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Building Theatre's Professional Pipeline

Center Theatre Group Joins Forces with Local Organizations and Schools on College and Career Fairs

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An attendee of the College and Career Fair.

Southern California’s high schools, colleges, and universities abound with aspiring artists, artisans, and arts administrators. And Southern California is full of people who have forged successful arts careers. But connecting them to one another, and creating paths for young people in the field, is a challenge not just for students but also for the organizations and schools that serve them, as well as the employers who want to hire them.

For the past two years, Center Theatre Group has teamed up with these groups to create two college and career fairs that are becoming an integral part of our professional pipeline for the next generation of theatre makers. On April 8, 2017, we joined forces with LA STAGE Alliance, the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, and the USC School of Dramatic Arts to present the Center Theatre Group Going Pro Career Fair at the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) Performing & Fine Arts Complex. The event is designed to help undergraduate and graduate students get ready to transition to a professional theatre career. And on April 22, 2017, we invited 30 colleges, universities, and organizations to our College & Career Fair for the Arts at The Music Center Annex, which helps high school students figure out how to pursue the arts after graduation.

Center Theatre Group Next Generation Initiatives Director Camille Schenkkan has been overwhelmed by enthusiasm from all fronts. There’s nothing like this in Southern California that I’ve heard of that’s designed expressly for students interested in theatre, she said. The fairs were originally meant to serve students, but now they’re serving everyone. On the high school side, colleges are really eager to be there because it’s such a specific audience of students interested in the arts. And on the Going Pro side, so many of the theatre professionals we’ve invited, who are volunteering their time, have said, ‘I wish this existed when I was in school.’ Even UCLA and USC set aside their storied rivalry to participate together.

USC is thrilled to be partnering with Center Theatre Group and UCLA on the Going Pro Career Fair for the second year, said David Bridel, who holds the Braverman Family Dean’s Chair at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. This event offers our students invaluable access to theatre professionals from all around Los Angeles and helps to pave the way for their early career steps. It’s a terrific way to build community around young people with a passion for the performing arts.

We’re looking to disrupt stereotypes with professionals who don’t look like whatever students may have thought their profession would look like. The experience we want every student to have is, ‘I think I can do that, I can see myself doing that.’

Added UCLA TFT Department of Theater Chair Brian Kite, UCLA was proud to be part of the first two years of the Going Pro Career Fair, and to be working with Center Theatre Group, USC, and LA STAGE Alliance to create a not-to-be-missed event filled with great information and artistic community.

The organizations participating in the College & Career Fair for the Arts offered nearly every conceivable option for students trying decide where to go and what to pursue after high school, representing general education, technical training, and community colleges, as well as private and public colleges and universities.

There’s so much fear around the question of, how do I do this? And in the arts, there’s not a clear career pathway like in other fields.

There’s just so much uncertainty when you’re a teenager and you’re trying to figure out what to focus on, said Schenkkan. There’s so much fear around the question of, how do I do this? And in the arts, there’s not a clear career pathway like in other fields. We’ve also discovered that there’s inequity in what students are learning about college and career access. Some schools may teach students a lot about scholarships, but at others they may learn about what a BFA in acting is, but not find out how to pay for it. Everybody is getting little bits of college and career information, but nobody’s getting the full picture.

The Going Pro Career Fair also strives to give students a full picture of the lay of the Los Angeles theatre landscape, with tables hosted by many different unions, panel discussions on career paths in theatre, individual speed networking sessions with professionals, and an informal networking mixer.

There was a lot of synchronicity in the planning of this, said Schenkkan, with colleges thinking deeply about how to help their students transition to the professional theatre workforce. It’s much easier to teach craft than it is to teach students how to get a job in this field—and they know that. There was also a lot of excitement from unions who are looking to bolster their ranks. IATSE Local 33, the stage technicians union, signed attendees up for work. It wasn’t theoretical—it was, ‘Can you work next Saturday?’ said Schenkkan. In addition, Backstage magazine offered everyone who attended free subscriptions. Everyone’s really eager to help, said Schenkkan.

The fairs are a natural extension of Center Theatre Group's programs to build leadership skills and create career paths for young people in Los Angeles in the arts, which include our high school Student Ambassadors and our graduate and undergraduate interns. We’re figuring out how to help students in each step along their journey from when they first go see theatre and fall in love with it to becoming the next artistic director or technical director or master electrician or actor, said Schenkkan. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of these efforts. We want every panel to reflect the diversity of the students who are watching it, who look like Los Angeles, said Schenkkan. We’re looking to disrupt stereotypes with professionals who don’t look like whatever students may have thought their profession would look like. The experience we want every student to have is, ‘I think I can do that, I can see myself doing that.’

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