Author Topic: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?  (Read 6067 times)

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myrtle

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SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« on: Mar 31, 2010, 08:00 pm »
First of all, I am so sorry about the length of this post. I thought it was a good idea to include some background info, but feel free to skip to the 3rd paragraph ("However, there is one major factor...") for my actual questions.

Hello all. I feel a bit weird having my first-ever post be one of those "Help me choose a college!" threads, which I'm sure everyone is sick of, but I'm very torn in this decision and figured this was the best place to ask. I've been a frequent lurker here for a long time (in fact, without all the knowledge I gained from the posts here, I doubt I would have been very successful as a novice SM) but only just now worked up the courage to post. :)

Anyway, I am trying to choose a college to attend this fall. I want to make stage managing my career and go to a college that will help me achieve this goal. I've been accepted to several schools but have narrowed it down to SUNY Purchase and Emerson College, both for the BFA in Stage Management. I'm really torn between these two schools. There are so many factors to consider (I've read MatthewShiner's long post in the stickied thread, which was great): basically, I like Purchase because it is extremely inexpensive (I'd be paying in-state tuition and could probably finish school with close to no debt, which would be amazing), seems to have a very strong program, is close to NYC and seems to have a strong alumni network. On the other hand, I visited Emerson last weekend and I really loved the location, the atmosphere, the students. I spoke with the head of the stage management program and liked her a lot, and they just opened a new performing arts center, and they do musicals, which is something I think I would miss if I went to a school that only does dramatic plays, like Purchase. I also got a decent scholarship to Emerson which helps lessen the financial gap a little, though Purchase is still significantly cheaper.

However, there is one major factor I feel like I don't really have a full view of yet: how well the two schools would actually set me up for a career, and how they are viewed in the professional community. Of course, all the current students and alumni I've talked to have had lots of good things to say about their respective schools, but I want to get an outside opinion. I'm concerned about how each school would help me in terms of actually getting jobs.

So what I would like to know is, have you, in your theatre career, known people who studied stage management at Emerson? What were they like? Did they seem to have been well served by their education? Where they working steadily? Did the fact that they went to Emerson make you more or less likely to want to work with them/hire them? What about people who went to SUNY Purchase?

I've read several people saying on this board that, for example, graduates of, NCSA tend to be "spoiled" and unprepared for the "real world." I don't want to spend 4 years getting a degree only to have people dismiss me because of the name on my resume, so I really want to know how these two schools are viewed in the professional theatre world.

Opinions from current students and alumni of Emerson or Purchase are of course welcome, but I am especially hoping to hear from people who didn't attend either of these schools, as those are the views I haven't gotten to hear yet in the admissions process.

Thank you so much for reading this, and thanks in advance for any advice!

Scott

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #1 on: Apr 01, 2010, 12:56 pm »
With the caveat that I'm not a big advocate of stage management as an undergraduate major, I'm worked with and hired a number of graduates from the SUNY Purchase program and associate it with a certain level of training and competency.  Emerson on a resume would not mean much to me.

juliz1106

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #2 on: Apr 01, 2010, 07:27 pm »
I am a graduate of the Emerson BFA program, but the department has changed so much since I went there 10 years ago (the faculty and facilities are almost all different: the head of the department was the man who had created the degree, and the performing arts center was just being designed then), so I think it would be safe to try and give some advice.

The number one thing I would say is this: what you get out of the school and where you feel most comfortable is the most important thing.  Once you've gotten experience and a body of work, it matters less and less where you went to school.  I live in Chicago now, where the name of my alma mater means very little, but I still cherish my education and everything I learned living in Boston.  And I say "living in Boston" rather than "going to Emerson" for a reason.  For me personally, Emerson was only part of the equation when it came to my stage management career.  I wanted to get a lot out of my school, and so I worked a lot while I was there - as a professional stage manager.  I put myself out there and took advantage of the community, and Emerson's name helped me do that in my city.

I know almost nothing about SUNY Purchase or their program, but if they have a thriving theatre community outside of the university like Boston does, there's no reason you can't learn by working professionally as a stage manager while earning a degree.  You can take what you learn in school and use it wherever you like - it matters most that you're learning and eager to keep learning everything you can.  If I could take classes and do shows at Emerson while subbing for an Off-Broadway show for two years and earning weeks toward my eventual AEA pension, there's no reason someone with the same drive can't do the same, wherever they are.

Now specifically about coming out of Emerson and working in the industry?  I personally have never stopped working professionally since graduating from Emerson, nor did I ever hear anything negative about Emerson grads when I was being considered for work or hiring SMs.  I turned down my AEA card while I was in school, but got it less than a year after getting my degree, and the bit of design work I was encouraged to do while there has gotten me into the costuming world in Chicago in recent years, for the few months I have between gigs.  I run into Emerson grads a lot out here, though they're mostly actors - a lot of my class has either stopped stage managing or stayed in New England - and we were the first Stage Management BFA's Emerson granted, so there weren't too many of us to begin with.  I felt very prepared for the "real world" when I had finished school - I had worked in dusty blackboxes and 1000-seat opera houses, and had done technical drawings for touring sets, and had acted in and directed a few one acts.

