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Want to Study Acting? 10 Reasons to Consider a Conservatory

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NP's Musical Demonstration 2017, “A Musical Intervention,” Created by Douglas J. Cohen (Photo by Kevin Cristaldi)

Students at the Neighborhood Playhouse perform in the 2017 musical showcase. Photo: Kevin Cristaldi

Do you want to be a working actor? For training, you can choose between pursuing a college degree in fine arts or a conservatory degree. At the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, a conservatory where actors like Robert Duvall, Allison Janney and Dylan McDermott trained, we believe these are the 10 reasons you should consider a conservatory:

1. You learn from doers.

Conservatory faculty members are likely to be working professionals with practical experience in the industry and master teachers in their fields. It’s unusual for professionals with full-time, acting, singing, dance and/or entertainment careers to have the time to secure the degrees and credentials required to teach at college and universities.

2. You spend more time in class.

In a professional conservatory, students spend anywhere from 22 to 45 hours a week practicing exercises and working on material introduced in class under faculty supervision. In college/university programs, the average is 14 to 18 hours a week because of other academic requirements. Conservatories are very specific and focused in their course offerings and curriculum. So while studying at a conservatory will not allow you to pursue as many or as varied concentrations of study (for example, stage management and acting, or acting with a minor in Spanish) it will provide outstanding, concentrated study in one area.

3. You get individualized instruction.

While there is no substitute for expert instruction and sophisticated curriculum, having individualized feedback is essential to developing as an artist. The small class sizes and extensive one-on-one contact in conservatory-style training fosters individualized instruction in each class (acting, movement, voice, on-camera, audition, etc.) through assigned material, exercise sequences, and immediate and frequent feedback. This ensures students work on material and exercises commensurate with their level of experience and continue to progress in each discipline.

4. You learn how to market yourself.

If you want to make a living as a professional actor, then you need preparation and guidance presenting your skills and talents to those in a position to hire you. Solid actor training will serve you well, but it’s necessary to practice auditioning and learn how to market yourself. That’s not always adequately covered in college/university curricula?

Furthermore, an industry launch is a vital step in starting your career as a working actor. Conservatory curricula provide extensive opportunities for up-to-date and professional guidance regarding headshots, resumes, reels, mock auditions and interview etiquette. These are all essential to pursuing work as a professional actor. Conservatories are very aware of the immediate needs of a professional actor to earn a living and often produce showcases for their students.

5. You meet guest artists and alums.

Professional conservatories have direct, immediate connections with industry professionals (agents, directors, entertainment lawyers, actors, singers, producers) and alumni networks established through decades of operation. Connecting students with guest artists and alumni through lectures, post-Broadway-show discussions, film premieres and special events provides insight into the industry and how to balance finances and artistic pursuits. These interactions also provide reassurance that someone has successfully navigated the path after graduation equipped with the same conservatory training you are receiving right now.

6. You get to showcase your special talents.

At conservatories, performances can be chosen and designed for you. The small, intimate nature of a conservatory program enables selecting, casting and producing ensemble productions that showcase each student’s unique ability and talent.

Unlike larger institutions that have to choose the “season” a year in advance and often must select plays according to established department repertoire, conservatories choose material that challenges and showcases each student according to his or her skills, needs and place in the artistic process. Conservatories can be flexible because they are not part of a larger institution with nonacting majors or competing for campus resources. Conservatories provide an environment that unites like-minded artists who share a technique, a school and a calling. Under the guidance of master faculty, students work as an ensemble to bring alive a range of material including original, classical, musical, established and contemporary material in performance.

7. You learn an established, proven acting technique.

Conservatories are havens of established acting techniques that have stood the test of time, adapting to changes in culture, time, performance style and technology.

Developed by master acting teachers (Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen) and other giants of American theater, professional conservatories are the origin of the methods and practices that shape theater, film, television and web series today. The effectiveness of firmly established acting techniques is proven year after year, teacher after teacher, student after student.

It is important to know that the technique and exercises you are learning in class are those used by the people you recognize from theater, film and television. If you aren’t familiar with the different techniques and which one resonates best with you, then explore them through intensives and workshops. It will aid you in choosing the acting school and technique that will ignite your talent and passion.

8. You are part of history.

Whether it is vintage photographs of Group Theatre members, faded Hollywood posters of alumni lining the walls, famous alumni stopping by, or shelves full of plays and books read by hundreds of students before you, conservatories offer a chance to join a legacy. There is a thrill to learning through tradition how to perform in the present. You also become connected to a closely knit community stretching back for generations with alumni who are now actors, writers, directors, producers, casting directors, etc.

9. You are in a prime location.

If you are going to pursue acting as a career, your road will probably lead you to the hubs of the performance world at some point: London, New York, Los Angeles, for example. So why not train in and around one of these hubs and start to establish your network during your studies? Conservatories are usually located in and around these major performance cities. They are in these hubs because that is where faculty members are working. Hub locations foster training intimately and immediately connected to the ever-evolving industry and immerse students in their field of study both in and out of the classroom.

10. You gain an artistic home and community.

No matter what school you choose to attend after high school, you must feel a strong connection with the school’s mission and be inspired to grow and explore. Conservatory training is highly specific and narrow in focus. This intense exploration of a specific field is not what everyone is seeking. But if you are passionate about becoming a working actor as soon as possible, then the focused, intense nature of conservatory training may be an excellent fit.

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