) attachment and passion for the Asolo Conservatory and Theater, which is the largest Equity regional theater in the Southeast United States.

      At this time when students are thinking of applying to grad schools, I cannot recommend highly enough suggesting that prospective students visit the Conservatory’s website and apply for a private interview (and not simply rely on an URTA call).

      http://www.asolo.org/Conservatory/tabid/59/Default.aspx

    18. Angela LearnsToAct

      Dennis –

      I do indeed attend Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training (just as the post “ovid” does – *waves*). I don’t mention the school by name on my blog to help preserve the anonymity of my classmates (just because I’m a blogger and comfortable having my class experiences on the internet, doesn’t mean they should have to be subjected with the same type of exposure).

      It’s a phenomenal program, and I highly recommend it.

      ~A~

    19. aelle

      Hi Dennis, thanks for your blog and input. Very interesting read. I also looked at Jill Dolan’s blog. It is sad that these programs suck the passion out of aspiring actors. Unfortunately, so does the business. I am an actor who has been in the business many years in New York — and has now completely lost my passion for it because of the way ‘showbiz’ is (and admittedly my failure to successfully navigate the pitfalls and setbacks and ‘make it.’ ) Ironically, I was looking at returning to school and going to an MFA program to refind my passion for the work, as well as deepen my craft. It is hard to find such a program though, certainly as many I have looked at are mainly concerned with admitting young fresh actors-to-be that they can mold into stars (read UCSD, NYU, etc.). It is not about the craft (indeed, theater in the U.S., period, is not much about the craft or exciting, experimental, risk-taking, boundary-pushing, visceral theater work. But that’s whole can of worms to go into another time.)

      It is indeed difficult to get an accurate picture of a program. Often, their websites do not accurately reflect what the actual program entails. Luckily I was able to speak with a few graduates who were candid about their experiences and the programs themselves.

      I went to a theater conservatory program here in NYC many years ago where I trained in what I would call Method acting as well as Meisner. I did not find the Meisner work abusive. Of course, in this school we touched upon many approaches and they somewhat blended in to each other, so it was not always clear to me when something was specifically ‘Meisner’ technique as opposed to another technique. Definitely some of the exercises we did were psychologically questionable, certainly those which could be termed as Method. (Although I was naturally a Method actor, and voluntarily went far in that direction.)

      A few years later, I went to a theater school in Paris, Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. It was an incredible experience I would not have missed for the world. At same time, much of what you say is true for that school as well. By the time I was there, the master, Lecoq, was a man very much put on a pedestal. He had absolute power and was often abusive in his commentary and manner of teaching. He had a brilliant vision and what he had to teach was invaluable, however, the way he taught it was not necessarily the most conducive to creating fearless, open, risk-taking, richly trained ‘creators.’ (Which is what the school teaches you to be an actor-creator, rather than simply interpretor of others’ work.) As you stated above: “I believe Meisner does not have to be taught in an abusive manner.” The same thing goes for Lecoq. You go on to say: “A Los Angeles teacher who studied and taught with Meisner disagreed with the way the manner in which Sanford Meisner taught and therefore the LA teacher teaches in a non-abusive manner. A good teacher can take the content and teach it in a manner that does not ridicule you or demean you as a person. There is a skill in teaching. There is no skill in someone who copies the abusive manner that they received when they were a student.” Many Lecoq disciples go on to teach Lecoq in the same, or even more so, brusque and cutting manner. However, there are some who channel what they received at the school and teach it in a nurturing, supportive and encouraging manner (yet still demanding and exacting). I was glad to see and experience this, and am determined to do my best to teach Lecoq work in such a way myself.

