Monday, July 18, 2011

Do Musical Theatre Degrees Still Have Value?

There are many, many performing arts degrees with a huge number of graduates entering the market every year. At the same time, there is mounting evidence that the actual numbers of people employed in the performing arts is declining. Tom Loughlin of SUNY Fredonia argues that the entire concept of the musical theatre degree should die:
Any rationally-based corporation spends a lot of time trying to analyze their market and adjust their practices accordingly. But theatre, it appears, is not a rationally-based enterprise, and the same and more can be said for educational theatre. It is an enterprise based on nostalgia and past practice, not data. The fact is that employment opportunities in musical theatre, not to mention other theatrical trends, seems to escape the notice of theatre departments altogether, or they willfully ignore the data because they fear the time, effort and work it would take to change their curricula (not to mention the loss they’d suffer in enrollments). It’s time for theatre departments to begin to cut their BFA Musical Degree programs from their curricular offers, because given the realities of the business today these degrees are disingenuous at the very least and outright lies at the worst.
Although I can't argue with the fact that the Broadway musical theatre scene is roughtly half the size of what it was in the 1940's, the best performing arts programs educate students in new and interesting ways to make a living in the profession, as well as imparting the skills that will enable graduates to break new ground in their field. The experience of the musical theatre field is unique, and I would argue that it still hasn't recovered from the demise of LiveEnt in the mid-90's (especially regarding MT employment in the Toronto area). But then again, with so many new programs starting up, how many students will actually graduate with the skill set to engage the new arts job market?

Recent graduates of performing arts programs: what is your experience? Are you finding immediate success or disappointment in your field? Is your career going off in directions other than what you envisioned? If you have succeeded in new and interesting ways, what are the core skills that allowed you to succeed?

(Via Andrei Strizek on Google+)


  1. I recently graduated with a Masters in Music Composition so it may not really qualify for your query. Still, while I don't have a job, I did learn a lot in university. However, little (to none) of what I learned will actually be usable in terms of employment. It might if I continue on to get a Doctorate and then teach, but then it's not really a music degree anymore (IMHO).

    I just watched Idina Menzel last night in Colorado and she graduated from NYU. She was nominated for a Tony for her role of Maureen in Rent and gone on to several other hit shows. I'd say her degree is doing her a world of good.

    In the end, I think success has a much to do with what you do with yourself post degree. Should I get hired (or commissioned) to write something, my education will definitely play a role in the writing - but that probably won't have anything to do with getting the "job" in the first place.

  2. Back in college I changed my degree from piano performance to criminal justice because I thought I was being "realistic." Now I'm playing piano for a living and wish I had that qualification to put on my resume. Considering a graduate degree in the field though.