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Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University – Public Option Part 2

13 Dec

If NYU was the “hot chick” whom Monkey Son had long admired from afar, Rutgers was the girl Monkey Mama kept nudging Son to meet, and just “give her a chance.”  That chance came with a visit in early fall.

Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers has one of the most prestigious and selective Acting B.F.A. programs in the nation, among its numerous degree programs in visual and performing arts.  This program includes a mandatory junior year at the Globe Theatre in London.  Some famous alumni include Kristin Davis and Calista Flockhart.

The program is rigorous and intense, as Michael our graduate student guide, explained: “No time for football games.”  Monkey Son’s appetite was whetted by the news that Mason Gross students did not have to fulfill a math or science requirement, and that, in Michael’s words, “we don’t care about your grades” for admissions.  Admissions are almost exclusively determined by auditions, which entail two monologues, one classical (Shakespeare is recommended) and one modern (i.e. post-1911).  Both monologues cannot exceed four minutes combined.  Close to 800 aspirants audition for about 16 places in the program.

Although they do not have an explicit “cut” system, only 10 students are expected to complete the training.  Most students leave voluntarily, after determining that they want a more varied, less grueling, schedule.  Sometimes students may be nudged in a different direction if they show insufficient dedication to their craft.  The final year at Mason Gross focuses on the practical aspects of life as a professional actor, including acting for film, auditioning techniques, and a showcase performance in New York.  Almost all students have agents by the time they graduate.

Monkey Son’s theater mentor received her M.F.A. from Mason Gross, after studying with Sanford Meisner in New York.  Mason Gross utilizes Meisner’s techniques in their conservatory, which might give Monkey Son a partial boost since he is familiar with basic Meisner principles.  Nevertheless, the competition is fierce and his prospects remain slim.  Monkey Mama remains optimistic that any school whose representative shrugs and says “we don’t care about your grades” has to be a decent fit for her cherished first-born son.

Montclair State University – Public Option Part I

30 Nov

Monkey Mama is willing to risk an onslaught of vituperation from the Tea Party movement when she avers that the United States of America owes a great deal of its success to its early commitment to public education.  Montclair State University (MSU) began life as a “normal school,” in 1908, dedicated to training teachers.

Today MSU is a full fledged university located on 252 acres in Essex County, New Jersey, 14 miles west of New York City.  Those miles may be traversed aboard New Jersey Transit directly into New York Penn Station.  The original architects balked at the ivy-clad traditions of other northeastern colleges and opted in favor of whitewashed, Spanish Mission-style buildings.  Some newer buildings, including University Hall and the Student Recreation Center, mimic the older architecture, and even the imposing Alexander Kasser Theater, host to many concerts and performances by world-class artists, attempts to meld the Mission motifs with its modern design elements.

Although traditional pedagogical training is still prominent within the university, there are undergraduate colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, Business, the Arts, and Education and Human Services.  MSU is in the process of remodeling several dormitories and constructing a new residence hall.  The main campus is small and students can easily walk around.  There are many dining options, including a traditional-style diner with 24-hour service during the school year.  Tuition and fees for New Jersey residents in 2011-2012 is $10,646 with room rates ranging from $6,802 for a triple in the irresistibly-named Frank Sinatra Hall, to $10,140 for a single.  Meal plan options range from several hundred dollars to about $4,000.

Monkey Mama and Son had arranged for a personal meeting with a representative of the theater department following our campus tour.  She showed us the main theater, “black box,” and rehearsal spaces, and shared some insights regarding the audition and application process.  MSU’s overall acceptance rate is about 50%, with roughly one-third of its accepted students enrolling.  The average composite SAT score for admitted students is 1500 out of 2400, and the average unweighted G.P.A. was listed as 3.2.

The acting B.F.A. program, on the other hand, only accepts 14 to 16 students each year, and is considered highly desirable.  MSU holds some auditions on campus and also participates in the regional Unified Auditions.  The Unified Auditions give the university an opportunity to view a wider pool of the most talented candidates but as a state-funded college, it is not able to offer generous financial aid packages to out-of-state applicants, thus giving an advantage to private conservatories.

