Conservatories are not good choices for teens who like acting -- emphasis on the "like" - and are thinking (thinking?) about declaring a drama or musical theater major. If that's your kid, he should be looking at universities with a good drama program - and a good everything else too - because students who attend drama conservatories are obsessively, passionately devoted to the theater and cannot imagine doing anything else. Saying they "like" the theater is rather like saying you "like" to breathe.
So let's start with three of the top theater conservatory programs - schools in three different cities and with three very different outlooks - then make our way to top-notch drama programs on university campuses. You'll find links to the schools themselves embedded in each description.
- The Juilliard School: One of the world's most highly regarded conservatories for music, dance and drama, this New York City-based school is also one of the most competitive, both during admissions and after enrollment. Live auditions, typically held in January and February, are required and include four memorized monologues and a singing audition as well. Juilliard is known for its stringent requirements, incredibly high expectations and high stress. The school offers BFA and MFA programs in acting, and a very selective, one- to two-year playwriting program. Here's the big caveat: This school is extremely difficult to get into. Your child will be competing against stellar performers from around the world. And you can erase any ideas inspired by TV's "Glee" and Rachel Berry's freshman triumphs at the fictional NYADA. It does not matter how great you think your kid is. At Juilliard, fourth years get the performance spotlight. The first two years as an undergraduate focus on developing skills; any performances are rehearsal workshops. The third, Shakespeare-centric year includes limited performances on a small stage.
- American Conservatory Theater: This San Francisco theater offers a small, highly competitive MFA program, accepting eight to 12 graduate students per year. Among the former students: Elizabeth Banks, Annette Bening and Benjamin Bratt. It's an unusual program, though. You do not need to have a bachelor's degree in order to apply, and there are two other training options for younger students (up to age 19) and actors considering graduate work. The Summer Training Congress offers intensive two- and five-week summer courses to students and professionals, ages 19 and up. The Young Conservatory is open to students ages 8-19, and its alumni include Milo Ventimiglia, Winona Ryder, Nicolas Cage and Darren Criss.
- CalArts: Founded by Walt and Roy Disney in 1961 as the California Institute of the Arts - and promptly nicknamed CalArts - this school specializes in the visual and performing arts. It's ranked among the top 10 arts schools by U.S. News & World Report and its location 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, its top-notch faculty and its performance spaces and facilities make it a must-see. CalArts offers both BFA and MFA program in acting, as well as programs in writing, directing and design.
Now for the university programs...