The path to becoming a medical doctor is long but direct: pre-med classes, then the MCAT exam, then medical school, then residency, then licensing—and finally, you're a fully fledged M.D. The road to a career in theatre, on the other hand, is full of forks, twists, and curves (some of them hairpin).
This is why Center Theatre Group is working to equip young people with as much information and as many resources as possible as they set off on their journey. This spring, we held two open-to-the-public fairs—the College & Career Fair for the Arts (for high school students) and the Going Pro Career Fair (for college undergraduate and graduate-level students)—for students from all over Southern California to learn about what it takes to build a career in theatre.
“We're really focused on diversity,” said Camille Schenkkan, Center Theatre Group's Next Generation Initiatives Program Manager. “If you're in high school, you can probably name five careers in theatre. If you're in college, you may be able to name 20. But at Center Theatre Group alone, there are dozens of different jobs in theatre. We want to show more options to students and provide information to help them learn how they can make a living doing what they love.”
On February 6, 2016, over 30 colleges, universities, and organizations came to The Music Center Annex for our College & Career Fair for the Arts. Hundreds of teenagers (some accompanied by the adults in their lives) roamed around tables outside the building to ask representatives questions about their programs, grab literature with more information, and enjoy art-making projects as well as a free food truck lunch. We also invited students to step inside one of our rehearsal rooms for workshops designed to provide a variety of perspectives on the different avenues that lead to a career in theatre. Local experts tackled paying for college, explaining the complicated FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid), student loans, preparing applications, scholarship options, and financial aid. Professors and coaches who audition students for college theatre programs discussed the audition process and offered tips and strategies to prepare. Actors and designers shared their own educational journeys to help students consider degree programs and majors. And active members of the Los Angeles theatre community discussed the lay of the land—and how aspiring theatre artists, artisans, and professionals can break onto the scene.
On April 2, 2016, we partnered with LA STAGE Alliance, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and the USC School of Dramatic Arts to present our Going Pro Career Fair at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Colleges and university students visited resource tables to speak with local unions, graduate programs, and other organizations, attended "speed networking" sessions for 20-minute one-on-one mentoring meetings with working professionals, made connections at a mixer, and got introduced to a variety of career pathways at more specialized workshops. Professional actors, playwrights, designers, directors, theatre professionals, and multi-hyphenate artists who wear many different hats talked about their paths at the workshops, and offered guidance on subjects like whether graduate school is worth it and what they wished they had known at the outset of their careers.
Schenkkan believes that talking to professionals also helps take some pressure off students. “They think every decision now will shape their career,” she said. “But life experience can be as important as what you studied. Everybody has a really different path.”