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Parents: A Degree in Theatre IS Their Backup Plan

I have sixteen years experience answering to parents who tell me “But Tim, we want to make sure my child studies something else too, so they have a backup plan.”

To this, my beloved, well-meaning parents, I say this: A four-year degree in theatre is their back-up plan. 

“Huh?” you ask?

“Yeah,” I say, with a knowing nod.

Guess what, parents? A BFA in Theatre, or a BFA or BM in Musical Theatre does not mean that your student will end up either an actor or a waiter. In fact, that degree, in and of itself, IS their backup plan. You see, right now, theatre is their hobby, their passion. Once they take on serious study of the craft for four years, and walk away with that piece of paper in their hands, it becomes their CAREER.

“Our grads have not only gone on to careers as performers, they’ve used the skills they learned in their education as a Music Theatre major at Baldwin Wallace to pursue work in a variety of positions including work as directors, agents, choreographers, casting directors, teachers (voice, dance and acting), designers, fitness trainers, television/film producers and marketing,” says Victoria Bussert, Music Theatre Chair at Baldwin Wallace.

If you don’t believe me, check out the curricula online for BFA Musical Theatre programs. You will find a multitude of skills that they will learn that reaches far beyond just singing, dancing, and acting including technical theatre, design, costuming, makeup, arts management, theatrical production and several other elective options that will give them skills they can use in off-stage arts-related jobs, so that their “back-up plan” job is still within the Arts. Most people who are responsible for hiring within arts organizations only want to see that the applicant has a four year degree. Don’t believe me? The Vice President of Education at the Straz Center’s Patel Conservatory in Tampa, FL runs a giant arts organization that is cornerstone of the arts community in a major metropolitan area, with a BFA in Musical Theatre.

But, parents, I ask you this. Are you doing right now what you thought you would be doing when you were 17 years old? I’m guessing probably not. Would you require a student going into law to have a “backup plan?” I’m guessing probably not. What if I told you I know more than one of my clients that have law degrees that are now not studying law? What if I told you I know a stage manager who makes a six-figure income that has a degree in molecular biology? Is theatre their back-up plan?

It is, in my opinion, absurd to require a 17-year-old to have any sort of concrete “plan” as to what their future will hold. Because it doesn’t work that way. With anyone. College is the time that you really find your niche in this world, and figure out what it is you are going to do as a career. It happened that way for you, I’m sure. Let them follow and pursue what they are passionate about now, and they will find success.

I think that Robin Lewis at Rider University summed this up best:

“At Rider, our students can explore all areas of the arts while you are getting your BFA or BA in Musical Theatre.  You can make your University experience what you want it to be.  That’s what your 4 years should be about, finding your true passion.  Our students explore Arts and Entertainment Industries, Stage Management, Pop Music Culture, Event planning, Technical Theatre, and film directing to name a few.  The door is wide open.  We have many students doing double majors and minors.  We also have a BA in Theater with a Musical Theater Concentration that you can study musical theater and get that 2nd degree in another major.  Also some of BFA Musical Theater majors have switched over to the BA so they can explore Arts Administration.  These students will probably be one day the next producer, managing director, artistic director or casting director.  A chance to explore all areas of the arts while your are at our University is part of your journey.  We celebrate these journeys and is part of the student’s success, not a failure!”

If, at 17 years old, they have such a deep-rooted love of the performing arts that they are considering making it their college major, then that love is not going anywhere. It will always be in them. They are going to land somewhere in the arts. It is very possible that the place in which they find themselves in the performing arts is NOT on stage. I may even accept your argument if you say it is probable that they don’t find themselves in a career onstage. I will, however, bet you anything that they will end up either somewhere in the arts, or in a career path that utilizes their skills they developed in their performing arts training. All of which can be found in ANY 4-year degree in the arts.

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