The final year of MFA training culminates in a fully funded showcase for industry professionals. We are currently engaged in reassessment and innovation of the live showcase model in New York, and our approach to it. In coming years we expect to move towards a digital showcase model. We envision a model much more tailored to the convenience of agents, managers, and casting directors. From their own offices, industry professionals will be able to review film footage; scenes, monologues, and songs; still shots from productions; headshots and resumes; actors’ personal websites, etc. — in sum, a broad spectrum of each actors’ work and experience. If interested in an actor, they could then select for that actor to contact them or even directly schedule a callback audition / interview, all online, right then.
We may transition to this model over several years. We are as yet uncertain whether we will be doing both an online platform and a live showcase in NY in 2018, if affordable, or whether we will move entirely to the digital model. The long and short is: we are innovating, and we want to be clear about it with all who are interested in the our MFA in Theatre, Acting program.
For further understanding of our experience and reasoning, please read on.
Our MFA program has had solid success in gaining representation in New York for the past 5 cohorts of actors, from the classes of 2008, ’10, ’12, ’14, and ’16. Graduates from these years enjoy representation at Abrams Artists Agency, Judy Boals, Inc., Don Buchwald and Associates, Dulcina Eisen Associates, Henderson Hogan Agency, and other highly regarded agencies. Recent employment includes work in theatre, film, and television across the country, including: The King and I at Lincoln Center; Here Lies Love at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre; How to Get Away with Murder on ABC; Weeds on Showtime; Law and Order on NBC; SAG and independent feature films; the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Playmaker’s Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC; McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ; Cincinnati Repertory Company; St. Louis Repertory Theatre; The Acting Company, New York; Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.; The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; The Asolo Theatre, Sarasota, Florida; Fiasco Theatre, NY, NY; Pioneer Theatre Co, Salt Lake City, Utah; Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana; Portland Stage, Portland, Maine, and so on. (Please refer to the alumni pages of this website for more information.)
However, it is our assessment that the showcase model is in serious decline as an effective means of introduction to the profession.
Some background: In 2008, UT was invited to join the prestigious “New League” showcase consortium of MFA and BFA programs. In 2008, ’10, and ’12, about half of our actors were offered either freelance or contract representation with talent agencies in New York. In 2012, the New Leagues were discontinued. For the class of 2014, UT showcased in New York with the University of Washington and The University of Connecticut. This showcase had smaller attendance from industry professionals than the long established New Leagues, and a lesser placement rate for our actors. In 2016, UT showcased in New York with the Florida State University / Asolo Theatre MFA actors. Again, despite a strong program and by far the most extensive marketing we have ever done, there was poor attendance of the showcase by industry professionals. However, 3 of 7 of the actors did receive offers of contract representation.
This may be a solid result among showcase outcomes, compared to many other programs, but it is unsatisfactory, and showcases in general in New York are clearly in decline as a means of featuring and promoting talent.
When showcases began in the 1980’s there were only a few programs in the country, and fewer that had the resources or reputation to support a showcase in New York or garner attention from the industry. Now, agents and casting directors annually receive more than 100 invitations to training program showcases, many of which feature multiple schools. This has happened over a period of years in which the number of talent agencies has declined by more than 30%, and the industry has changed dramatically in how talent is promoted and seen. We liken our journey to showcase in New York as a small country store appearing in Manhattan for 40 minutes over two days to make an impact on a highly glutted market. It is a tough sell.
Meanwhile, digital media are transforming the landscape. Online videotape and web platforms are increasingly the means used in the business to make initial assessments of talent before proceeding to auditions or interviews. Considering this reality, in 2016 we funded the professional production of a short film “7 Rising” for our MFA actors, which we marketed via YouTube in spring of 2016. To see this film, go to UTMFA.com. As opposed to the fewer than 30 industry professionals who attended our showcase, we were able to market this film widely. By the time we went to New York, the film had over 13,000 views. Though of course many of these were not industry professionals, many were, and the sheer reach of the project vividly demonstrates the marketing power of digital media. Also, our actors were able to share this film with agents in interviews, to marked success. In general, it is fair to state that actor training programs are far behind other professions in utilizing the power of digital media, and at UT we feel we must get with it.
In short, we are actively innovating regarding showcase.