Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice - Is An Acting MFA Worth the Money?

Hey, Johnny!   Hey, Johnny! Theatrical Advice - Is An Acting MFA Worth the Money?
 
Playbill.com's "Hey, Johnny!" theatrical advice column is back this week with responses for two of our readers about the value of a Masters of Fine Arts.
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In our new advice column, "Hey, Johnny!" (as in: stage door Johnny), an anonymous Broadway veteran answers the burning questions that might just be keeping your theatre-loving soul up at night.

Read last week's column here.

Have a question for Johnny? Ask Johnny a Question! or tweet to us @Playbill using the hashtag #HeyJohnny

Here's Johnny's latest round of reader replies.

Hey Johnny! So an Equity actor with 25 years in the trenches can't even get an interview teaching university because he has no MFA, while the 27-year-old with two years of summer stock and the MFA gets hired. Sure would love your insights on this phenomenon.

Signed,

Bren

--

Dear Bren:

I feel your pain. Seriously, I do. The situation you describe isn't fair. Unfortunately, the arts are... well, an art, not a science. Add to that the bureaucracy and endless quotas of a university system and you've got the ingredients for a maddening stew.

And yet! I will say this: I know many people who teach at universities but don't possess an MFA or even a BFA or even a BA. The extremely wise writer Elizabeth Gilbert once posted incredible advice to other writers on her website, and it boiled down to: It is impossible to get published just as it is impossible to find a cheap apartment in New York, and yet, every day, both things happen for all sorts of people.

Something tells me you're a fighter, Bren. It might be because you used the word "trenches." A fighter learns a lot about keeping his head down and surviving. But maybe it's time to stand up, brush off the dirt, and take off your fatigues — and your fatigue, too.

There are three kinds of "no" that a person can hear, once he has put in a request to be noticed: 1) No, dude, and I seriously mean it; 2) No, dude, not right now; or 3) No, dude, I didn't understand your question — come back and ask it another way.

Your job is to figure out the yes buried in the no.

Universities are full of rules, but also loopholes. They are also full of students who need real-world wisdom. The right position for you is out there, and when you find the perfect job — or help create it, by the way — send me a note and tell me how much you're enjoying teaching at the university level. You may find it's a whole other kind of trench.

Break a leg,

Johnny

Click through to read Johnny's reply to Katie, who asks if actors really need an MFA.

Hey, Johnny!

What is the professional benefit to being an actor with a masters degree or doctorate?

Signed,

Katie

Dear Katie:

You can steal the job away from someone "25 years in the trenches," that's one. Also, without snark: Some MFA programs have remarkable reputations (and, oh, right: training) that seem to help some of their students get placed at some of the top talent agencies, who in turn help land the best appointments with some of the pickiest casting directors.

But, one note: please don't go broke getting an MFA. Please. It's just too unpredictable out there to start your career off in debt, if you can help it. The sexy image of the broke artist isn't something you can Instagram away with a filter.

Create your career on as big a foundation as you can. Take risks — big ones, even — but make sure there's a net to catch you, too. For some people, an MFA isn't a net so much as a big financial trap.

And for others, it changes their lives and introduces them to people they'd never have met, and also proves a shiny line on their résumés and a terrific ice breaker at parties.

For you, Katie, it will or won't be whatever you make it.

Break a leg,

Johnny

Send us your theatrical conundrums, and don't be afraid to dive deep. Johnny's got the time. Be warned, however: He talks straight and fast, and he's a little tired. Keep the questions vivid and you're more likely to keep him awake and get picked.

Ask Johnny a question!

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