      Like you, I was highly sensitive, and I would say was psychologically damaged rather than fortified when I left the school. The philosophy seems to be “we will break down your ego” — unfortunately, they missed the second part to this: helping to build it back up again. (And little did they know I did not need any help with breaking down my ego, I was very good at doing that all by myself.) What I needed was support and encouragement through a challenging and demanding path. I’m not talking hand-holding or coddling, simply encouragement that bolsters you; a safe environment in which to freely dare to take risks and fail, and from which you can grow in all directions. They would say, ‘this is where you can take risks and fail’ but how did one dare when you knew you were going to be mercilessly cut down? Tough love can be good, being demanding and hard on your student, but there needs to be balance. Fueling the passion.

      Lastly, I was curious to read the blog entry that “AnonymousActressNYC on April 16th, 2008 9:38 pm” had posted (http://thecockandthebull.blogspot.com/2008/04/worst-agent-ever_16.html). Unfortunately, is not longer up and available. Do you have access to it?

      In any case, Dennis, you sure sound like you got your head on right and are forging ahead confidently. No matter any discouraging experience. Good for you!
      Thanks, a

    20. dennisbaker

      Aelle,

      Thank You for sharing your journey. As for the link, unfortunately I did not copy the information that was in the blog post. From what I recall it was a story a young woman that was at an interview with an agent. The agent said he had a pile of pictures of young females. He took a handful, including hers, and threw it up in the air and said if her landed face up he would sign her. It did not.

      Yes, the business can suck the passion out of a person. We must adjust and keep moving forward.

    21. B

      hey dennis,

      I am not trying to upset you here. I am sure you got really shafted by Rutgers and that sucks.
      I know a little bit about your story from your classmates But have you considered the fact that your experience was pretty unique and that this blog, while hurting the teachers (whom I am sure you want to bring down with a fury of passion and hate), also really affects the actors in the program. Who constantly have to defend themselves and their training because of things like this.
      I am not saying you don’t have the right to be hurt. But you speak so authoritatively and I for a fact know that this is not the only experience one can have at Rutgers.
      Do you ever feel guilty about what you are doing?

    22. Dennis Baker

      B,

      I am not upset by your comment, you bring up good questions. The reason for sharing my experience is that I do not think my story is unique. Things like this happen all the time, at many universities, but no one writes about it. I wish I would have gotten this information before I started the program. It might not have stopped me from going, but I would have been better prepared. When I was at the initial audition/interview, I asked the department heads about the dismissal policy and the response I got was that I did not need to worry about it. When I visited the school, I got the same response from the students, with some of them saying that I would not be kicked out.

      In programs like these the professors are the “experts”, or geniuses, when really they are humans that can sometimes behave in unethical ways. And when that happens, it should be called out and not swept under the rug.

      I also did not write this to bring down the teachers. I do not use their names on purpose. I wrote this to reveal the bigger flaw within the MFA theater system. The links I supply at the end of this post, and other posts like it, have helped people evaluate whether they should enter a program where typically an actor’s salary will not pay for the education they are receiving to be professional actors.

      I think the students should have to defend themselves for participating in a program that condones unethical behavior. This post never tells you not to go to this program. Hopefully it encourages people to look at theater programs closer and try to get the real information, instead of what the school wants you to hear.

      As I stated at the top, this blog post is my opinion and if people consider it to be authoritative, then that is something that is out of my control. There are plenty of blogs with positive experiences about MFA acting programs. Many of them are linked on the sidebar of this website.

    23. B

      I can also say for a fact that no one has been kicked out of the acting program from the graduating class of next year or the class under them…so that whole 50% thing might just be a little biased.

    24. Dennis Baker

      Thanks B, for the information, that is good news. I also wonder if the theater program is under a microscope from the larger school administration, since these actions were brought to their attention. Not to diminish the work the students are doing, but to go from a 50% percent cut rate, to zero seems a little extreme without the theater department receiving some outside influence. All in all, I hope the forced attrition rate of 0% continues.

