Give 'em the Old Razzle Dazzle, and Perhaps a Brief Paper on Sophocles
What does it take to make it on Broadway? Talent, hard work, a Kevlar-plated ego.
And how about a degree from Yale.
Take a look at what's playing now, and at the profusion of Ivy, grad or undergrad, festooning the sets. Of the eight principals in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," four went to Yale. Of the six in "Bronx Bombers," two went to Yale and one went to Harvard. In "Outside Mullingar," the director went to Harvard, the costume designer and the lighting designer went to Yale and the scenic designer went to Brown and Yale.
“The best schools breed the best people" in the industry, "which is not to say we don’t find people in other ways, too,” says Bernard Telsey, founder of the powerful casting agency Telsey + Co. "If you're doing 'Rent' and you want wild, crazy singers, you don't really care where they went to school. But if you want trained actors, you're going to look at where they graduated."
The Ivies serve as a feeder system for talent scouts. "Harvard's drama school, Yale and Brown all have spring showcases for their students we wouldn't miss,” says Tara Rubin, a casting agent in New York. "Those are well attended by agents and casting directors."
These institutions are at the core of a larger but still elite group of drama schools. Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, the Boston Conservatory and NYU, among others, have top reputations, and graduates in top Broadway shows. It's not a sentimental approach to talent -- so much for being discovered at your community theater group's abridged performance of "Into the Woods" -- but it's sort of reassuring to mortals like you and me, paying hundreds of dollars for an evening at the theater. You go to Broadway to see alchemy, and people like Telsey and Rubin are there to make sure you get it, insofar as any high-risk endeavor is reliable.
So that's that -- you're discovered and you're golden? Not so fast, Rosalind. There is the little matter of the audition. Rubin says that she wouldn't want a drama program to emphasize auditioning, but that knowing how to audition well is "very important."
"People make artistic decisions based on what the actor does in the moment of the audition," says James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama. "So yes, part of our students' training is for auditions."
Put all that together and these grads have an advantage in New York, where the cost of living is among the highest in the world, and where the actress waiting tables while she waits for her big break is rarer than she used to be. "I'm always amazed," says Telsey. "How can a struggling artist live in New York?"
Rubin, who half-jokingly claims she's "one of the only working-class people who ended up in theater," says that student loans often push actors into TV or film. She cites Yale as an example of a drama school that "has endeavored to endow their graduate program so that young actors aren't burdened with a huge amount of debt."
Still, Telsey says, "the girls off the bus from Ohio or Kansas are here, too. I know, because I see them auditioning in my office."