Tag Archives: conservatory programs

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.

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