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Refining the Path to Success

Posted By TBA Staff, Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Monday, May 12, 2014
This week, Theatre Bay Area is proud to publish an essay written by Paulina Guerra, a student in San Francisco State University’s "Writing about Theatre" class. Ms. Guerra is the winner of a competition instituted by course instructor Lily Janiak and TBA associate editor Laura Brueckner to encourage students to produce skilled and thoughtful arts writing.

SFSU student, actor and arts writer Paulina Guerra.

Refining the Path to Success
By Paulina Guerra

I moved to San Francisco in August of 2009 from Monterrey, Mexico, ready to start as a freshman at San Francisco State University. I declared a Theatre Arts major and eagerly looked forward to my classes. As the years went by, I began noticing an improvement in my acting skills and sustained amazement at my professors' knowledge. When the time came to graduate and I began reflecting on my journey, I realized I loved my experience at the school yet wished some things had been different.

The Theatre Arts Department at SFSU is impressive: it has teachers with vastly different backgrounds, students from all around the world, and facilities that are always being improved. Although the theatre performance program at SFSU is not the conservatory type, I strongly believe that it would improve the education of each and every student majoring in it if the University added two required courses. First, I propose adding an audition prep class with two sections: one for straight acting students and another altered for musical theatre. In this class, students could profit by preparing for mock auditions of a professional production every week. I further propose the University add an internship at a Bay Area theatre company to its curriculum, so students can learn what it's like to work in the professional theatre world.

The preparation for auditions class would be a three-unit class that would meet twice per week: the Monday class would hold auditions, and the Wednesday class would be the instructor's lecture. At the beginning of the semester the instructor would teach the students how to prepare professional audition binders. These binders would include the proper headshots for television or film, straight theatre, or musical theatre and typical Disney headshots. These binders would also contain contrasting monologues: contemporary drama and comedic ones as well as classical versions to serve as the students' repertoire. Section two of this class, musical theatre audition prep, would have not only acting auditions, but dance and singing auditions as well. In the binders for this class, the students would carry the items mentioned above but would also incorporate sheet music for songs they are comfortable singing. Students would need to have both up-tempo and ballad songs, of both contemporary and classical genres, since contrast is key. Once students have finished their binders, they would hand them in as a project for grading. There would also be class lectures on resume building, and occasional discussions of tricks like printing resumes on the back of headshots so that the people students are auditioning for don't lose their information or forget their names.

For the lab component of both class sections, the instructor would hold weekly mock auditions. Each week on a Friday night, the instructor would email the students information about the show they're auditioning for on Monday. The email would contain the appropriate audition information: sides to become familiar with, songs to learn, or a play synopsis or entire play for students to read and analyze. In some cases, the instructor might send nothing, and require the students do all of the play research by themselves, just as they would in order to prepare for a professional audition. At the end of each audition class period, the instructor, would play the role of casting director, and would lead the students in a class discussion about what they liked in the auditioners' auditions, why some things worked or didn't work, and if needed, offer constructive criticism. This feedback could really help students in the class know what tactics their peers used that worked, and can that way learn from each other. For the course's final, a guest director would be invited into the audition panel to give feedback to the entire class once all auditions have been completed.

The other added course would involve getting an internship at a theatre company in the area. This would also be a three-unit class that would ask the students to attend their internships once a week for sixteen sessions throughout the semester. Every week, the students would complete a journal entry on an online assignment tracking application, like iLearn, and explain what the week was like at their internship. Topics may include difficulties they had during the week, areas where they succeeded or need to work on more, etc. This journal would help the students keep track of their experiences there and be proof to the instructor that they were fulfilling their class duties.

These internships would benefit students by allowing them to make connections with people who are employed in the field, and see how it all actually works in the real world. At SFSU, the professors have all worked in the industry, so they do a great job of making up real-life scenarios for students to go through, but actually being out there would be even more valuable for students. Besides making connections, student interns would learn about and be immersed in more aspects of theatre that classes usually just skim over. Also, they would hear firsthand about upcoming auditions and other job opportunities at the company.

It's no secret that getting a job in the theatre world can be challenging. Having the opportunity to intern would make it easier for the student to get a theatre job after graduating, since he or she would have more experience than others who applied for the job with no experience whatsoever. Additionally, theatre companies would benefit from having student interns, as it would provide them with free labor. Another huge part of being successful in this industry is about having connections, so, at the end of the internship, each student's supervisor would write a recommendation letter for him or her and send an addressed copy to the class instructor.

I believe that if San Francisco State University incorporated both of these courses into the theatre performance major's graduation requirements, students would know more about what goes on behind the scenes of theatre companies, know more people in the business, and be a lot more prepared to do their jobs. The addition of these two courses would enrich the experiences of performance students in the theatre arts department, deepen their education, and provide them with more room for success.

Paulina Guerra is an actor and theatre writer from Monterrey, Mexico. She has studied theatre with a performance concentration at San Francisco State University. Catch up with her on Twitter @pauguerrae or on Facebook.


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