Tisch School of the Arts – New York University

17 Nov

Monkey Son has expressed a desire to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University ever since middle school.  Tisch’s roster of celebrity graduates, and its panoply of resources buttress its worldwide reputation in the performing and film arts.  The undergraduate film school is said to have the lowest freshman acceptance rate of any college in the country.  Thousands audition for the roughly 250 to 300 slots available in the acting B.F.A. program.  Those figures indicate that Tisch has a somewhat higher acceptance rate than some other acting schools, but that the competition is fierce, and it is the first choice for many applicants.

Theater majors do not receive most of their training on the NYU campus.  They are assigned to one of seven outside studios by the admissions committee.  Students may attempt to transfer out, but most are confined to their designated studios for three days a week throughout their freshman and sophomore years at Tisch.  Those studios include the renowned Meisner Studio, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, the Atlantic Acting School (founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy to promote “Practical Aesthetics”), Experimental Theatre Wing, Playwrights Horizons, New Studio on Broadway (for musical theater majors) and Production and Design Studio (for those focusing on other stagecraft areas).  The other two days are spent fulfilling general studies requirements at the university.

NYU is an undeniably exciting and attractive institution, but we never had an opportunity to hear from undergraduates at Tisch, to gain their perspectives, nor were we given an actual Tisch tour.  We had a general campus tour, but left feeling that it would not provide the intimate, ensemble environment that other college theater departments carefully cultivate.  For Monkey Son, Tisch is the equivalent of the long-time, remote object of a crush, whom he discovered to be less-than-scintillating in person, but whom he’d happily date just because she’s crazy hot.

We were not shown any residence halls at NYU but our tour guide rhapsodized about some of his lucky lottery assignments and fortunate roommate choices.  For all of Greenwich Village’s culinary sophistication, the guide took particular pride in boasting that NYU hosts New York City’s only Chick-A-Fil franchise.

Tisch is a 50/50 theater school, meaning that it gives equal consideration to a student’s audition and academic record.  Monkey Son’s grades fall well below the norm, and his board scores are close to average for NYU undergraduates, which means his audition would have to dazzle the auditors for them to push for his acceptance.  The university professes to practice holistic admissions, considering the applicant’s entire profile, but they also like to post impressive numbers.  Their current university-wide acceptance rate is somewhere between 35% to 40% with a similar percentage of accepted students enrolling.  Those rates vary among divisions, as do the average GPA and SAT scores.

Monkey Son will apply and audition for the Tisch School, but it has descended from the top of his list to somewhere in the middle of the top ten.

 

Fordham University at Lincoln Center

22 Oct

Fordham University labels itself as “The Jesuit University of New York” to highlight its Catholic pedagogical tradition but the satellite campus at Lincoln Center on West 61st Street has a decidedly secular and ecumenical atmosphere.  The campus incorporates some graduate divisions, including the well-respected law school, as well as an undergraduate college.  With 1,700 undergraduates enrolled, Fordham College at Lincoln Center has approximately half as many students than the main Bronx-Rose Hill campus and is heavily focused on the performing arts.  It is a newer facility, built in 1968 on eight acres adjacent to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

All students must fulfill requirements in a broad-based liberal arts curriculum, and so there are course offerings in all the standard departments, albeit somewhat abridged.  Our tour guide, Sophie, had auditioned for the theater performance major, but was only accepted as a liberal arts B.A. candidate.  She is a classical civilizations major, and apparently loves Fordham’s humanities curriculum (classics and humanities are traditionally strong at Jesuit colleges).  The college has extensive opportunities for foreign travel and study for those who would like to branch out beyond Manhattan.

One of Fordham College-Lincoln Center’s greatest magnets is the dance conservatory program, offered in conjunction with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  This program not only attracts many dancers, but it contributes to the already highly diverse makeup of the student body.  We noticed many attractive young women at our open house and Monkey Mama chose to withdraw slightly after one spectacularly beautiful student initiated a conversation about various theater programs and Fordham College-Lincoln Center’s advantages among them.  She preferred the smaller class sizes at Fordham-Lincoln Center to those at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (more about which will be forthcoming).  Monkey Son listened attentively and nodded sagely at that.

