Sarah M. Chichester
When I was in college, I went to a school that offered BFA programs in Acting, Musical Theatre, Dance, and Design/Tech. I, however, like a handful of my peers, was a BA student. The BFA program was a significant focus in the department, which left the BA students feeling undervalued. The BFA performance students received over 80% of the acting roles (and just about every musical theatre role).
While the BFA Design/Techs received all of the Design, Technical Direction, and Stage Management roles. We, as the BA students felt like “the runts” of the department. There were not only very few acting classes available to us (in fact, there were only 3) but we were mainly given crew jobs in the department. It was stressful to the point that even right before my senior year, I figured out a plan to switch majors and still graduate on time. Now that I graduated from college nearly 10 years ago, I’ve discovered in many ways, it was better for me in the long run.
Here are 5 reasons why I decided a BFA program is overrated.
1. Job opportunities. The BA program was more well-rounded due to a lack of concentrations. It allowed me to take more electives that examined theatre in more than just a performer or design lens. This took me much further in my theatrical career than I ever thought it would. Since graduating, I had worked as a designer, stage manager, director, playwright, dramaturg, and much more. All of these experiences lead to work regionally and even internationally, along with becoming an Award-nominated director, lighting designer, and a published playwright in the Off-Off-Broadway world. Whereas most of the BFAs that graduated around the same time I did had work in the field for a little while, but a lot of them ended up switching to completely different careers. Additionally, experiencing jobs in so many various aspects of the theatre allowed me to get a far more well-rounded experience as to how all the different parts work together. Which leads me to the next point…
2. It’s not the degree, it’s what you make of it. Outside of my program, I know people that had backgrounds outside of a BFA or BA degree and still ended up doing well. If you’re dedicated to the field, you’ll get in what you get out of it.
3. It not only doesn’t stop you from getting an MFA, but you’re more likely to be considered for MA/Ph.D. programs with a BA. I have an MA from NYU, and I’m starting my MFA at Brooklyn College in the Fall. I know far more people who pursued higher education to further career options with a BA than a BFA. Many of the BFA holding artists I know already feel they have substantial training. However, there are always ways to grow and more opportunities to learn things from a new perspective. I like having so many chances to continue growing artistically.
4. It allowed me to experience what it’s like to be treated “less than,” which made me treat more artists as my equal. It didn’t inflate my ego as I’ve seen it do too many others, which made me like who I am as a person and an artist more.
5. Fighting for the equality back then made the playing field far more balanced for the BA students that came in as I was leaving. My BA program started offering a lot more opportunities in both coursework and production jobs for BA students after students stated their problems with the program. Now, they only take in stage managers into the BA program and offer more opportunities for leadership roles such as dramaturgy and assistant directing for those interested. They also expanded coursework for BA’s in performance and design and a required senior project for any job in theatre they choose. I like that those who came in after me doesn’t have to experience what I went through, and maybe will end up appreciating their BA degree experience.
Don’t get me wrong, there are great things about a BFA program as well. I’m sure something is rewarding about doing a 90 credit intensive program that prepares you for many opportunities in your field. However, it doesn’t mean it’s “better” than a BA degree. Different things are a good fit for different people, and I think too many people overvalue a BFA program instead of appreciating other degrees and ways to explore and gain experiences in theatre. Do what’s right for you, but also try to appreciate where you are and what you have, as you never know where that’ll take you.