Drama & Theater Arts Schools

THE BEST U.S. SCHOOLS FOR DRAMA & THEATER IN THE US - 2017

Drama and Theater Arts schools are educational institutions which prepare students for a career on the stage or in front of the camera. These programs take the fundamentals of movement, speech, voice and sensory work, and holistically develop the student’s ability to perform within a variety of genres. The best schools require the participant to immerse themselves in the transformative nature of the academic and behavioral curricula. Classes like theater history, movement techniques, voice and speech, vocal production, script analysis, theater dance, audition techniques, rehearsal and performance, on-camera technique, acting, dialects, Shakespeare and stage combat; are just some of the areas to which students are exposed. Since the performance industry is well-known for its competitiveness; having the right training under notable mentors is essential to success for practical as well as networking aspects. Determining which schools offer the best combination of training excellence and a well-rounded approach to the dramatic arts can be as challenging as the education itself. For those reasons, we have researched and collected valuable data, enabling us to provide a comprehensive list of the most promising schools in the nation. With the guesswork removed from the process, you can find the right program to meet your needs.

EXPLORE ART PROGRAMS

  • School Name

    29 schools ranked

  • Famous for providing the highest caliber of education in the arts; Julliard attracts superior talent in students and educators, is committed to diversity and inclusion and emphasizes global citizenship.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 894
  • NYU recently announced designs for its new and largest educational facility. The new location will provide art students with new practice locations, rehearsal rooms and spaces in which to perform.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 50,027
  • Yale’s School of Drama has succeeded in applying and translating aesthetic sensibility into the language of the theatre. Their core values are: artistry, professionalism, collaboration, discovery, diversity and community.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Private
    • imgEnrollment : 12,385
  • Located in the heart of one of the world’s cultural centers, the UCLA School of Art emphasizes the necessity of a profound interdependence between the creative arts and academic scholarship. Drawing from the richness of the surrounding culture, the School hosts a distinguished, world-famous faculty who effectively combine studio-based experience with critical studies and liberal arts. As part of a leading research university, students are guaranteed an exclusive and empowering education.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 41,908
  • Founded in 1967, the Visual Arts Dept.is well-known for its unique combination of faculty. Educators include artists, art critics, theorists and scholars who spearhead five bachelors programs and two masters degree options.

    • imgAccredited
    • imgSchool Type : Public
    • imgEnrollment : 32,906

HOW TO CHOOSE A DRAMA OR THEATER SCHOOL

Just like most career paths, choosing to act takes a special person with special talents and skills that need nurturing and training. The school you choose can help you on this path and make all the difference in the world in shaping your future. But, with so many theater and drama schools claiming to be the best, how do you know which to choose?  If you’re starting from scratch, the first step should be to make a list of must-haves. These are the things you need from a school program. You may need an acting class that teaches Shakespearean methods, or you may want time behind a camera. Private acting school, conservatory or liberal arts university? BA or BFA? Be specific.  And, do your research.  This can be as simple as logging into a dozen or more school websites and making a list from those that interest you. It is best, however, if you take the time to visit each campus. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, so calling and talking to staff or faculty, or better yet, current students is preferred if you can’t tour the campus in-person. 

Many professionals in the field maintain that good all-around training is better than focusing on only one aspect of theater or drama, especially early on in your education. That way, you can discover your strengths (and your weaknesses) and a career direction you might not have considered prior to becoming fully immersed in a program.  But, just as every area of performance has a different set of skills, every theater course has a different approach. So, if you feel drawn toward a certain area of theater such as, becoming a director or a casting agent, find out where the people you admire most teach, went to school and were trained. 

One idea you might also check out is the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Performing and Visual Arts Colleges Fairs that tour all over the US.  More than 100 school programs are represented at the fairs, and here you’ll be able to ask as many questions as you want and get the information you need to make your school choice a little easier.  If you can’t make it to a fair, or they’re not in your area, you can also check out Backstage, and of course Facebook to see what your friends or your friends, friends are saying. 

Be sure to consider everything, from what classes are offered at each school, what methods are taught, will you be able to audition, are there opportunities to perform as a freshman, do they offer senior showcases? If so, will that help me post-graduation? Who are the professors? What is the reputation of the school? Costs to attend…the list goes on.  When making a decision that will affect the rest of your life, you can never ask too many questions.

