Sorting Out the Differences of Undergraduate Theatre Programs

A...My Name Is Alice Production PhotoIf you’re a high school junior or senior who expects to be studying theatre at college in the near future, you probably have a good idea of the dimensions of the decision. There are so many variables, and so many possibilities, with nearly three thousand colleges, universities, and professional schools in the United States. Finding one that’s right for you involves sorting through the information regarding course offerings, faculty, facilities, location, cost, financial aid, and theatre opportunities. At the outset, you have a choice to make regarding the type of higher education you want to pursue. That choice basically falls in two categories:

  • You can pursue professional training immediately in a four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts or two-year conservatory program.
  • Or you can begin by getting a broad, liberal arts education, while focusing on theatre, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in theatre. After graduating, you may choose to pursue further professional training at the graduate level.

The BA and BFA represent two fundamentally different ideas about how theatre artists should be trained. The liberal arts approach is designed to provide a BA student with a broad range of knowledge in the arts, humanities, and science as well as theatre. BA theatre students should develop basic techniques and production experience in an environment that leads to a fuller intellectual grasp of the art and its place in society.

The BFA places primary emphasis on the development of skills, concepts, and sensitivities essential to the theatre professional. BFA programs offer areas of concentration including acting, design and technology, film and video production, theatre for youth, musical theatre with an emphasis in theatre, and musical theatre with an emphasis in music. Because of its strong focus on specific skills in theatre, the BFA does not offer the broader-based education that the BA offers.

Like all other aspects of choosing a school, the question of whether to pursue a liberal arts or professional degree as an undergraduate is a personal one. The issue is not whether one approach is better; it’s a matter of figuring out which course of study is best for you.