When the cast of A Chorus Line sings, “God, I hope I get it…” it seems to apply to every hopeful high school actor and actress there is! Nowadays to be on Broadway or to work in the business not only does it take motivation and raw talent, it often requires the right training. Actors, directors and casting agents all have to start somewhere, so here we will discuss the many notable establishments that are known for educating the best of the best in theatre overall and what makes each program unique. We will randomly select schools to discuss and if there are any schools in particular that you want to hear about, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than willing to cover the school!
Where to start this week? Let’s take a trip to Staten Island, NY.
Main Hall at Wagner College. Inside is the Main Stage theatre.
At Wagner College located in Staten Island, NY (just a ferry ride away from Manhattan) they offer a B.A. in Theatre and Speech and a B.S. in Arts Administration, as well as a minor in dance. The cost per year is about $51, 520 per year for an undergraduate resident student. Unlike other Musical Theatre departments, Wagner is known for their desire to create a “well-rounded student.” Each student is required to not only take the various levels of acting classes and other theatre classes, they must take general classes like math and psychology just like a liberal arts student. They accomplish this by their system called the “Learning Community,” which is a series of grouped classes that students take during certain semesters during their time at Wagner.
Some of Wagner’s notable alumni include: Christina DeCicco (Evita), Renée Marino (Chaplin), Monette McKay (Memphis), Haley Carlucci (West Side Story) and notable, Tony award winning faculty such as Michele Pawk (Seussical, Hollywood Arms, Hairspray). Wagner’s reputation is building due to the growing number of alumni who acquire successful acting careers. Acceptance to this program is done in two parts: academics and audition.
The Theatre and Speech degree is broken into concentrations: Performance, Design Technology and Management, Theatre Studies, and Dual Major in Theatre and Education. Those wishing to be in the Performance concentration must qualify and attend the audition day. Students in other concentrations are required to submit a portfolio and resume.
Wagner College’s evident focus is to tell their prospective and current students that academics are an important part of their time at Wagner. Students are not permitted to audition unless their high school transcripts reflect the criteria required to be academically accepted to the school. The student will then receive an invitation to Wagner’s audition day. For the audition, Wagner asks that you prepare two monologues of approximately one minute in length, two 16-bar cuts of Broadway-style music (one from an up-tempo song and the other from a ballad), and also attend a dance portion of the audition. About 30 students are accepted into the program each year.
A performance major at Wagner will take 5 courses in acting, about 8 dance courses, private voice lessons, and a collection of voice, diction and theatre history courses. Performance majors are required to complete at least one production assignment a year, and they must complete at least 4 technical or backstage assignments by the time of graduation. In an interview about her work in Evita, Christina DeCicco said, “Besides learning the basics of acting/singing/dancing, our professors required us to learn about all aspects of working in a theater. People are always shocked to find out how much training I have working backstage. It pays off to impress your crew/wardrobe/sound/lighting/stage managers/etc. Also, primary things like being prepared, being on time and working hard were absolutely lessons I took with me from my time at Wagner.”
Another unique part about Wagner’s program is the access to the city as well as the “traditional” college campus. Wagner College offers a free shuttle to the Staten Island Ferry, giving students access to the resources of the city. Students take full advantage of these opportunities by seeing shows in and outside of their Learning Communities, auditioning for shows, participating in workshops, and holding internships. Arts Administration majors benefit as well, specifically due to their requirement to complete an internship before their graduation. The advantages of having access to the city prepares Wagner’s theatre students for life after college.
Wagner College’s production of Cabaret.
The school offers several opportunities to perform during the school year too! These opportunities include 4 main stage musicals, 3 Stage One plays (which is Wagner’s “black box” theatre), a dance project, and several student-run productions, cabarets and ensembles. Besides its great reputation due to a growing alumni list, Wagner features intense training with all of the benefits of a liberal arts school. The program keeps students involved in other areas aside from the arts as well as proficient in their area of study. This year, Wagner ranked fourth in the Princeton Review’s list of “Best College Theatre,” and this is Wagner’s 9th year in a row on this list. To all of those out there heading into college auditions this year: give Wagner a look!
Stay tuned for the next performing arts school: Cincinnati Conservatory of Music!