KEY TRAITS OF THE BEST DRAMA & THEATER SCHOOLS

Theater and drama schools are dedicated to providing students with the intellectual and artistic foundations needed for a career as a professional in the theater, film, or another allied discipline.  Most universities have theater departments. Some have theater departments embedded into a fine art program, others are dedicated to the performing arts and have sub-schools devoted to the field.  The right theater and drama schools will give you a well-rounded education in movement, speech, acting technique, theater history, statecraft, and classes in business to learn to navigate the business side of show business. But, just as every actor or actress has a unique talent skill set, so does each theater program available at the collegiate level.  That’s why it’s so vitally important to find one that encourages you, yet stretches your artistic abilities beyond what you though possible. 

Performing arts schools and conservatories are the most common types of theater and drama schools. These institutes offer courses and degree programs in a number of different areas in the performing arts, including acting, music, and dance. Many traditional colleges and universities also have first-rate theater departments. These schools are good choices for students who are looking for an education in theater as well as the traditional college experience. Although the first inclination may be to check out the prestigious colleges, keep in mind that industry professionals believe the skills you bring into an audition room are what matters most.  So, find a program that gives you the training and the skill set to make you competitive, so when you graduate, you can find work. 

A reputable theater and drama school will encourage students to cultivate their unique and imaginative talents.  Theater schools help students gain a tremendous amount of invaluable artistic and interpersonal knowledge.  And, while what is gained in class is incredibly beneficial, using what is learned and applying it to real-life opportunities will lead to a more well-rounded education and career post-graduation. In class, professors will impart their expertise onto you and guide you as best they can, both as a mentor and advisor.  You will meet many other great actors and actresses, dancers, musicians, and other talented individuals each studying a variety of specializations in the genre of theater and drama, and learn from them.  After all, the more you know about the industry and the many areas in the world of theater, the better off you will be after you graduate.  You will gain from the relationships you’ll make, improve your performance, and possibly even advance your knowledge into a new area of theater altogether. In college, you will learn and grow as a person beyond theater by learning soft skills, like critical thinking, time management, and persistence, which will undoubtedly help you in your career and beyond. It goes without saying that a working knowledge of acting, dance or music will benefit you if you plan to pursue a career in the industry in any capacity – whether on the creative side or the business side. 

But, along with the widely-accepted benefits of attending theater school, there are also widely recognized risks.  It can be expensive to attend college, and many prospective students wonder if skipping school, saving their money and trying their luck in the industry for the next four years is best.  Maybe you want to act in a local theater and feel the time it takes to earn a degree would hurt your chances of ‘making it’ while you’re young. Or, you may think you would you be better off learning the business aspects of the industry on your own and simply taking private lessons to improve your skill and performance?  All said, whether or not you choose to attend college really depends on the type of person you are and the career you want to pursue.  At the same time, it’s worth keeping in mind that many employers want candidates who have earned a degree and have the skillset to hit the ground running. The stakes are high, and competition can be fierce.  But, a college education can unlock doors, make you more competitive, and help you get a job, keep a job, and fulfill your dreams.

CONSERVATORY AND PERFORMING ARTS SCHOOLS

A private art school or conservatory focuses solely on the craft or program being studied.  They may offer other classes, such as writing or history, but all classes will be tied to the program; for example, music theory, or screenplay writing. You won’t get the chance to participate in athletics or join a fraternity or sorority. What you will get is a fierce dedication by the faculty and staff to the study of the performing arts.  Classes are usually much smaller than at a university, and the faculty is typically first-class. A performing arts school is similar to a conservatory but offers students the opportunity to take classes outside their major for a broader education. Depending on the school program (and similar to a college or university), students will graduate with a BA or a BFA in their chosen field. 

Find out too if the conservatory or performing arts school has industry connections. Most do. All theater schools should help you build connections, because once you’ve sharpened your skills and graduated, it’s time to audition and book work. Meeting managers, casting directors, and agents provide the opportunity for your career to move forward. Will the school help you book work and introduce you to people in the industry? Ask your peers or recent graduates about their experiences on campus. Were they able to book work post-graduation?  Did they feel they had the opportunity to network while in school?  Does the school offer career assistance? 

