Theatre Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a theatre degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Theatre Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Theatre degree programs can prepare students for careers as actors, directors, producers, theatre technicians, teachers and related careers. Graduates may find work in the theatre, television, motion picture studios and more. Some graduates may choose to get their certification or license to teach acting in high schools. Most theatre degree programs feature courses in theatre history, acting, music, stage production, and film.

You should be aware that many of the jobs closely related to this degree, such as actors, producers and directors are stressful and that theatre graduates will probably experience frequent unemployment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most theatre-related jobs are short-term. The average hourly wage for actors in May 2011 was $34.00. The rate of job growth from 2010-2020 was only four percent. That rate is slower than average for all occupations.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? Students interested in getting a solid foundation in the theatre arts Students who want to advance in their careers and devote more time to a particular area of the theatre arts
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Actors ($34/hour - annual wage is not available)* - Producers and Directors ($92,000)*
- Set and Exhibit Designers ($55,000)*
- High school teachers ($57,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - General education courses
- Roughly 6 -11 theatre and related courses
- Participation in theatre productions
- General education courses
- Roughly 19-25 theatre and related courses
Senior interview may be required
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
- Entrance audition may be required
Online Availability Extremely rare due to hands-on nature of the field Extremely rare due to hands-on nature of the field

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree Programs in Theatre

Depending on the school, your associate degree program can be broad or narrowly focused. For instance, some schools offer one theatre degree, but students can choose from a variety of theatre electives to focus more attention on their areas of interest. Other schools offer degree programs that focus on specific areas, such as musical theatre, acting and production, production and design, film technology or teaching.

For many degree programs, the first semester or two may be almost identical and cover most of the general-education courses required and the basics of theatre. The last 2-3 semesters are usually focused on the student's specialized areas of interest. Students in theatre degree programs are typically required to participate in school theatre productions, both on stage and behind the scenes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree programs offer students opportunities to get real-world experience in the theatre
  • An associate degree may be all the college education required for jobs in the theatre and related areas
  • Skills acquired may be transferrable to careers outside of the theatre

Cons

  • Competition for jobs can be intense, because too few jobs are available
  • The BLS noted that most theatre-related workers face long periods of unemployment
  • Long hours and the possibility of having to travel could make it difficult to hold a regular job between freelance theatre jobs

Courses and Requirements

An associate degree program in theatre is typically a 2-year program that requires 60-70 total credit hours. General education requirements are usually met during the first year. The second year is normally focused on theatre courses. Most degree programs offer students the opportunity to get involved in the school's theatre productions immediately, so that they can get experience in acting, directing, staging and other aspects of the theatre arts. Common courses include:

  • History of theatre
  • Acting
  • Voice
  • Lighting and stage craft
  • Film technology
  • Professional development

Online Degree Options

In-person interaction is such an important component of this degree program, so you're not likely to find degree programs that are offered completely online. Some on-campus programs may allow students to take a portion of some courses online. However, most schools require that students participate in the school's theatre productions, both on-stage and backstage, to successfully complete their degree programs.

Stand Out with this Degree

The BLS noted that experience is preferred by those who are responsible for hiring theatre talent, for both on stage and backstage. Because of this, you should take every opportunity to get as much theatre experience as possible. Try to get involved with small theatre companies, which offer a greater chance to get involved in all aspects of the productions. According to the BLS, many directors often learn about directing while working as actors, film editors and other non-directing jobs, so try not to pass up opportunities that may not exactly fit into your future plans. For instance, if you want to become an actor, do not pass up non-actor theatre positions, because they may come in handy in the future.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Theatre

Earning a bachelor's degree in theatre may seem like more formal education than you need, since most theatre positions don't require a degree. However, these theatre degree programs normally require that students complete several hours of work in theatre productions each semester. Schools typically use these productions to help students gain experience that mimics real-world theatre experience.

At this degree level, some schools may require an audition as part of the admission process. Common degree concentrations include acting, theatre technology and design, as well as musical theatre. Each student is usually required to be a part of the school's theater production immediately and put in a specified minimum number of hours per semester. Although you may be required to get involved in all aspects of the theatre in the beginning, you may be allowed to focus more on your area of interest once you've met the minimum general theatre requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The BLS noted that casting directors prefer hiring people with related experience, so the additional two years of a bachelor's program can offer you more opportunities to get that desired experience
  • Courses in voice, diction, stage presence and others may be beneficial for helping you gain the kind of confidence needed to give business presentations in non-theatre careers
  • In 2010, 29% of producers and directors were self-employed, so a theatre degree could be a plus for those who want to work for themselves*

Cons

  • If you choose to become an actor, director, etc., you'll probably need to have to have another job to supplement your income
  • May have to learn new skills that you find difficult or unpleasant
  • It may be necessary to work on location in undesirable areas that are also far from home

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Most bachelor's degree programs require four years of two semesters per year for a minimum of 120 total credit hours. Students are required to complete general-education courses in addition to theater courses. The number of courses required depends on the school.

Some schools offer both a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre. The BA degree may focus on a broad-based study of the theater within a liberal arts setting. The BFA, on the other hand, is typically more geared to those who want to become theatre professionals in areas such as musical theatre, acting and theatre design. Typical courses for all theatre majors include:

  • Directing
  • Acting
  • Stagecraft
  • Voice
  • Production

Some degree programs may also require a senior interview where your course work will likely be critiqued by at least one faculty member. You may also be expected to share your future plans.

Online Degree Options

It will probably be difficult to find a fully online bachelor's degree program. Participation in theater productions is a degree requirement. This means working with others in person. It may be possible to complete parts of some courses online, so if you are interested, you may want to discuss this during the admissions process.

Stand Out with this Degree

Although many in the theatre have degrees, the BLS noted that related experience is very important to casting directors and other employers. Degree programs normally require active participation in school productions, so you should try to get involved with projects outside of school to stand out. Try to get involved with local, non-profit theatre groups by offering to work as a volunteer.