I usually like to joke and say that the Tony Awards feels like the theatre industry's homecoming game between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan. But it's also hard to ignore the amount of colleges that are mentioned in acceptance speeches.
Let me clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with thanking those who taught you. But when schools like Carnegie Mellon or Michigan or NYU-Tisch or Juilliard are mentioned over and over again in these award telecasts, it does perpetuate the belief that the only way you can get onto a Broadway stage is by graduating from a top college program.
This is simply not true.
The theatre industry is one of the rare fields where you can rise to the top without having been required to graduate from a top college program or college at all. Yet, just like many other industries, there is a favoritism that exists that gives those who did graduate from top colleges, in the audition and interview process. For those who didn't, it can feel like a rigged system.
But as someone who has worked in both casting and in higher education for the past decade, the truth is a theatre degree is not required to pursue a career in theatre. With college costing the way it does these days added with often silly and pretentious admissions standards, it is completely acceptable to bypass the collegiate training system and start auditioning or designing right away.
Now don't get me wrong, even if you decide not to go to college, I would still encourage training in some capacity. Whether it's singing lessons, dance classes or architecture and fashion workshops. Anything that can refine and enhance your skills is a good thing. The best news is that classes and lessons like these cost a fraction of what a four year BFA program would.
So what I always tell aspiring performing art students is this, pick a plan that makes the most sense to you both personally and financially. If you can't afford to go to college, don't be embarrassed about that, many can't these days. I would also say that no degree is worth putting you and your family in dire financial risk.
On the flipside, if you are planning on going to college, do not panic if you are not accepted into what are considered the top schools for theatre. As I mentioned before, many other schools offer fantastic training at a lesser cost and lesser self-virtue about themselves. This site has published many articles highlighting programs that might not be well known but offer amazing education opportunities and more lists are on the way shortly.
There is a ton of pressure out there to go to college and which specific college ensures success. With that, there are a lot of myths that need to be broken. While it might feel that way, at the end of the day, you do not have to go to college to make it onto a Broadway stage.