In addition to a world-class faculty, focused programs, and a strong network of alumni, finding out if the school offers career assistance should be another consideration when picking a theater program. Besides the obvious – offering career assistance – campus career counselors have the educational background to focus on student development issues and help guide graduates in choosing a direction for their career.  Staff members work very closely with professionals in the area of theater who may someday hire you, and most career offices contain information regarding internships, local theater jobs, performance opportunities on-campus, etc.  The career office is a great place to meet other students with similar concerns too. Plus, the more you take advantage of career counselor’s assistance, the better you will be known to staff and thought of when jobs become available. Besides, your tuition helps pay for career counselor’s salaries and resources, so you ought to take advantage of their knowledge, contacts, and advice.

UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES

Most universities have theater programs built into their curriculum. Although you will be required to take general education courses to graduate, you can gain excellent training and guidance regarding a career in theater. Colleges also have theater programs for students who maybe aren’t certain which area of theater and performance they want to participate in or who have plans to transfer to a conservatory or four-year university later on. 

An associate of fine arts degree in theater usually takes around two years to earn. This type of degree program is often a basic introduction to theater. Students who graduate with an associate’s degree in theater will be exposed to several specific areas of theater and drama, and upon graduation may be able to obtain entry-level positions in some theaters. 

At the university level, students will either choose to earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (BFA), the most common degree for theater students, or a Bachelor’s of Arts (BA).  The choice usually depends on your education and career aspirations. The BFA is more focused on your major area of study, but also includes gen ed courses; usually specific to your major.  The BA, although also focused on your major, offers more liberal arts classes, i.e., science, math, etc.  The nature of the curriculum prepares students for a career in all aspects of professional theater, and the related media of film and TV. Students choosing a theater major not only identify themselves as theater performers, but also seek the structure of a BFA course load, believing it is the best format to develop both academically and artistically.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A DRAMA PROGRAM

If a student is enrolled in an acting, drama, or theater program in college, a university, or acting school, you can bet he or she is passionate about theater and drama. So, you will be surrounded by peers who have the same infatuation with this field as you do. They will inspire you, and after a time you will be able to gauge how and where you belong in the world of theater.  College is where you get to ‘step foot’ into the field of theater, and while under the watchful eyes of your professors, rehearse, practice, experiment, repeat, only to get better and better.  And, competition from fellow classmates is a good thing and vital to you becoming the best performer you can be.  You will observe and absorb everything, and learn a lot about yourself. Theater school helps you prepare for most any role through the control and manipulation of your emotions, and you will spend nearly every waking moment in the theater or in class, which is equal parts exhaustion and excitement. The more you pour yourself into your performances, the more tired you will feel, but the better you will become.

You will also discover that most of your teachers are successful professionals in the field of voice, dance, acting, theater, and drama, and have worked in the field, sometimes for many years.

In addition to the experience you will gain in college, you may consider going to auditions and taking parts in local theater, in a theme park, dinner theater, or on a cruise ship (if the school allows you the time away). Experience of most any kind is vital to becoming a successful actor, and you can never get enough.  Acting workshops outside of school can also keep you in top form by providing an environment that will help stretch your creative muscles. Join a theater team and network with other professionals.  It may take months or even years to get that big break, but it is possible with a lot of hard work, dedication, and patience.

Not all theater majors do all things. Some prefer local theater. Some actors only work Broadway and never audition for a movie or TV.  Others only want to work in TV.  If it turns out you love Shakespeare, then lots of schools can help you enter that area of acting. It may take a semester or two or even longer to decide, but once you’ve chosen a niche, then go sit in on some classes, talk to instructors to find out how they teach and if it meets your style of learning or area of acting you want to pursue.