    25. Dennis Baker

      Hi MB,

      I have not participated in any conservatories in NYC, so therefore I really have no comments about them. The question I would ask, is what are you looking for? Are you looking for training that is in New York, and something you can do while working and auditioning? Then the conservatories might be a good track for you. Places like the Backstage message boards might have more information for you. People might not be inclined to write their experiences for everyone to read, but if you emailed them directly you might get some honest responses.

    26. MTA

      Hi Dennis-
      I’m not acting anymore, but I was cut peremptorily from the Rutgers MFA Class of 2002 and being cut hurt then too.
      I still remember being told on my first day of class that if we were looking to be ‘discovered’ and thought that we would be movie stars after we got our degrees, we were laboring under a colossal misconception.
      During my year at Rutgers I also felt mistreated, but mostly by the administration of the program. I have come to feel as if the program at Rutgers mistreated us as students the way the profession would mistreat us as actors. I don’t believe that this is by design, but it could be.
      While I regret the money I spent for my year at Mason Gross, I think that the entire MFA Acting Industry is just as suspect as any individual school that grants one.

    27. Dennis Baker

      @MTA I am sorry to hear that a similar thing happened to you. I think it is faulty logic for a graduate program to use the excuse of running the program like the industry. A theater program is not the industry and should not be run in the same manner.

      @B As I stated earlier, the two classes before I attended graduated with 50% the amount of people that started the program. While all the students may not have been kicked out (some leaving on their own accord) the point made in the blog post was to have people think twice before paying the money with the potential of being one of the 50% not to graduate.

      Yes, the 2009 class graduated with less that 50% of the students cut, but three out of thirteen, is not good odds when one is paying that much in tuition. As you mentioned earlier, no one has been cut from the 2010 and 2011 classes, which is great news. I hope the trend continues. I would ask why the sudden change and will that change continue?

      I allow comments with different opinions on this blog and normally do not ask people to use their real names. I will ask from now on that you use your real name when posting as I will not allow posts from someone that makes anonymous personal accusations.

    28. Scott Walters

      I am fascinated by the mindset that could even argue with you about this, Dennis. The willingness to accept as NORMAL the idea that people who have been ACCEPTED to a program can be summarily dismissed in the ensuing years is patently absurd in itself; an attrition rate of 50% ANY year is appalling. At the very least, the program ought to provide complete refunds for those dismissed, even though that doesn’t account for the waste of time. These theatre programs have gotten way out of hand with their arrogant belief that they have no responsibility to anyone except “the Biz.” They are educational institutions — their job is to educate. If they don’t have the chops to educate those they have accepted, then that ought to say something about the faculty: that they only want to work with students who don’t NEED to be taught. If the Rutgers Administration has come down on the program of late, then I enthusiastically applaud the Administration — most don’t have the guts to intervene.

      And you are right to clamp down on anonymous commenters. Cowards don’t deserve a platform.

    29. Art Hennessey

      Hi Dennis,

      Your overall point is intriguing, and if data bears it out, then your question is very important:

      “Should you attend and pay tuition to a graduate program where you have a 50% chance of not making through, even though the school accepted you by way of a rigorous audition and selection process?”

      However, your argument doesn’t appear to be holding up very well against the long term data, – even your initial case study.

      With regards to ethical and unethical:

      Of course, a program can dismiss or fail an ENTIRE class in any field if they are not meeting the grade. There is nothing unethical about that. Although, in a case like that I would like to see their rubrics, plans of instruction and learning objectives.

      But I do undertand your point about deception. A program that is averaging 50% dismissal rates should NOT be telling prospective students, “don’t worry about it.” In reality, every other person who gets that speech SHOULD be worried about it.

      Now, there is something I saw in your previous posts, (I just searched on your tags to find out what happened to you,) that raised my eyebrow. Please correct me if I am wrong in any of this.

      You were given a warning/probation and given a semester to improve your “speech.” They then suggested you study with a certain person for the improvements. You followed this advice at added expense and time to yourself, (the coach cost money and you needed to travel by train to reach the studio.) And after this you were still dismissed from the program?

