Parent’s Guide: Supporting Your Theatre Student’s Future

How did you find your theatre training program? This was a question recently posed to the SETC staff by our coworker Debi Belanger. For some, their theatre training begins at an early age out of natural curiosity, while others discover the beauty of the stage by auditioning for a role in a secondary school performance or afterschool program. There are many ways a young individual can fall in love with the rewarding path of theatre, but what happens when that student looks beyond their local stage and aims to build a career? What resources are available to help parents support their student’s next endeavor?

In my experience, these questions were not ones in which I placed a lot of thought. While I completed an undergraduate theatre degree, it was not originally the path I began in college. I transitioned from my initial major into my university’s theatre program to seek a new degree in which I had taken a deeper interest.

My colleague Chris experienced a different route, benefiting from his high school mentor’s years of knowledge assisting previous students toward the same goals. His mentor pointed him toward unified auditions and provided a deep dive into the pros and cons of conservatories, training programs, and universities.

Debi, a mother of many and one passionate thespian, opened my eyes to how she navigated her youngest child through research, lots of travel, and evaluating which program connected best with her young theatre artist. While Debi’s varied visitations and faculty conversations provided bonding time with her son and represents a traditional approach to fielding educational opportunities, with the excitement of touring campuses came the challenge of time, money, and research. Debi wondered if there was a better way. How could this process have been made easier?

The truth is, there are answers and ways to connect your emerging theatre artists to multiple programs in one place for less expense!

I steer parents towards two organizations with similar missions who provide audition/interview opportunities with access to multiple colleges, universities, and training programs – the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) and the Educational Theatre Associations (EdTA) International Thespians Festival.  Both organizations offer an annual convention attended by a wide array of higher education institutions geared specifically towards training the next generation of theatre artists. While both organizations offer an annual in-person convention, in 2021 both will offer a virtual convention making it easier than ever to connect with practitioners from across the country.

SETC Virtual Convention March 3-7, 2021 (72nd Annual)

At the time of this blog, there are 78 registered recruiting institutions for the 2021 Undergraduate Auditions and Interviews, all seeking to meet with students and recruit students to training programs ranging from small colleges/universities to large colleges/universities/conservatories.  They will watch acting and musical theatre audition videos and review digital design/tech/management/playwriting samples of junior and senior students seeking to study and earn degrees and certificates in theatre.  A student can meet with as many representatives as they care to, and then begin the process of narrowing down their choices by geographic location, degree offerings, and yes, scholarship opportunities.  SETC also offers workshops in all areas of theatre, industry leading Keynote speakers, and multiple performance festivals.

International Thespian Festival June 22-25, 2021 (Version 2.0)

Join thousands of Thespians from around the globe for the ultimate summer celebration of school theatre! The Virtual International Thespian Festival brings together the best performances, top teaching artists, and premier colleges and universities for a community-centered experience like no other. Plus, with daily surprises and special Broadway and Hollywood celebrity appearances, you never know who might stop by.

  • Participate in one-of-a-kind workshops highlighting every theatre interest
  • Enjoy more than a dozen acclaimed performances, all created especially for virtual audiences
  • Audition and compete for scholarships with more than 60 colleges and universities
  • Showcase your talent in the Thespy® Awards program, earning valuable recognition and feedback. NEW this year: You can choose to participate in more than one Thespy category!

Virtual ITF is open to all theatre lovers including students, their parents and families, teachers, colleges, industry leaders, and artists.

So, now you have an opportunity to connect with those who can help your student take the next step, but what questions should you be asking? How can you best gauge the offerings of different programs?

  • What is the difference between a conservatory, BFA and BA?
  • How many performance or technical opportunities are typically available throughout the year?
  • Are positions or roles open to all undergraduate students?
  • Do you offer a graduate program and if so, are undergraduates in competition with them for roles or positions?
  • What is the typical class size? What is the ratio?
  • What facilities are available?
  • Is there an opportunity for student-produced works?
  • Who are the faculty? Are they working professionally?  Are they union-affiliated?
  • Are graduates working professionally or pursuing graduate degrees?
  • Does the program require an internship?
  • Does the program require a digital portfolio?
  • Can you double major or have a minor?
  • What is a showcase and are all seniors included?
  • Where is the showcase held?
  • Are there paid jobs within the theatre department such as working in the box office or stage managing other campus events?
  • What is an example of the 4-year curriculum?
  • Are there other classes available outside of the technical or performance tracks? For example arts administration or marketing?
  • Does the program or school have strong connections with any summer theatre opportunities?
  • Are masterclasses or extra training opportunities outside of the traditional curriculum available?
  • Can my student graduate in 4 years?
  • If you have to leave the program for any reason, are you allowed to come back?
  • Is the program’s network of graduates strong?

A great theatre program will put your student in the best possible position to succeed.  It is a four-year home.  It is a commitment.  Do your research, speak to faculty and students, and make every effort to visit the campus and facilities.  There is definitely something to the feeling a student gets when they are on campus.

The theatre and film industries are just that – industries.  It takes talent, luck, perseverance, and dedication.  Theatre/Film artists are independent business people who must learn how to market themselves, navigate contracts, finances, and network the way any business would.  There are far more regional theatre work opportunities than exist on Broadway. Success is measured by continuous work rather than fame.

Written by Lee Crouse
SETC Educational Services Manager and Sponsorships
Lee earned a Master of Fine Arts in Performance from the University of Southern Mississippi, worked professionally both on stage and camera, served as the Mississippi Theatre Association Board President/SETC State Representative, is an alumnus of the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leadership Development Program, and is a proud Associate Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

After ten years on the Theatre Faculty at the Mississippi University for Women and a brief time with the Virginia Theatre Association, Lee is delighted and grateful to join the staff of SETC. He has contributed to SETC for the past 10 years as a board member, most recently in the position of Vice President of Services.

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