I can tell you more details about the quality of my education at Emerson - how I learned enough Equity rules to work with seasoned Equity actors in my very first professional job (all Emerson rehearsals are run under "Emerson Equity" mock rules), how my BFA required so much study outside of stage management that I felt like I could really understand what any department was really going through, or how it felt to call an enormous musical with fly cues, special effects, projection cues, and massive scene changes from the awesome second balcony of the 1000-seat Emerson Majestic Theatre (now Cutler Majestic) as my swan song before I graduated.  All of those things were my personal experience, but are indicative of the atmosphere of the school and what I was able to get out of it.  It gave me the confidence to get jobs on my own merits - my professional resume spoke for itself after college, even if I'd left Emerson off of it, because Emerson let me build my career before I even got the degree. Your college should let you grow as much as it teaches you, and your own drive will ensure that that happens.

The last thing I will say is this: I struggled with the financial issue you've discussed as well, and almost chose my second choice school instead, simply because it was less expensive (read: free).  But in the end I went with Emerson because it felt right, and I knew that the isolated community of my second-choice school wouldn't give me the opportunities I could get in a city like Boston with a vibrant theatre community.  My student loan debt is almost completely paid off already, and I've never once regretted sending in that bill, because I know I made the right choice for my future and my career.

Good luck in making your decision.

- Julia

PSMKay

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #3 on: Apr 01, 2010, 08:27 pm »
As a counterpoint, around the same time as Julia was at Emerson I was working with a batch of recent Emerson grads as actors in a stock theatre.  They struck me, with only one exception, as cliquey, immature and ill-prepared for the professional world.  Based on my experience with them (and with being surrounded by entirely Emerson students at that particular theatre) I would personally never hire anyone from there - bad memories last a very long time.

Bear in mind, I know at least one of those immature and stupid young actors has gone on to Broadway, and behavior always matters less than talent in the acting realm.

Given that I'm now out of theater, though, take my perspective with a grain of salt.  Things may have improved since the late 90's.

alexandra_hsie

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #4 on: Apr 01, 2010, 10:04 pm »
Myrtle,

Glad to find you on the boards! I met you while you were staying at Emerson - I was the BFA Stage Production/Management major for the Overnight Program.

It saddens me to hear the negative experiences that have been posted. There are Emerson stage management alums who are working in established Equity theatres after graduating. If you feel comfortable, email Deb and ask what alums are up to currently - I'm sure she would love to hear from you.

Whatever you choose, best of luck! Stay in touch!

Being patient means giving up the illusion that you can control the world.

ScooterSM

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #5 on: Apr 01, 2010, 10:22 pm »
On a positive note about Emerson, I have hired several ASM's from there (both grads and students), and they have almost all been amazing (one person decided the position wasn't for her and quit after a week, but other than that...)
They have been prepared, quick thinkers, good at paperwork, and responsible stage managers.  Could it be that they were just SM type people who happened to go to Emerson? Maybe, but it seems like it also has to do with the training and disciple that they received at school.
I've never been paid a lot, but the theatre has kept me, and for that I shall be eternally grateful. Tony Church

LisaS

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #6 on: Apr 03, 2010, 12:38 am »
I don't have any direct experience with either Emerson or SUNY Purchase, but I am from New York (right outside the city) and went to school right outside of Boston (Brandeis).  I originally really wanted to be at a university that was either in NYC or was very close, but I chose Brandeis for a couple of other reasons.  A great side effect was that it got me out of New York.  Having grown up here, I think that it's a really valuable experience to see something else and experience that kind of change.  So, if you're from downstate New York, I say take that into consideration as well.

Candy0081

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #7 on: Apr 03, 2010, 09:35 am »
I think this is a very interesting question posted. 

In my experience it has mattered very little what school I went to or even that I continued on and got an MFA.  What has matter has been my abilities, experience and mostly attitude. 

After landing your first job or two most people won't look at what school you went to.  With that in mind, I am a fan of not having student loans.  I am paying on mine and will continue to do so for some time. 

Katek

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #8 on: Apr 11, 2010, 07:21 pm »
Being at purchase right now, I can tell you that yes not doing musicals does suck but at purchase there are tons of contacts constantly being made. Because we are so close to the city, the teachers here also work on Broadway. You can't get that at Emerson. We also have a huge Opera here.

alexandra_hsie

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Re: SUNY Purchase vs. Emerson: Outside Perspectives?
« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2010, 10:41 pm »
Being at purchase right now, I can tell you that yes not doing musicals does suck but at purchase there are tons of contacts constantly being made. Because we are so close to the city, the teachers here also work on Broadway. You can't get that at Emerson. We also have a huge Opera here.

Katek - I disagree with your opinion. I'm a student at Emerson College, and will let you know that Emerson also has professionals working as teachers and on the staff. For example, take Rafael Jaen, Scott Pinkney, or Ron deMarco. They all have active careers outside of Emerson College, and pride themselves on doing so. I have taken classes with Rafael Jaen and Ron deMarco, as well as Debra Acquavella. Debra Acquavella is the advisor to the BFA Stage Production/Management majors, and she is currently stage managing at CATF this coming summer. Deb has worked on Broadway, as well as Bonnie Baggesen (who is also part of the staff at Emerson). They constantly give student stage managers, who want to go the Broadway route, advice on how to achieve their goal. They also understand that Broadway is not the end-all and be-all of a stage manager's career, and are always open to offering advice on other stage management options as well.

As for the experience that you can earn in Boston, I interned at Boston Ballet my sophomore year and stage managed (or ASM'd) shows outside of Emerson College starting the summer after. As for the Opera experience, BFA Stage Production/Management majors have pursued internships with the Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Boston.

As long as you're willing to do the legwork, Emerson College is a great place for the experience, the teachers, and inevitably the contacts. However, I understand that it is extremely expensive, and I agree that Purchase is a good alternative in terms of money.
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