Do You Need an MFA to Succeed in Theater?
I put this survey question to colleagues and members of Facebook groups of theater professionals for my forthcoming book on the topic. There are many fine Master of Fine Arts programs in the U.S. and abroad, but the short answer is “No.” The overwhelming majority did not feel am MFA was necessary. Some didn’t feel it was worth the cost because, unlike other fields, the degree did not fast track a playwright or musical writer into getting their work produced. If their work doesn’t get produced there is no way of getting a ROI for the degree. Reasons to pursue an MFA are getting a well-rounded education in theater, based upon the curriculum and reputation of the institution, networking with others who are serious about a career in theater who may become colleagues or collaborators, and obtaining recommendations from faculty who have relationships with theaters seeking new work. These are all valid reasons to take a hard look at MFA programs.
Whether you are embarking on a theater as a first, or midlife, career there are other ways of breaking into the field. Here are some steps to take to get you started:
1.) See lots of plays and musicals — live, streaming, and recorded
2.) Read lots of scripts
3.) Attend short-term theater programs and creative writing workshops
4.) Write and keep writing
5.) Gather friends to read your work out loud
6.) Meet with theaters in your area and offer to work with them
7.) Stage public readings of your work with actors and request feedback
8.) Submit your work to theater festivals
9.) Self-produce your work
10) Get involved with professional theater organizations and network
Following this path took me from being an amateur with an idea to getting produced Off Broadway and having many short plays staged in festivals around the country. It didn’t happen overnight: I have been working steadily at learning the craft, writing, networking, and working on various productions to gain a good working knowledge of how a show comes together. After having that first play selected for a festival in New York, I was off and running. I haven’t looked back since.
If you are serious about a career in theater you can find a way into the field without getting another degree. Like any other career, it takes a willingness to learn, dedication, inspiration, creativity, and tenacity. And the ability to recognize opportunities when they arise and to seize them.
Now is a good time to get started. As the promise of spring is weeks away, and the virus is still upon us, you can start reading scripts and viewing plays and musicals online. Read and watch for enjoyment. Read them again to determine the style you are drawn to and take note of the structure. Watch videos to see how the script and staging were integrated. This is a good launching point for your education outside of a classroom. You can get started today.