      It seems to me that this is a very sticky issue you are talking about here. It almosts reads as if the administration squeezed not only another semester of tuition of you, but also shook you down for consulting fees to be paid to somebody with whom they have a relationship. (I know that sounds like a very crass generalization, but that certainly is what it reads like.)

      That is if the eventual reason for dismissal was the “speech” issue. I couldn’t quite follow if that is the case or not.

      I bring this up as support of your overall point: Would your speech be THAT bad for you to have been accepted into the program? Because, (once again, I know only from the accounts I have found here on your blog,) it appears that you were doing everything you could to improve.

    30. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for your post Art. I do agree with you that a department can dismiss students if they want to and that alone is not so much the ethical issue. Though I do think it is bad form. This specific post does not address my dismissal because by the school’s standards they took all the steps necessary. The issue was that they did not do so with another student, and to me that is unethical. That student was allowed back into the program after much argument, but even allowing this to happen, makes me question the integrity of the administration.

      You are correct in noting that I had to pay additional fees for extra work over the summer. The reason for dismissal was vague and in the end they did not think I was a good enough actor to fit in the program. You bring up the point exactly when you say that if one is good enough to enter into a program, how bad are they to be dismissed? If a program does not think the student is fitting in with a certain type of study, then it is the program’s responsibility to have a more rigorous audition process because I doubt if they can tell from one ten minute audition whether any person is truly right for a certain style of study.

    31. Scott Walters

      Dennis — Let me ask you something: what were your grades like? The reason I ask is that, while I suppose Art is right that graduate programs have the “right” to dismiss anybody or fail and entire class (just as you have the “right” to warn people about this kind of behavior), in other areas students are dismissed for not maintaining a certain GPA. That’s legit, as long as the grades are based on a clear rubric and not simply intuition. But to dismiss somebody because of a “voice problem” is nonsense, or even (and here’s the more likely scenario) you brought a critical mind to the training and didn’t seem inclined to treat the faculty like minor dieties (although many do resemble the Greek pantheon as far as their arbitrariness and in-fighting are concerned). I speak as a theatre professor myself who taught in a department with several MFA tracks, and who has since abandoned that scene for exactly these kind of ethical issues. (Althought truth be told, my stepson is getting a BFA at my old school and has encountered a little Napoleon there, too, who likes to use his power arbitrarily). Anyway, don’t let this become a discussion about YOU — it is a discussion about a SCAM, and it is time that people talk about it instead of keeping quiet out of fear of repercussions.

    32. Dennis Baker

      Scott –

      The issue was that there was not a rubric which was the reason why a student got kicked out without being on probation. When we had a meeting about teaching undergraduate non-majors where we were told to create rubrics to give to the students on a bi-monthly basis. We laughed because we as graduate students were not given the same thing. We were told we could meet with teachers, but the above mentioned student did that and was told everything was fine. You are correct, this issue is not about me and speaks to a bigger problem within theater higher education programs.

    33. Dennis Baker

      I have received some emails/comments which makes it seem that I need to clarify a point about the 50% attrition rate. The blog post in no ways states that it is guaranteed that each year the students will be cut by 50%. I also praised the fact that there has been no cuts in the current classes. What the post states is that if the 50% has happened in the past, it means it can happen in the future. It also asks potential students how smart it would be to enter into a finical agreement with that knowledge.

      Also, I have received more comments that did not include any new information, stated what has already been said, and contained personal attacks. Comments that re-iterate what has already been said and/or contain personal attacks will not be posted.

    34. summer

      To be fair, I do think that your experience and your fight and the fight of others in your class is the reason no one has been cut from the classes after you. So, I think you have helped many students who have followed you into the program.

      I’m glad you have been welcoming the challenges to your blog. I think that any good blog writer should be open to them, and I know you are. I’m sorry if you’re receiving personal attacks. That’s not okay.

      I think it is very commendable and respectable to pull yourself up from a devastating situation and continue thriving in the business.

