Many students get a taste of the acting bug in high school while participating in high school drama productions. But how do you know if you want to pursue acting in college exclusively or decide to explore it alongside other academic interests? Conservatories and some universities offer BFA degrees in drama, providing an immersive and intensive education in the industry.
College Confidential sat down with Kate Pittard, a junior in the School of Drama at the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winst0n-Salem, N.C. She told us about her experiences and helped shed light on some of the most common questions that students have about pursuing acting in college in a conservatory environment.
College Confidential: What made you want to pursue acting in college? When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
Kate Pittard: I fell in love with the idea of acting in the fourth grade when I saw my local high school’s production of West Side Story. It was so magical. I was enchanted by the girl playing Maria, and wrote the exact words “I want to be just like her” in my journal. So, I made it my mission to be the lead in our fifth grade play, and from then on it was clear that acting was my passion!
CC: Why did you choose a conservatory rather than a college or university, which usually also offer degrees in drama?
KP: I don’t remember ever seriously considering a liberal arts program for drama. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, so I thought, why study a wide range of subjects when I can really deepen my understanding of one?
CC: Can you describe your typical day?
KP: The schedule is different depending on your year in training. This is what my day is like as a third-year: I wake up at 7:00 a.m. every weekday and walk to classes. I have theatre history on some mornings and a poetry workshop on other mornings. This is the “liberal arts” portion of the day for everyone at the school. Then I have drama classes till 3:45 p.m., with 10-15 minutes in between each class, and one hour for lunch. Lunch is a glorious time to sit in the grass and read, socialize at the picnic tables or get extra help from teachers. Rehearsals begin at 4:00 and run till 10:00 at night, with an hour for dinner around six.
CC: When you arrived at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, was there anything about the school itself and/or the program that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?
KP: Even with such a busy schedule and comprehensive curriculum, students at UNCSA are still incredibly zealous about creating their own work outside of school! Weekends are often devoted to working on these projects, including explorations in film, devised theatre, dance, playwriting, improv and puppetry.
CC: How much of your time is spent rehearsing?
KP: On average, third and fourth years in main-stage shows rehearse for about five hours on weekdays after class, and six hours on weekend days.
CC: Which drama productions have you been involved in? What have you learned through your performing experiences?
KP: During my sophomore year, I was in A Hatful of Rain by Michael V. Gazzo, From Up Here by Liz Flahive and Othello by Shakespeare. All of these projects were transformative for my acting in many ways! One theme that kept arising throughout the year for me was “stillness.” It’s like a paradox: Acting is not about emoting or over-dramatizing situations. When it comes down to it, it’s all about taking a deep breath and connecting with your partner and the circumstances of the play. (That helps in real life, too!)
CC: Has there been any unexpected challenges that you have encountered during your degree program? If so, how have you overcome them?
KP: In my second year, I developed a nasty habit of putting way too much pressure on myself. I was very stressed, riddled with insecurity and the idea that my work wasn’t “good enough” for this school. Eventually I opened up to teachers about it. They were supportive, kind and loving, and with their guidance, I gained more confidence and eased up on all the pressure. My motto for third year is to be gentle with myself.
CC: What advice do you have for high school students that are considering a drama major in college and how should they weigh the option of studying in a conservatory environment vs. a college or university that offers a bachelor’s degree in drama?
KP: If you are serious about acting and know without a doubt that it’s what you want to do with your life, go to a conservatory! I can’t recommend it enough. Not only do you get to spend all your time focused on your craft with a top-notch, professional faculty, it is also so inspiring to be surrounded by such ambitious, smart and creative classmates. And if any of it sounds too intimidating for you, or you’re not sure if you’re capable, trust me. You are. One of my loveliest teachers at school told me, “fear is only excitement without the breath.” If acting is what you want to do, take a deep breath, go to a conservatory and you’ll really get to do it!