What are good colleges that feature a good theatre-acting program and hopefully a Creative Writing major as well?

I live in Southern California, so maybe a nice school in state, but I would not be opposed to out-of-state schools as well.

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Calvin Olsen, College Professor, Poet, and Editor

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Carrie is right: most schools with reputable MFA programs are going to have majors (or at least classes) that will add variety and depth to your degree. As in all things college, there are a lot of options. I’m familiar with a handful of different programs, so let me explain two of them.

Some programs will have you acting in or working on the production of theatre pieces almost immediately (the top-tier programs require a formal audition). For a great example of this, take a look at the Acting program at Boston University. You’ll see a link to the Freshman Performance Core, which will give you an idea of what you’re looking at course wise. In addition to all this focus on acting in the major, BU has its own theatres on and off campus, and Boston is full of theatres. As for creative writing, BU doesn’t have a creative writing major, but they have a world class MFA program and many undergraduate courses to choose from.

Another type of program is one that prepares students to teach theatre once they leave college. Boise State University (in Idaho, where I grew up) is one of these. They have a handful of theatre arts majors, minors, and certificates, but they also have the Theatre Arts Secondary Education BA. This degree gives students experience in many aspects of theatre, and prepares them to teach theatre in high school. This type of program would give you a well-rounded education with the added bonus of being more “employable” once you graduate (which is really nice with an arts degree).

So Boston University and Boise State University are both out-of-state in your case, so do the type of search Carrie mentioned. To get you started, a few highly ranked programs in California are UCLA, Loyola Marymount, and Chapman.

Happy searching!

Scarlet Michaelson, English and Writing Teacher

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If you're looking at MFA programs and want to stay in Southern California, you can also look into the low-residency options. For example, Vermont College of Fine Arts has an MFA where you only travel to Vermont twice a year for 10 days. The rest of the time you are reading and writing from home, with the help of a non-local mentor. This gives you time to work as well. There are several programs like this and the remarkable thing about them is that they imitate what life is like for actual writers– you might be juggling different jobs and making time to write a part of your daily routine, rather than in a classroom.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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One thing to consider is that some larger schools, like NYU, may make it difficult to take both creative writing and theater classes as those would be different departments. However, NYU's Gallatin school allows some leeway with this because students can build their own major. Some smaller liberal arts colleges like Bennington (in Vermont) or Sarah Lawrence (in New York) have strong theater and writing programs and will allow students lots of freedom in building their classes, too.

You can also look into arts schools in California like the California Institute of the Arts that has a broad range of arts programs, including theater.

I currently attend Sarah Lawrence for an MFA in creative writing, but they also have an MFA in theater. Many of the graduate faculty teach undergrad classes, too. They emphasize writing in all of their classes and they don't have set majors so students can blend whatever courses they'd like.

Lisa Hiton, poet, filmmaker, professor, writer

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Okay, that saved before I meant to. Here is my bit about writing as well:

Among these schools, some have writing programs for undergraduates and some do not. Boston University, for example, offers courses, but not a program. On the other end of the spectrum is Northwestern University, which has the best creative writing program for undergraduates around. Creative writing often DOES NOT HOUSE screenwriting. If that is the kind of creative writing you're hoping to do with your acting program, you'll want to be sure to go to a school that has a proper film school, which is either housed on its own or in a college of communications. In this case, Boston University, USC, NYU, and UCLA will be your best bets. It's often difficult to get into both the acting and the film school, so be sure that the university you choose has the flexibility you need (Boston University, for example, does offer dual degrees across schools, and the means of entering wouldn't be as difficult as, say, USC).

Lisa Hiton, poet, filmmaker, professor, writer

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As a theatre and film person myself, I would just like to add a broad overview of the best acting programs in the country. The most important thing to figure out now is what kind of acting space best suits you--meaning, broadly, musical theatre, straight theatre, or screen acting.

Since you're from southern California, you have the industry readily at your fingertips. USC, UCLA, and Chapman would be your three highest priorities with regard to staying in state. In general though, here is what the top tier list looks like. The research will probably lead you to other great programs too. These are the "best" as far as acting opportunities, training opportunities, and getting seen once school is over.

  • Julliard (Viola Davis, Robin Williams, Kevin Spacey)
  • NYU (Anne Hathaway, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Debra Messing)
  • Carnegie Mellon (Holly Hunter, Ted Danson, Gaius Charles)
  • USC (Troian Bellisario, Tate Donovan, Forrest Whitaker)
  • UCLA (James Dean, James Coburn, James Franco)
  • Yale (MERYL STREEP)
  • University of Michigan (best musical theatre program) (James Earl Jones, Lucy Liu, Selma Blair)
  • Boston University (Julianne Moore, Geena Davis)
  • Syracuse (Taye Digges, Heather Dubrow, Vanessa Williams)
  • Northwestern University (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Zach Braff, Charlton Heston)
  • University of Cincinnati (Sarah Jessica Parker, Carmen Electra)

Here is a recent broad list curated by The Hollywood Reporter which highlights these and some others. There are also great acting schools in London, but that is definitely a hop-skip from California.

Among these schools, some have writing programs for undergraduates and some do not. Boston University, for example, offers courses, but not a program. On the other end of the spectrum is Northwestern University, which has the best creative writing program for undergraduates around. Creative writing often DOES NOT HOUSE screenwriting. If that is the kind of creative writing you're hoping to do with your acting program, you'll want to be sure to go to a school that has a proper film school, which is either housed on its own or in a college of communications. In this case, Boston University, USC, NYU, and UCLA will be your best bets. It's often difficult to get into both the acting and the film school, so be sure that the university you choose has the flexibility you need (Boston University, for example, does offer dual degrees across schools, and the means of entering wouldn't be as difficult as, say, USC).

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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Hi, One way to hone in on schools with these programs is to search for those colleges in your geographical area that offer MFA programs in Theater and/or in Creative Writing. Even though you are looking for an undergraduate degree and not a graduate one, schools that host these types of graduate programs will probably have professors that teach in both programs, which means that you will have a richer variety of instruction and perhaps more guest speakers, visiting lecturers, on campus performances, etc.

Again, this is just one way of winnowing possibilities. (A quick Google search just showed me that U Cal at Riverside has a good MFA in Creative Writing...)

Good luck!

Megan Luu, UC Irvine grad, Creative writer

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UC Irvine is located in the Southern California area as well, and offers a theatre program and an opportunity to receive an emphasis in creative writing (along with your major). The theatre program at UCI allows you have an opportunity to study briefly in New York through the Satellite Program. The drama department also offers several honors programs that might interest you!

The emphasis in Creative Writing is great because it allows you to take several classes and focus on either poetry or fiction (or even both!) as an undergrad. One great benefit of doing this is that you'll take some workshop courses with MFA students and MFA faculty (notable writers Ron Carlson and Michelle Latiolais). UC Irvine has one of the best MFA in Creative Writing programs, and taking a workshop with MFA faculty (usually offered once every quarter by admission) gives you a chance to explore whether you'd like Creative Writing at the graduate level. Creative writing workshops are a very different environment from the usual classroom: you get to work on your writing constructively in an intimate setting with your peers and your workshop leader.

Hope this helps!

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