Checklist for Training Resources to Develop Performing Arts Skills
University with colleges and/or departments offering varied subjects and disciplines, or with an entire college or department focused on theatre or performing arts.
Acting/drama school or academy has a curriculum solely devoted to acting disciplines and the performing.
Acting teacher who usually conducts private classes in his or her own private studio or in a rental space, at levels that constitute beginner, intermediate or professional.
Acting coaches who tend to have smaller classes and offer private lessons as well. They sometimes are used as dialogue coaches for film and television, and can be consulted by established professionals.
Acting workshops can be many things including scene study or scene work in combination with occasional showcasing of talent. It can also be technique classes for all levels as well as other activities combined with technique classes, some of which can be videotape oriented.
Professional classes usually means a coach works only with professionals in private classes with few exceptions being made to this standard.
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An immersive field of study in performing and media arts would encompass a liberal arts program that emphasizes creative thought, intellectual growth, and performance skills.

So at a full and comprehensive university program – as opposed to a singular seminar or workshop program – instructors and faculty who are accomplished professionals would embrace a philosophy of training and mentoring within the context of a liberal arts education.

The podcast below, the Actor Aesthetic, is an actor lifestyle blog and podcast by actress Maggie Bera with a purpose to educate and encourage aspiring artists.

Course work would train students across the following areas: theatre, performance studies, acting and directing, design (lighting, sound, scene, costume), stagecraft, cinema and media studies, film and media production (analog and digital), dance, spoken word, voice and movement, and other areas in performing and media arts.

Casting people always search for training on an actor's resume. Many universities offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the performing arts. Actors in graduate programs are likely to work at professional theatres for credit while studying for their degrees.

There are also many independent acting/drama schools, though they don't offer academic degrees, are still very reputable. There are summer theatres that offer internship programs, and some colleges that have summer workshops for interested high school students.

Understanding Admission at Fine and Performing Arts Colleges

Academic Programs

The most diligent of programs are thought to be the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree, best suited for theater practitioners, and distinct from the MA and/or Ph.D. programs, intended for more scholarly endeavors. There are BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) conservatory actor training programs and several multi-year, non-academic actor training programs that grant certificates.

Admission to these programs is usually on a highly selective basis, generally by audition, interview, portfolio review, or script submission. Most MFA programs weigh past academic records and require an undergraduate degree, though some will accept appropriate theater experience in lieu of academic accomplishment. Some programs may require a Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Studio Schools

Studios and studio schools are acting schools, often founded by and built around a single master teacher, that functions on an ongoing basis. They generally offer a variety of classes that can be taken in eight- or ten-week segments, or for longer terms. In some studios, classes are geared to different levels of accomplishment, from beginner to advanced, and they are often given at hours that accommodate the schedules of both working theater professionals and those engaged in other occupations. Studios of this nature are generally involved only in actor training and tend to be found in those few large cities that have extensive theatre activity.

Workshops, Festivals, and Conferences

Workshops, festivals, and conferences bring artists together to learn from master teachers and other professionals, to see one another's work and to share and exchange ideas. There can be a large conference with seminars and lectures that break down into smaller workshops to permit individual attention and mentoring or a workshop series that ends with a mini-festival.

Despite an array of program choices, all good acting programs emphasize intensive skills training while focusing on dramatic material of great scope and selection. Therefore, the better training programs in all theater disciplines offer instruction in a broad range of styles, periods, and literature, while encouraging knowledge of other art forms. 

Terms to Know

Academic Theatre. Theatre connected with school and having educational, rather than commercial, goals. The physical plant may be anything from a classroom or outdoor platform to a full-size proscenium arch theatre. The actors are usually drawn from theatre classes, although there may be guest performances from community members or by a professional artist-in-residence. The works produced may be well-known standards of the commercial theatre or student-written works-in-progress.

Actor Proof. A play or sketch that is almost impervious to bad acting. Francis Swan’s Out of the Frying Pan, a hit on Broadway in the 1940s and a staple of community and academic theatre ever since, has such ingratiating characters, such a tightly constructed plot, and so much fun and goodwill built into it that it can survive the most amateurish production.

American College Theatre Festival. An annual competition of college and university productions that begins in local areas and advances to state, regional, and national festivals. Sponsored by the American Theatre Association, the festival names the best production of the year and gives awards for acting, writing, and designing.

Artists’ Colonies/Residencies. These habitats offer the originating artist (composer, writer, painter, etc.) space, time and solitude for the pursuit of creative work. In the theater field, playwrights, librettists or lyricists are the artists most often benefitting from these situations.

Classic Drama. Formally, the drama of ancient Greece and Rome. Popularly, any play written before the present century that has stood the test of time. Actors auditioning are often asked to prepare two monologues, one classical and one modern.

Dramaturgy. The study and interpretation of plays with special attention to the difficulties plays from another period present for the acting company of today. Sometimes a component of playwriting MFA programs, the University of Michigan, among others, offers a doctoral program in dramaturgy.

