Theater majors ready for more than just the stage
By Madi Allen
and Ashley Altus
Being a student in the department of theater arts isn’t all about costumes and roleplay. Theater students face the same dilemmas other undergraduates face such as high unemployment rates, low salaries and a lack of job security.
In Georgetown University’s, “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings: Not all College Degrees are Created Equal,” graduates with a theater arts degree face unemployment rates of about 7.8 percent.
The report, which was released on Jan. 4, 2012, said the average salary for recent college graduates in theater was $26,000 yearly.
The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit research and policy institute that studies the connection between education, career qualifications and workforce demands.
Dr. Stan Denman, chairman of the Baylor theater department, said students shouldn’t set out to become celebrities when entering the world of theater and should instead aim for success in their field.
“We don’t beat around the bush — you have a better chance of getting hit by a satellite than becoming a star,” Denman said.
He said many students go into related degrees in the arts and entertainment industry.
“They call it show business for a reason – there are a lot of people who begin in theater, but go into public relations, television and directing,” Denman said.
Conroe senior Caleb Clark said he knew unemployment was a risk when pursuing a theater degree, but he said he believes other majors have the same risk and financial debt.
“College is a dying program that is getting too expensive, and we’re not guaranteed jobs, and it’s just getting to the point where it’s not worth it,” Clark said. “It’s a big risk and you’re putting yourself into a lot of debt.”
Although having a degree in theater may have a perception that majors will only work in theater, Clark said he believes theater majors get jobs in other industries because they have good communication and project management skills.
“Theater is just mastering the art of communicating with other people,” Clark said.
Denman said theater arts students could end up using their training by going into a variety of fields such as law, medicine and ministry work.
“Theater taught them to be in ease in front of people and be able to feel emotion,” Denman said. “They know how to think outside the box, communicate and get things done on time.”
Clark said there are a lot of dropouts in the major because students don’t anticipate the work required to graduate with a theater degree to just go work as a waiter/actor.
He said after he graduates he wants to have an apprenticeship with a director, specializing in film.
The department of theater arts requires incoming students to go through an audition and interview process for a total enrollment cap of 125 undergraduate students. These auditions and interviews happen by request, and anyone interested in studying theater arts can apply, including transfers.
Instead of jumping into acting right after graduating high school, Clark said he decided to come to Baylor for well-rounded training in all disciplines of theater.
“I can’t even imagine going from high school and trying to act,” he said. “I wouldn’t get a single job, but I’m leaving here with a lot of confidence that I have a lot of experience.”
The department has courses in acting, design, direction, dance, stage management and craftsmanship. There are five mainstage plays a year with an additional two to three summer graduate plays. This allows students to have a hands-on experience, instead of spending time sitting in a classroom.
Denman said casting agents and directors are beginning to see the significant difference between actors who have a theater degree and actors who don’t.
Weekly Friday workshop is one of the characteristics that sets Baylor’s department apart from other schools. The entire department attends the workshop that gives students opportunities to enhance and improve their skills. Weekly workshops can consist of anything from students performing scenes directed by junior or senior level directors or listening to guest lecturers.
“They have these opportunities to get better as opposed to other colleges where you just take acting classes, because we have acting classes and hands-on experience which is really what actors need to grow,” Clark said.
Clark is currently cast in an advanced senior director capstone magnum opus. A magnum opus is the most-renowned achievement of an artist. He will perform in a scene from “Reservoir Dogs,” during weekly workshop. Clark said workshop has allowed him to grow as an actor and to pursue roles that he would not have ordinarily been given because the scenes performed in workshop can be more outlandish than those performed on the Baylor mainstage.
“The best part about Baylor theater is if you don’t get cast in mainstage, it’s perfectly fine because there are so many other acting opportunities going on which aren’t available to the public,” Clark said. “ It’s probably the best role most actors will be given at Baylor, and it’s not MainStage.”
Clark said he was attracted to the Baylor theater department because it was welcoming and friendly compared to other schools.
“We’re a lot less cutthroat and competitive and more about helping each other grow,” Clark said.
Clark said the department highly discourages undergraduates from taking side acting jobs before their junior or senior year so students are solely focused on studying their craft.
Though many actor decide to pursue a degree in theater arts, Fort Worth improv actor and comedian Shawn Frambach said he wouldn’t go back to school to pursue a degree.
“I wouldn’t go back to school,” said Frambach. “I wouldn’t want to waste my money.”
Though a degree isn’t a worthwhile pursuit for Frambach, he said many actors he works with do have degrees, but he said these actors are ones with a more dramatic background as opposed to his comedic background as an improviser.
“Needing a degree is sort of circumstancial,” Frambach said. “If we’re going for a comedic commercial, it’s not necessary to have a degree, but if it’s more dramatic, people with degrees might have an advantage.”
For another actor, a Baylor alumna who graduated in 2013, Kelsey Martin, she said her degree gives her a leg up when it comes to auditioning for roles. Martin currently lives in New York, works afternoons and nights as a copy editor at Professional Sports Publications and spends her days auditioning for roles on the stage.
“Once you’re in New York auditioning, it’s easy to tell a difference between the actors who have training and those who don’t,” said Martin. “A lot of an actor’s job is auditioning and my training taught me things like how to find a song or a monologue that I can use for auditions.”