      Best of luck with all your ventures and congratulations on your successes!

    35. Jesse CBeav

      I would just like to point out that from my knowledge this is just pointing the MFA program… From what I have heard, seen, and learned is that the BFA program at Rutgers MGSA is among the top in the country. It is currently ranked on the same level as Juilliard according to many NY and LA agencies. The BFA program is HIGHLY selective audition over 1,500 a year to accept 18. Rutgers MGSA really does house one of the best acting schools in the country for undergrads. However, I have heard that the MFA program is much less renowned. I have heard the MFA actors are not nearly as talented as the BFA actors. I have heard that the MGSA focuses much more on the BFA actors than the MFA actors. So to conclude… Rutgers is one of the very best places to go for a BFA and not so much for an MFA. Just wanted to annunciate that point on here. The do have completely different faculty. I am sorry for this horrible situation you had to go through though…

    36. Frank

      Although my experience is a few decades old, I found this blog and topic of interest. I was a BFA for two years. The first year there were 30 students, the seond year 15, the third year 8 and 5 made it through. Most of the teachers were MFA’s who where teaching us with supervision from Professors. While I was considered an excellent student, the abuse I suffered from the Professor who was our acting teacher was incredible. I was asked to leave after my second year. There was no warning, no consult and no guidence as to transferring to a different school. It was just a “Things aren’t working out, goodbye”. I continued my studies and recieved my B.A. from Rutgers. I have followed the graduates and only one has worked consistintly in the industry. I still shudder at the thought of “what if’s” had I stayed with the mentally abusive program through the full four years. Many of my friends disappeared and or suffered addiction issues after staying there.

    37. sway6flame

      Hello. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I was wondering what honest impressions/thoughts anyone had on University of Houston’s MFA Acting program. I’ve been reading some of the NotesOnActing posts and have found them helpful. Not guaranteed Equity or necessarily being cast in Alley Productions, though the possibility is there. I’d really appreciate any insight.
      Thank you!

    38. Dennis Baker

      Hi Sway,

      Other than David’s blog (Notes on Acting), I do not know of any other writing about University of Houston. If you have specific questions, I am sure you can email David, and he would be happy to go into more detail. Remember, everyone’s situation is different, so go in knowing exactly what you want, and don’t compromise. Best of luck and keep me posted if you find anything so I can pass it along to other readers.

    39. Class of 19XX

      Well, after reading all the stories, I feel obligated to post. I was a bfa and all the horror stories that I have read in the above posts about Mason Gross are true. Of course anyone can claim sour grapes, but the prior posts all ring true. I saw the class sizes get cut by fifty percent, saw incestious relationships throughout the school. Special treatment for certain students who talent was nill, but parents or siblings carried a good reputation for the school. I was cut after a fantastic review from all my professors, except one. The other professors just sat there and hung their heads in shame, all knowing how I was mistreated. There are several wonderful actors that have graduated from this program, I am sure they would have excelled at any school. As a parent sending his own children off to college, I wold NEVER let my children come within a 100 feet of Mason Gros.

    40. Flower

      I AM SO RELIEVED TO HAVE FOUND THIS POST!!! I was a rutgers BFA grad not to long ago (not to say the year, as my graduating class was small). I felt that the confidence was sucked out of me by both my teachers and classmates. The teachers talked about me behind my back and I knew, because other teachers would tell me so, and so would my classmates. I hate that I went there. I was a great, freed-up Actress before I had gone there. Now I have been spending the yours since, working on getting ‘myself’ back. For me, the teachers were fake, and the training is not “tough LOVE” but “abusive PICKING”. I never felt safe there, because I never wanted to get kicked out. It was the only place I had to go, and I had already taken out my loans. I was away from home and I felt no family in my new school. The people there just kept me in my head about EVERYTHING. I became very shy and scared a lot. And my classmates were no help. They were just a bunch of fake kids all swinging around in movement class claiming they “love” you, only so they dont get put out too.