The theater department stages a variety of performances annually and we were impressed with the facilities.  Potential majors must audition but they must also be accepted academically.  Fordham’s acceptance rate is approximately 50% but only 14% of accepted students actually enroll.  The admissions representative hinted that highly talented applicants might be forgiven some academic shortcomings but they still need to have achieved certain benchmarks and requirements.  Monkey Mama inferred that the theater department might be able to prevail over other skeptics on the admissions committee but are probably somewhat less influential than the head basketball coach (Fordham’s Division I team plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference).

Fordham-Lincoln Center’s vertical campus is expanding horizontally to include sorely needed student housing.  Like other Manhattan student accommodations, the dormitory facilities are comfortable but without frills.  Room and board can exceed $16K for a single, bringing the total cost of attendance to more than $55K.  Although the campus chapel includes worship spaces for Moslems and Jews (the main building is named for its prime benefactor, Mr. Leon Lowenstein), the dormitories do observe nominal parietal regulations, banning overnight guests of the opposite sex.  Despite that, Monkey Son declared Fordham College at Lincoln Center his favorite among those visited thus far.

The Bronx is Up and My Battery is Run Down – Part 1

27 Sep

Hi all, I’m grateful to Ann Thurlow for providing this blog with reviews of college visits since I have been much occupied with my fiction writing class.  It appears that in a fiction writing class they expect you to write fiction.  Who knew?  Hope you enjoy this one.

I loved Manhattan in the summer when I lived there in my 20s, and I still do.  I refused to consider commuting when circumstances (i.e. marriage) drew me to New Jersey and have never understood how so many people travel in and out of town daily for decades.  Monkey Son and I were exhausted from making the trip three days in a single week.  Fortunately, each day was rewarding and revealing.

Our first stop was Pace University, sandwiched between City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan.  Pace is not a college with a sparkling personality; it is an unapologetic diploma mill with a relentless focus on pre-professional training.  Its very location, across from City Hall, within shouting distance of Wall Street, reinforces the university’s businesslike approach to higher education.  The university  has five undergraduate colleges, but its business, communications, and performing arts programs are its strongest undergraduate magnets.  Pace’s Pforzheimer Honors College also offers attractive scholarship packages and preferential course placement for students who might otherwise attend more selective colleges but whose grades and test scores would not earn them admission to Manhattan’s premier universities.  Pace’s overall undergraduate acceptance rate is about 80%.

To qualify for the Acting B.F.A. program, the student must first submit a general application to the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences at Pace’s New York City campus.  If the student is accepted, he or she will be invited to audition for a place in the far more selective (25 to 30 students per year) conservatory training program.  Pace students have access to the Actors Studio and many prominent theater professionals are adjunct faculty members.  The College also has a strong track record for placing students in internships locally.  Pace also has a strong Musical Theater B.F.A. program.

Housing, unsurprisingly, is cramped and expensive, in a high-rise setting (they refer to it as a “vertical campus.”)  The immediate neighborhood is very lively during the day but less so at night.  Students can travel easily to Tribeca, Little Italy, the East Village, and Chinatown, for culinary and recreational diversions.  Several luxurious private residences stand near Pace’s tower, and our student guide pointed to a Google co-founder’s penthouse during our tour.  Pace provides rigorous on-campus security, and One Police Plaza is nearby.

Monkey Mama and Monkey Son barely discussed the visit to Pace over their lunch in Chinatown, but immediately concurred that Pace held no attraction apart from its Acting program and Manhattan location.  Monkey Son will probably apply, but has little interest in attending should he not be accepted into the Acting B.F.A. program.  After lunch, we moved a little further uptown, to another “vertical campus” to visit one of the few colleges we are considering that does not offer an auditioned acting or performance major.

Monkeys Dip Their Toes Into the Water – The University of the Arts

20 Sep

Monkey Mama has decreed that her son apply to at least one school with rolling admissions, and we found the perfect candidate in our first campus visit: Ira Brind School of Theater Arts at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  Its acceptance rate is higher than many conservatory programs, and they conduct auditions in Philadelphia ahead of the frenzied “Unified” auditions in New York City (which will undoubtedly be the topic of at least one future post).  The University of the Arts is small, with no campus to speak of.  The closest thing to a “quad” is an alley between a residence hall and the main office building.  It has an unmistakable vibe to it, nevertheless, which Monkey Son cottoned to immediately.