Finding your own individual and unique niche is important. In fact, if you get good enough at only one thing, it might be enough to sustain you for your entire career.  Are you most comfortable with drama? Comedy? Of course, at this point in your education, you may want to try out each and every approach, technique, and method, to discover which one works best for you. More than likely you’ll take tiny pieces from a number of different techniques, learn them all, discover what you like, and leave the rest.  But, understand that not all schools teach all methods and techniques, so do your research early and weed out the ones that don’t meet your expectations and ambitions. Understand too, there is no one correct way to act or only one correct technique to learn.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

Theater classes are diverse and offer a variety of specialized areas of study. Also, outcomes vary greatly from one program to the next.  But, for students who are serious about theater and a specialization within the field of theater, achieving educational outcomes that demonstrate foundational knowledge in the area of theater is imperative to a successful education and career. Outcomes may include:

  • Employing a range of theater knowledge, including the ability to create convincing characters, as well as project themselves in word and action into imaginary characters or circumstances.
  • Demonstrate technical proficiency in speech and voice; articulate and express emotions and feelings.
  • Demonstrate analytical and performance skills required in theater from various style periods and genres.
  • Comprehend the basic business of the theater profession, including resumes, auditions and professional representation (agents).
  • Demonstrate proficiency in movement, including the ability to use the body effectively to convey emotions and characterizations.
  • Perform a prepared audition to demonstrate skills learned
  • Identify historical significance of a range of theatrical artists and artistic works.
  • Synthesize and apply their education and training in rehearsals and productions.
  • Participate in theatrical productions, with respect, discipline, and maturity.
  • Apply foundational knowledge of cultures, styles, and major theater artists throughout history.
  • Utilize principles of performance, design, directing, and demonstrate a thorough grounding in their area of specialization.
  • Fully articulate the process of transforming written text into a theatrical event.
  • Design and develop a creative project.
  • Develop strong self-motivation, self-discipline, and the ability to work in a team and independently.
  • Understand the interrelationship of what it means to be a theater artist.
  • Contribute artistically to communities.
  • Develop an understanding of different artistic perspectives.
  • Set goals for future work in the theater, which is a result of rigorous self-appraisal.
  • Work for independently and collaboratively.
  • Create and communicate ideas with the use of technology. 

Curriculum also varies from school to school and from program to program, but usually includes core classes in dramatic literature, acting, rehearsal and performance, stagecraft, voice and speech, movement, and others.  In most school’s curriculums, students will learn to develop and strengthen theater performance, demonstrate a working knowledge of the craft of acting, directing, playwriting, and theater design and production (among others), they will become proficient in their specific concentration of study, and develop, nurture and sustain a portfolio of work. Specific degree programs at theater schools also vary, but some of the more common areas of specialization include: 

  • Acting
  • Costume Design
  • Lighting Design
  • Sound Design
  • Playwriting
  • Scenic Design
  • Stage Management
  • Theatre Arts
  • Theatre Management
  • Directing

AUDITIONING & APPLYING

When you’ve narrowed down your list of schools and decided if you want to apply to a conservatory, a four-year university, a two-year college, or private performing arts school, (or all of the above) you will submit your application(s).  Many theater programs require a standard application, and also an application focused on acting, which includes a drama resume, headshot, and statement of purpose. After submitting your applications, you will be required to schedule an audition. Although most theater programs offer a variety of cities and dates around the US to audition, most schools today also accept performance tapes.

If auditioning in person, it is essential to be prepared and stand out from the crowd of other applicants. Choosing the right audition repertoire and monologue or song is vital. As is following the guidelines laid out by the school (usually posted on their website).  Some schools ask for only one monologue, while others may ask for four, so do your research. Know why you chose your pieces, and have a thoughtful response. Schools are looking for future colleagues, and someone they want to train, develop, and spend the next four years with.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Besides degree programs, educational outcomes, audition requirements, and curriculum, there are many other considerations to be taken into account, such as how far away from home you are willing to travel to attend school.  Do you want to live in a major city (with more opportunities to perform) a midsize city, or a small town? Do you want a broad-based liberal arts education or do you want to attend a conservatory which offers more specialized training? Do you know which are of specialization you want to pursue? Or are you open to choosing your college major after taking a class or two? 

Consider costs to attend school. Programs of study and specialization. Faculty and theater program reputation.

All said, earning a degree in theater is a special experience during your collegiate years. It will provide a strong foundation in acting, a solid work ethic, and give you significant hands-on experience in a fun, yet challenging environment with talented, like-minded individuals who can offer invaluable collaboration and support as you grow as an artist.

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