      My best year was in LONDON.This is where I felt I really learned something and was free to make mistakes and GROW. There, all of a sudden, my American teachers ACTED like they liked me too, when they saw that my English teachers boasted about me. My American teachers were so full of it. So fake. I cant believe I even went to that school. And so many BFA student felt this way. I wouldnt recommend this program to anyone, especially women of color. Because all the black girls in my class always got the same roles as all the black people before them, and complained that the teachers didn’t trust that they weren’t all the same. And even though I graduated, I wouldnt repeat that experience again. I would find another school that got to study in London, but I woulnd DARE step foot in there again.

      —Oh! And with most of the teachers using foul language like: CUNT (probably said the most my first year), PUSSY, and DICK to joke with students in my class, I also hear they arent excepting people who wont curse. I heard of a kid who got put out because of his strong religious belief not to curse. He wanted to keep his integrity as an actor. He got put out becaause he wouldnt. ANOTHER reason I didnt like the school. I hated being around people who spoke like that all the time at a moment when I was most volnerable as an actor. And I was forced to live in it. Because I was afraid of getting put out after all the loans I had collected. I am SO GLAD it’s over.

    41. Ian

      Dennis,

      I am getting ready for MFA auditions and decided long ago that I wanted to pursue a graduate acting training program. Because I also have a passion to do a rigorous Meisner training program, but do not have the financial stability to invest in a training program that does not lead to a degree, Rutgers is at the top of my list (being the most well renowned Meisner-based Graduate program… yes I realize that Bill Esper no longer teaches there, but there are at least 2 faculty members whose bios state that they studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse while Meisner was there). I have a meeting at the end of the month with the head of the MFA acting program at Rutgers. What advise would you give me to ask her? I plan on asking her to supply me with written rubrics as well as a written explanation of the dismissal policy, and any other documentation she may have.

    42. Dennis Baker

      Ian,

      All the best to you. If you go to Rutgers, know there is a chance that you will get loans and not come out with a degree. As I am sure you read in previous comments, it seems that the attention rate is higher in recent years. Hopefully their dismissal policy has clear standards. Know exactly what you want and ask questions that will said you in knowing if this institution will be able to provide what you want in a graduate education. Don’t let any professor make you feel small, or wrong, in asking those questions.

    43. CurrentRutgersMFAStudent

      Dennis, as a current Mason Gross MFA student, I can assure you that since you left, many of the factors that led to your dismissal have been corrected. From what I understand, after your clash with the faculty they tried to do the same thing to someone else, but the students in that class banded together in solidarity to demand more accountability from the administration. In many ways your situation led to the establishment of the Theater Graduate Student Association, which helped empower the graduate students to demand more checks and balances from the administration and clearer communication about the warning and evaluation process. As you and many others have noted, since that time there have been no MFA acting program cuts. Perhaps this led the faculty to be more rigorous in its audition process, making sure the people they were taking were people they are sure want to graduate.

      The executive committee is also actively searching for a new department chair (Israel Hicks passed away summer 2010), who might bring fresh insights to the evaluation process.

    44. Dennis Baker

      Thanks for the update. Yes, we started the Theater Graduate Student Association after the wrongful dismissal that happened after my first year. I was the first president. I am glad to hear that the association has continued. I see that you are also the recruiting assistant for the theater arts program. As many potential students read this blog, it would be helpful if you could go into specifics about the details of the checks and balances that have been put into place, so that the students can be fully aware of the environment that will be entering into if they choose to attend Rutgers. What new policies have been placed into the handbook? Is there new wording around the term artistic dismissal? Artistic dismissal was used by the faculty as a way to kick out any student they chose because because, as define in the handbook, one could not petition artistic dismissal.

    45. Flower

      So they are trying to fix the “cutting” problems with the MFAs? Great. But what about the BFAs? Read my last post…

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