The University draws distinct divisions between visual and performing arts, with some overlap in areas like film and stage design.  The performing arts majors include dance, acting, directing, musical theater, jazz studies, and playwriting.  All students are required to fulfill a liberal arts requirement of at least 42 credits, roughly one-third of their undergraduate course load.  UArts offers an attractive selection of courses that might appeal to the artistically inclined – literature, art history, anthropology, history, psychology, along with opportunities for minors and electives in other disciplines.  Students are also invited to cross register in “hard” subjects at the University of the Sciences Philadelphia for up to 18 credits, no more than one class per semester, up to six classes in total.

Most upperclassmen prefer to live off campus, and so the scarcity of student housing isn’t considered a problem.  Freshmen are practically assured campus housing.  All dormitories are apartment-style.  We visited a unit with two small bedrooms, a common sitting area, a bathroom, and a kitchenette.

We toured with a young woman who hopes to pursue a B.F.A. in dance and although Monkey Son remained aloof while she spoke with some current dance majors outside the airy studios, he cannot have been oblivious to the lissome young women in the corridors.  Not surprisingly, women outnumber men in the dance department but the overal gender ratio at UArts is 58% women and 42% men.

UArts is located in the artistic and cultural center of Philadelphia, adjacent to the Kimmel Center, and within walking distance from City Hall.  The University actually owns the Merriam Theater, an ornate, 1,800-seat hall which it leases at a profit to touring shows and concerts.  Monkey Son was duly impressed by this facility, having expected to see only basic rehearsal spaces, or “black boxes.”  Monkey Mama was thrilled to hear The Sound of Philadelphia and Satin Soul piped out to the sidewalk from the Philadelphia Records store on the site of the great Gamble and Huff recording studio nearby.

Monkey Mama Learns the Lay of the Land

13 Sep

Monkey Mama has picked up the new language pretty quickly.  She can now drop terms like “unifieds,” and discuss “audition vs. non-audition” programs as if she were a native speaker.  It is a little more difficult to persuade Monkey Son to stop somersaulting and walk upright though.

An aspiring actor has to decide between pure “conservatory” programs that lead to the bachelor of fine arts degree (B.F.A.) or academic theater departments that offer a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.) within their general liberal arts faculties.  Yale University’s undergraduate theater studies department is probably the most prestigious B.A. program but many other traditional colleges have strong performing arts divisions.

Some of the most desirable programs are combinations: B.F.A. conservatory programs under the aegis of larger colleges or universities, often within their own schools.  Leading examples of this include Tisch School of the Arts at New York University; Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University; The Theatre School at DePaul University; the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University; and the University of North Carolina’s School of the ArtsThe University of Minnesota hosts a unique conservatory program with Minneapolis’ legendary Guthrie Theater.  Some large universities offer B.F.A. programs within the general college, with an audition required: Brooklyn College, Pace University, and Montclair State University fall into that category.  Northwestern University has a highly regarded theater program within its School of Communications.

The Juilliard School is probably the most illustrious conservatory but many of the lesser known programs admit just as small a group of actors each year.  Brooklyn College, for example, has a moderately competitive selection rate for freshmen admissions but only accepts eleven students into its Acting B.F.A. program each year.  Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts has a very high acceptance rate and provides college opportunities to urban students whose prospects might not be very strong otherwise.  The Chicago College of Performing Arts is not an open admissions school, however, and auditions many more students than it accepts.

Montclair State, Pace, and numerous others operate on a rolling admissions basis for general applicants but once accepted as regular undergraduates, aspiring actors will have to wait until March at least to know whether they have been admitted into the Theater B.F.A. program.  Acceptance rates for individual students are usually higher for men than for women but they still compare roughly with ratios at the most selective colleges.

Monkey Mama soon learns that the smorgasbord of prospective schools is only one labyrinth to negotiate.  Many, if not most, Acting or Theater B.F.A. programs have another ugly surprise awaiting their applicants: they “cut” up to one-third of the class from the program after the first or second year.  Ouch.  Those students can still remain at the school, but will be unable to participate in the more intensive acting workshops, and are unlikely to be cast in leading roles in department productions.

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