Post-Secondary Training

The following are segments from Now What? The Guide to Post Secondary Theatre Training in Canada. The book was created by Theatre Ontario to be used as a tool for students, parents and teachers in choosing a place to study theatre and provides a listing of 42 Canadian Colleges and Universities that offer Drama or Theatre Programs (performance, playwriting, technical and management).  If you are interested in continuing education, please visit our Adult Training listings.

You are in charge of your career, and managing it is a lifelong process. A career in the theatre is not for the faint of heart. The physical, emotional, and financial challenges can be daunting. Making an intelligent choice about a career in the theatre demands that you be well informed about the opportunities that will be there for you once you have completed your formal education. If you are truly determined, you are going to need talent (preferably recognized by someone other than your parents). You will also need strength of character, an entrepreneurial spirit, people skills, a good body of professional training, business skills, and continued commitment.

A good education is the cornerstone of your career. Your neighbour down the street who has a natural ability to understand the sciences is not going to be invited to do surgery at your local hospital. Thus, the amateur player who has a natural talent is not going to be asked to do Hamlet at Stratford -- nor the technical apprentice asked to rig for Cirque du Soleil. A good post-secondary education will allow you the luxury of having an organized base of knowledge upon which you will continue to build for the duration of your career. It is a way of learning the rules in order that you may follow or break them with confidence!

When you choose theatre, you choose a lifestyle. Theatre professionals are seriously involved in a highly demanding field and pursue further professional development and training in their art form. They are multi-skilled, resourceful, self-employed cultural workers, raising families and volunteering in their communities. They come from every cultural group known to the human race, and are curious about the world around them. This involvement in life and these personal attributes allow writers, actors, designers, and technicians to render honest theatrical events that help to connect the audience to the world in which they live.

Researching Your Options

You will likely be approaching post-secondary education from high school. Do your career research early and remember these wise words throughout high school: Keep as many options open as you possibly can. Creating good theatre demands a huge store of general knowledge and all aspects of communication skills are an asset. You may not make the best grades doing something that doesn't come all that naturally to you, but you'll someday be grateful that you toughed it out. You will have learned the basics of a different way of thinking, and how to meet a difficult challenge. The latter skill may be just the thing that enables you to succeed.

There may be people in your life that will discourage you from exploring a theatrical career. But in the end, only you can decide what career paths you will pursue. You should know that there are many people in the business who came to their careers through a variety of ways.

Keep in mind the following points when you are exploring your options:

  • Define all your personal goals on paper. If you have more than one career goal, get it on paper too. Don't leave anything out. Be honest.
  • Create a realistic plan to get yourself to those goals and give yourself a clear time line in which to achieve results. Can you afford to go to college or university? If that is your wish, how will you save to do so?
  • Research this major project from every possible direction. Have ten times more information than you need.
  • Make a list of the questions that your family or friends might ask about your decision and try to answer them as they would. Put it on paper then go test them out.
  • Read as much as you can about theatre and the business of theatre. Connect to organizations in the industry. Many can provide you with information packages, newsletters, discounted seminars, and the beginnings of the professional network that will continue to serve you throughout your career.
  • Just do it! Do and see as much theatre, film and television as you possibly can. All of it - large and small. See community theatre, see professional theatre. Read every script you can get your hands on. Read biographies of those who have been involved in theatre. Listen to arts reports on the radio. Get involved.
  • Don't limit yourself to just one school choice. Find at least three that you can be content with and be well prepared for all of them.
  • Identify what you want to get out of school. Ask yourself if you're going to college or university for the right reasons? Completing a university or college program can take up to 3-4 years of your life.
  • If you are not ready to go straight from high school into post-secondary training, be prepared to discuss this as a serious option with your parents. Whatever you do, use the time to your best advantage and keep a connection with the theatre. This time off should have some point to it other than a holiday from studying. Consider volunteering in a professional theatre as an usher or a technical, production or office assistant. If you're completely brave, mount your own production and get a taste of what it's really like.

Choosing College or University?

Career opportunities after a Bachelor of Arts are very broad, as the degree (whether in drama or not) emphasizes advanced communication and research skills. Although the university BA is an academic degree, many drama programs have significantly practical components, often including in-course productions.  Many students develop their theatre skills and interests while completing a university BA, and then go on to a college program for specialized training in their chosen theatrical area.  These double graduates tend to be versatile and highly employable.  Admission is based on academic achievement, but there may be audition procedures for entrance into a specific school.  In addition, there are often extra-curricular (non-credit) theatre activities.  University undergraduates are generally able to carry a part-time job in order to augment their income if required.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts has a stronger emphasis on practical theatre work than a BA, combining conservatory-style training (hands-on practical work) with academic courses. Career opportunities are again broad and exciting: BFA graduates work in performance, production, and in a variety of arts-related careers.  While admission to BFA programs is usually by audition, your academic achievement is critical to your success. BFA programs tend to mount theatrical seasons as part of the course load, and students become progressively more involved year by year.  Part-time employment is often possible.

The College Diploma consists mainly of intense conservatory-style classes; a considerably smaller academic component than either the BA or the BFA; but with an additional mandatory production schedule.  College students are admitted through a combination of audition, academic record, theatrical experience, and personal interview.  The college student tends to have a clear commitment to a career in a specific area of the theatre industry (performance, design, tech).  The combination of conservatory-style courses and an intense production schedule means that few college students can carry a part-time job.  There are often more immediate employment opportunities, especially in the technical fields and in performance, for college graduates.

Most post-secondary programs try to link students directly to the world of professional theatre by employing at least some teaching staff (directors, playwrights, voice and movement coaches, theatre managers, designers, specialists in lighting, sound) who are active in the industry. Many faculty members in the university programs research and write about an ever-expanding variety of topics in drama and theatre, work which connects to the industry.  Most arts management courses offer co-op or work placement opportunities that give you "hands-on" practical training - some are paid positions while others are volunteer placements. Their program's promotional materials will highlight many of the cultural organizations where students receive direct training.

An educational setting considered the best thing to have happened to someone else may not be best for you.  There is no Best School.  Some programs will be better for you than others.  Every institution has its own culture and every individual their own needs. Some people don't do at all well in the kind of structured environments provided in the post-secondary education.  Trust your instincts.  If you do your research before making your final decision, you should find yourself in a comfortable situation where you can get right down to the business of learning the craft and business of theatre with pleasure.

If you are interested in a theatre career (particularly as an actor), but are unable to take on full-time study just now, excellent part-time training is available from professional studios. If you are unsure where to look, check with your local arts council or call Theatre Ontario for some suggestions. Many top professionals teach regularly in such studios, and courses can be of exceptional quality.  But you should be sure to get advice from a reputable arts service organization or local arts council before choosing a studio and investing your money. You should probably also seek advice in choosing courses that will add up to a sound basic theatrical training.

While it may be tempting to consider studying in the United States or in England (assuming you can afford the major financial outlay), remember that it usually makes most sense to train where you hope to work.  One of the major parts of your theatrical education, after all, is the connection you make with the local theatre community, through your teachers and coaches and directors, and through your fellow students. Your resume will be built with names that people recognize.

Visit our Directory of theatre programs offered by public colleges and universities in Ontario and the rest of Canada


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