Opinion: Tisch Drama doesn’t teach you to be a real-life actor

The struggle of becoming an educated actor is immense and sometimes feels unattainable given the classes and curriculum available.


Gabe Vasconcellos

(Gabe Vasconcellos for WSN)

Lauren Lakra, Contributing Writer

“What makes a successful actor?” is a question I have heard all too often at workshops, intensives, questionnaires — and even in classes. It is a question that performers keep at the forefront of their minds as they go through their training. It prompts me to raise another much more important question that is, ironically, neglected: “What makes an educated actor?”

In my experience with pre-college acting programs, they place an enormous emphasis on craft and technique, but knowledge of the business side of the industry is only occasionally imparted and never adequately encouraged. When I entered college, I hoped to find something different. But I was disappointed.

After three semesters fully immersed in the drama program at the Tisch School of the Arts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the program is, indeed, fantastic at teaching you how to act, but that it is simply ineffectual when it comes to teaching you how to be a successful actor in the entertainment business.

There is much more to the career of an actor than the ability to give an outstanding performance. The entertainment industry — television, film, theater, or anything in between — is incredibly complex and rapidly evolving. Even the most talented and well-trained actors could enter the industry completely helpless without any knowledge of the business they are becoming a part of, and for many in the drama program, that may be their fate.

If an actor doesn’t understand set etiquette, the casting process, or how often they are realistically going to get jobs, they are not only setting themselves up to be bad hires, but also to be unprepared for the lifestyle they are stepping into. This is a bad formula for setting new graduates up for success in a notoriously difficult career.

The degree requirements for a Tisch Drama student include 32 credits of primary training and 16 credits of secondary training in one of the acting studios, which specialize in the nuances of different revered acting ideologies, such as that of Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, or Lee Strasberg — to name a few. Students must also take 28 credits of theater studies courses, which are essentially history classes centered around one aspect of theater. That’s it. To rack up the rest of the credits required to graduate, one can fill in their schedule with sciences, humanities and other electives of their choice. The curriculum is missing an education on current day industry trends, how to survive as an actor, how to get yourself work, market yourself — and dozens of other essential skills.

What’s frustrating is that it’s not like an education in these topics isn’t available at NYU at all. The Business of Entertainment, Media and Technology minor is one of the most popular currently offered at the university. It’s that it is separate from the acting program when it should be built-in, and that it can often be difficult to access. This education should be a part of the curriculum without a student having to look for outside classes to supplement the lack of business education being taught. The BEMT minor being so popular is encouraging, but it also means that its classes are notoriously difficult to get into. I entered my first semester at NYU hoping to pursue this minor and eager to complete the requirements as quickly as possible. It took me until the end of my sophomore year to get into the introductory course, Entertainment and Media Industries, even though I tried every registration period.

After a lot of research, I discovered a dual degree program between the Stern School of Business and Tisch which would allow students to achieve both a BS and a BFA in five years. The catch here is that the program only admits about eight students per year, and it is not available to Drama students — only students in the undergraduate Film & Television program. When I inquired about possible routes I could take to meet all the requirements in five years while engaging in the extensive studio process, my academic advisors did not have a response.

Students shouldn’t have to be a double major, get a dual degree, or take extra courses to get a comprehensive education of the singular industry they hope to work in. This type of education should not just be made possible and accessible, but made mandatory.

We need to train actors to be more well-rounded individuals — to understand the industry they so desperately want to contribute to. This knowledge is something that needs to be a requirement, not just an option. Because in the real world, it isn’t voluntary. If we know how important this education is to up-and-coming actors, why don’t we stress its importance and actually teach it? I have found no answer to this question, but I intend to keep asking it. I encourage all actors to do the same.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Lauren Lakra at [email protected]