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Guthrie Theater

Photo Credit: Sally Wagner

At college and university campuses across the country, many of tomorrow’s stage and screen performers are furthering their educations and charting their careers. One innovative program in Minneapolis pairs the University of Minnesota with the Guthrie Theater, blending a comprehensive liberal arts education with rigorous, professional-level training.

Deep Roots.  “Although we’re a fairly young program, many of our alumni are already working at high levels in theatre, film and television,” says Joe Price, Director of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program.

“It often takes 10 years to cement yourself in an acting career – it’s rare to become a star immediately,” notes Price. The program started in 2000 and notable alumni already include Aya Cash and Santino Fontana.

“Our freshmen had their first class just a few days ago,” Price remarks.  “Watching students work hard, grow and achieve success over the four years and beyond is very exciting – I love that connection with our students.”

While the program is less than 20 years old, the collaborative history of the two institutions traces back to the Guthrie Theater’s early roots. In 1959, after Tyrone Guthrie announced he was looking for a city to host his new theatre, Minneapolis/St. Paul was one of seven metropolitan areas that responded. The strength of the University’s theatre program was an influencing factor in Guthrie’s selection.

Select Number. Over the past 16 years, the program’s unique offering and success has attracted a growing pool of applicants, many who also audition for top programs like Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon.

Price believes the cost of attending college impacts more students today, with increased awareness and stress related to student loan debt. The U’s program offers ongoing scholarships and he believes it’s a good value, especially compared to many alternatives.

From approximately 1,400 applicants, Price and his colleagues employ a screening/audition process that winnows that number down to 80 students who are invited to an audition weekend. Of those, 20 are accepted each year. Price is proud of their retention rate – 100 percent of students have chosen to stay in the program the past three years – and the four-year graduation rate is also high.

To further student diversity, recruiting efforts are national; more international students are also applying.

Growing Diversity. Cultivating a diverse student body mirrors changes that Price sees in the industry. “The idea that an actor needed to look like a model was a real requirement in Hollywood – everyone was beautiful – but that’s changing,” he contends.

Casting is different now with more emphasis on diversity in culture, ethnicity and appearance. Students join the U’s program from varied backgrounds, including arts high schools, regular public schools and even home schools. Some transfer in from two-year colleges.

What do these students have in common? Price believes they are attracted to the dynamic partnership with the Guthrie and the rigor of conservatory training integrated with a robust liberal arts education.

“Our program is flexible and organic so we can easily adapt to changes in the profession,” explains Price.

Professional Connection. This flexibility includes exposing students to a variety of training methods and acting techniques. The program’s Guthrie connection helps maintain a fresh approach and synergy with the “real world” outside academia.

“The strength of our program is a testament to everyone who helped put it together, and to both the University and the Guthrie for valuing and supporting what we’ve created,” explains Price.

“Our students are being held to the standards of one of the country’s top regional theatres,” he says. “They learn what it takes to work at that level and are offered many opportunities for professional networking.”

Price believes the qualities students develop in the program can serve them well in a variety of careers, even beyond the performing arts.

“Our graduates are very disciplined and possess a number of skills almost any employer values: they are smart, creative, passionate collaborators,” concludes Price. “We’ve had plenty of students who left acting behind and succeeded in other fields, including law and medicine.”

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