Robert Viagas of Playbill.com posted these survival tips based on years of watching freshmen stumble–and succeed a little more than a week ago. The link I saved no longer works, but this is worthwhile information that deserves to hang around a little longer.
All incoming freshman college students face a period of adjustment, but performing arts students face challenges unique to themselves. PlaybillEDU.com went straight to the source and asked people who work with students at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ithaca College, Carnegie-Mellon University, Marymount Manhattan College and Kent State University to share survival tips based on years of watching freshmen stumble–and succeed.
Chris Andersson, Director of Admissions for the Drama Department at New York University – Tisch School of the Arts:
1. Get to know yourself. Artistic training is rigorous, demanding and requires a lot of introspection. All this work will be very rewarding so don’t be afraid to dig around inside yourself. It may unearth some challenging stuff but you will be better off to understand it, grapple with it and let it go. You will become an artist with deeper access to truth, to emotion, to full and delicious expressiveness.
2. Let’s get physical. Actor training requires a whole lot of physical work. It is the basis for character development. You must engage your body in everything you do. If you arrive at school with any body issues, discuss them with your teachers and seek the help of a counselor. The earlier you address these issues, the more successful (and enjoyable) your training will be.
3. See stuff. Find all the theatres, art galleries, concert halls, museums, independent cinemas and historical societies in the vicinity of your school. Learn about student discounts or opportunities to volunteer. Find free art! See as much as you can. Artists are inspired by other artists.
4. Don’t sing in the bathroom. We all sound great in the shower. And if you live alone in the middle of the woods, sing out, Louise! But dorm life is very close living. Keeping your vocalizing to soundproof practice rooms will keep you in good favor with your hall mates.
5. Be an urban explorer. If you are beginning school in a city, get out on the streets immediately. Learn your neighborhood. Get on the subway. Explore a new neighborhood every weekend.
6. Be an adventurer. New worlds weren’t discovered by timid people. You are embarking on a four-year artistic adventure. Be open. Be excited. Be ready for anything.
7. Listen to Stella. Stella Adler, one of the great American acting teachers of the 20th Century, held the belief that “growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous.” Don’t forget to continue to develop yourself as a person outside the studio. The more you learn out in the world, the more you’ll have to inform your artistic work.
John R. Crawford, Dean of the College of the Arts and Professor of Dance at Kent State University:
1. Focus on the process and enjoy it! Although we all want to get the part, it’s most important to enjoy the process of the work. That will keep you motivated.
2. Get plenty of sleep. Take care of your body. Exercise. What you eat, drink and how you rest and relax are all just as important as the performance. For performing arts students, don’t forget that your body is your instrument.
3. Always, always warm up your body and your voice to keep them strong and ready.
4. Be safe. Don’t overindulge at parties. If you’re underage, don’t drink. Stay focused on your craft.
5. Find out about the student support services on campus. If you need help with writing, tutoring or psychological services, seek them out and use them.
6. Manage your time wisely. Plan ahead. Use a calendar either on your electronic device or on paper.
7. Always be “off book” and prepared for class.
8. Feed your creative soul by going to museums, art galleries and other kinds of performances.
9. Network and make friends–not just with other performing arts majors.
9. Support your fellow students and you will make lifelong friendships.
10. Don’t burn any bridges. You never know where something will lead.
Chrystyna Dail, PhD, Assistant Professor, Theatre History, Ithaca College:
1. It’s okay to not get involved right away. You may have been the “big fish” in your little high school arts pond; however, there are going to be many talented people in your program. Audition, submit your designs, put in your application to stage manage, direct or dramaturg, but know that you may not find that perfect part or assignment in your first semester (or year).
2. Most students enter their programs with an abundance of intuitive knowledge. This is wonderful. However, allow yourself to become immersed in new information, practices and experiences. If you knew everything, you probably wouldn’t need or want an undergraduate education.
3. Introduce yourself in person to ALL of your professors and instructors before the end of the second week of classes every semester. This includes your “general education” professors. You never know who you will need to rely on for a letter of recommendation down the road.
4. Go to class…no matter how tired you are or how boring you think it is…go. Be present in your education.
5. Talk to upperclassmen about their experiences, but don’t necessarily follow all of their advice.
6. Take an introductory music theory, acting and dance class; even if they are not required for your specific major.
7. If after your first year you are not feeling fulfilled or inspired by your major or program, speak to an adviser about your situation.
8. Don’t wait to make your own art and don’t get your feelings hurt if people are hesitant to join you on the journey. Part of being an artist is being an entrepreneur.
9. Keep your family in the loop. They want to hear from you and not just when you need to borrow money.
10. Ask for help before you really need it.
David Mold, MFA, Professor of Theatre Arts; Chair, Division of Fine & Performing Arts; Marymount Manhattan College:
1. Read the entire play for assigned scenes in your acting class. The acting clues are throughout the play.
2. Script analysis is not just dramatic literature theory, it is a foundation for acting. You can’t make compelling acting choices if you can’t analyze a play. If you can analyze a play it will assist you in making compelling acting choices and you will learn much more in your acting training.
3. Reading the play your scene is taken from once is not enough. Read again, and again, and again. You will keep making discoveries and you will grow in class.
4. Acting is not about getting a character right; it is your interpretation and how you act a character that reflects your point of view.
5. Wear clothes for your scene presentations that are appropriate to the character. It will help your acting choices.
6. Pay careful attention to the acting work of your classmates. If you do, you will learn from their failures and successes and it will improve your own work.
7. Your voice and your body are more important to making and supporting your acting choices than you ever imagined.
Peter Cooke, Professor and Head of School of Drama, Carnegie Mellon University:
1. Ring home often.
2. Learn the names of all staff, students and faculty.
3. Get a pin board in your dorm so that you have your schedule in view at all times.
5. Establish a healthy diet plan–no hamburgers or junk food.
6. Sign up at the gym for body toning, not bulking up.
7. Establish a semester-long private reading list.
8. Subscribe to an online newspaper, e.g. The Times or The Wall St. Journal etc.
9. Create a close and regular contact with your academic advisor.
10. Be prepared and do the work needed prior to every class.
11. Never be late.
12. Look after your health, sleep and not too much partying.
13. Remember to enjoy being at college!