Educational Theatre. Theatre conducted in or as an adjunct to schools. Also, theatre with a didactic purpose..

Internship/Apprenticeship. Situations in which aspiring artiss receive training and perform designated tasks in creative, administrative and technical areas. They are offered by most nonprofit theaters and by mostly all summer stock theaters.

Neoclassicism. Drama imitative of Greek and Roman classical models.

Studios/Studio School. Acting schools usually founded by and built around a single master teacher and his or her vision or theory of the acting craft. They generally offer a variety of classes that can be taken in eight- or ten-week segments, or longer terms.

Workshop. A place for putting together and polishing a production. Also, a place where one can receive instruction and practice in directing, acting, and stagecraft.

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They also maintain ongoing contacts with the professional community to refer their students for internship opportunities, prepare students for auditions and related professional encounters, and submit their graduating classes to theaters and casting directors for audition opportunities. 

Although training is essential for starting a career, it is not uncommon to find seasoned performers that get constant work still attending acting school. There are of course so many educational programs for acting and the performing arts in general. We certainly won't get into listing any of them here.

Instead, you are provided with breakdowns for the different categories of educational institutions for your level of development. And also please refer to the non-profit associations which should provide directories and links through their Internet websites that will list various educational programs, university or otherwise.

Studying voice and dance for musical theater

Students attending music school for musical theater work are likely to be guided toward skills development in the music aspect of musical theater. Theory, aural skills, sight-singing, music history, and musical theater history are expected elements of any curriculum.

Within the most comprehensive of education programs, every musical theater student is typically trained as a “triple threat” (singing, acting, dancing). Additionally, anyone accepted into a training program can expect to have acting, ballet, dance for the stage, history of musical theater, modern dance, music theory, scene study, stagecraft and studio voice as well.

But beyond skill-building fundamentals what should be stressed is a solid foundation of rehearsal/production protocol, the art of auditioning, how to market oneself, and the particular ecosystem of the industry in the city center in which the performer is likely to work in: Chicago, New York City, L.A., Dallas, Miami, all of which have different theater patron expectations.

Training for musical instruments and lounge singing

Generally, musicians and singers prepare for a career to play musical instruments or sing as part of a group or solo before live audiences. But they can also utilize their talents for recording or production studio sessions as well. While it is also known that some musicians do teach themselves, it is typically common for most to study at music conservatories and universities.

These are all factors that can determine the direction and emphasis of a music training program they may attend, which could be university-level training or private solo instruction with a well-regarded performer/instructor. What can also factor into the program selection is knowing that many young musicians and singers pursue work in other countries, where there are more orchestras and opera companies than in the United States.

Musical theater students working on choosing a program should consider the school’s audition requirements, which acting techniques are taught, the liberal arts percentage of the curriculum, and how many student-run productions are available for participation.

Making a choice of where to study

Of course, there are so many renowned music and voice schools within the USA to list them entirely. The following listing is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but here is a sample that are worth mentioning that are dispersed over wide geography:

  • Berklee College of Music
  • Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University
  • Boston Conservatory
  • CalArts Herb Alpert School of Music
  • Carnegie Mellon School of Drama
  • Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University
  • DePauw University School of Music
  • University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
  • University of Houston Moores School of Music
  • The Juilliard School
  • Mannes School of Music at The New School
  • New York University Tisch School of the Arts
  • Oberlin Conservatory of Music
  • Occidental College Department of Music
  • San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance
  • USC Thornton School of Music

In addition, some international music schools outside of the USA are worth noting (but not an exhaustive listing):

  • Conservatoire de Paris
  • Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles
  • Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler
  • Indonesia Institute of the Arts Surakarta
  • Korea National University of Arts
  • The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts – LIPA (UK)
  • Moscow Conservatory
  • Royal College of Music in Stockholm
  • University of Toronto Faculty of Music
  • The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna
  • The Royal Academy of Music

A well organized and comprehensive listing of acting, dance schools, and music programs can be found at MajoringinMusic.Com.

Organizations in the media arts with a workshop, training or mentoring function

Appalshop, Whitesburg, Kentucky
Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), Dorchester, Massachusetts
Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), Hollywood, California
Bay Area Video Coalition – BAVC, San Francisco, California
Center for Independent Documentary, Boston, Massachusetts
Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York, New York
Eyebeam Atelier, Inc., Brooklyn, New York
Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco, California
MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, Massachusetts
MIT Open Documentary Lab, Cambridge, Massachusetts
New Frontier at Sundance Institute, Park City, Utah
Pacific Islanders in Communications, Honolulu, Hawaii
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center, Buffalo New York
Star Seed Art & Technology, Brooklyn, New York
Tribeca Film Institute, New York, New York
Video Data Bank (VDB), Chicago, Illinois
Vive X, London, UK