To BFA or not to BFA?

Image of two young actors in a BFA program working on a scene

To BFA or not to BFA?

Should you commit to highly specified training at the expense of a liberal arts education? Are you better suited to a good BA program, knowing that you can continue your training post-college in professional studios or by studying for an MFA? How do you decide whether a BA or BFA program is best for you? Truth is, that’s not a question we can answer in a single blog post. It’s not a simple equation where we can add up your must-haves, subtract your must-nots and end up with a clear sum. This is a big question that we’re planning on approaching from a bunch of different angles for a long time. So what can we do for now? We can offer a personal experience

My BFA journey

I have a BFA. I’m very proud of the work I did to get this degree. But sometimes I regret not going to a more generalized BA program. This perspective is shaped by so many things: the particular conservatory program I attended, my artistic philosophy, the work I wanted to create, how my vision of the work I want to create has shifted since graduating, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This is why there’s no simple answer: artists and their needs are unique. So let me tell you a bit more about my personal experience.

I attended the conservatory program at Rutgers University to study acting. When I attended, the training was grounded in Meisner technique (and still is), but I also took classes in Michael Chekhov, Clown, a few different movement techniques, stage combat, devising, on-camera work, and spent an entire year in London studying approaches to acting Shakespeare and more. It was an amazing four years. Almost everything was laser-focused on acting, but since I’ve graduated I’ve also worked as a sound designer, composer, director, and producer. I never considered taking on these roles during my college years, but they’ve since brought me so much joy. I might have discovered that earlier–and been able to train in them -if I had attended a program that wasn’t so singularly focused on acting. 

Looking back

Though my acting training gave me a lot of tools, I’ve since come to think Meisner was not the best foundation for me. But I couldn’t have known that then. Nor could I have known the value of the liberal arts education I was giving up. It might sound cliche, but theatre touches on ALL of the human experience and it’s impossible to overstate how often your work will touch on history, science, philosophy, religion, literature and more. Some BFA programs recognize that importance, but some will train you like a technician who only needs a specific set of skills. You’re an artist, not just a technician. And we need artists who can think big, ask big questions, and take big risks. I encourage you to look for the programs (BA or BFA) that want to train those artists.

While part of me wishes I had chosen a BA program, I’m also extremely grateful for my BFA experience. However, I wish I had done the in-depth research that would have helped me understand the options I had. I knew I loved highly physical training, and I wish I had prioritized that more when looking at schools. In a highly competitive field, it’s easy to feel like you’re lucky to have any program accept you. But your school search should start with what you want from your training. There is not one objectively “best” school. Different artists need different things.

Choosing a program for YOU

So here we are at the end of this post and if you were hoping I would switch courses and come through with some nice, clear-cut wisdom you’re going to be disappointed. What I do want to end with is a reminder that I have to give myself repeatedly: YOUR CAREER IS NOT A SPRINT. It’s so easy to feel as though we have to find our success early and fast or we’re never going to find it. THAT IS A LIE. But it’s a powerful lie that can push us to choose our college program based on the desire to break into that professional market ASAP.

You need to choose a program FOR YOU. For the artist YOU want to be. One of the definitions for success in this field is simply longevity–good artistic training helps you develop an artistic core that will let you run marathons. So if you want the time to explore other interests the way a BA program would allow, then good for you! If you want a highly focused education in one specific area of study from a BFA program, then go for it! I’ve worked with a ton of amazing artists from both backgrounds. You can be outstanding in both. And we’re going to use this blog to keep exploring this question so you can make an informed decision. So stick with us. We got your back.

Tim Giles

Tim Giles is a theatre artist who likes to make work capitalizing on risk, coming together, and a little chaos. He also makes music, bakes a mean loaf of bread, and runs around outside a lot. As a Southerner, he thinks everyone needs to recognize the beauty of one of the best words ever invented: y’all. It’s gender-neutral! If y’all start to incorporate “y’all” into y’all’s everyday vocabulary, y’all’ll quickly understand its usefulness.

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