Making it to Broadway, Part 1

Educational and Environmental Advantages of Actors in Broadway Musicals

“I want to do THAT!” Many young Broadway hopefuls speak those words the first time (and every time?) they see a show on the Great White Way. The storytelling, the talent, the production values are so impressive and exciting that performing on a Broadway stage instantly becomes a major goal.

But, how do you get there? Practice of course, but what else does it take? How did those people up there – actually get there?

During the summer of 2014, 100 actors in Broadway musicals from Book of Mormon to Phantom of the Opera, were asked many questions about their journey. Everything from their education and training: including the kind of school they attended and what degree they earned; to their performance backgrounds, agents, first jobs, where they grew up, family life and even birth date. The results offer distinct trends and subsequent advice regarding the many steps needed to get to Broadway.

How old were you when?

Because Broadway offers the highest paychecks for stage actors and is often seen as the pinnacle of success after several years of working your way up the ladder, age was a surprising factor. The majority of respondents were relatively young when they made their debut: 35% were between 22-25, 30% were 25 – 30, with another 11% getting there between 18-21, for an overwhelming 76% making it to Broadway by age 30. A slight majority (51%) moved to New York before they earned their equity card. Without a union card, most actors can’t even get into a Broadway audition – so these actors were young, and determined. Moreover, almost 76% had an agent before they booked their first Broadway show.

Education and Training

Education and training are important in every field, and acting is no different. 73% of responders were in specialized singing and dance classes prior to college, 30% in a full-time arts high school. A full 80% of responders auditioned to get into their college degree programs which speaks to the truth that highly selective admissions procedures and the competition to get in – and the competition while you’re there, will often breed success upon graduation. 46% received a BFA degree and would describe their school as extremely competitive (32%) or very competitive (24%). There were other major trends in education too: 70% had professors with professional careers and when asked if their school had economic and racial diversity, 75% said yes. Just 5% did not attend college, and the rest were split pretty evenly between conservatories, liberal arts colleges, and large universities.

They earned degrees in predictable fields: 42% in Musical Theatre, 20% in Acting, 12% in Vocal Performance/Music, and 5% in Dance, but it is important to note that almost 20% did not earn a degree in performance. When asked if they were still repaying student loans, 78% said no. This points to an unfortunate truth in musical theatre training, financial means to pay for college – and pre-college performance classes are a distinct advantage. This could also mean that many Broadway performers come from families with higher incomes.

Early careers and joining Actors’ Equity Association

As these Broadway actors began their careers, many found professional success early. 41% were first paid to perform while they were still in high school, and just over 45% in college. Most earned their Equity cards in summer stock, Off-Broadway, or Regional Theatres – but 23 of them earned their card by getting cast in a Broadway show or National Tour.

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What we will learn from this survey is that at the Broadway level great talent should be a given, but a competitive education, major financial support, an excellent work ethic, and more than a little bit of luck are essential advantages to making it on Broadway.

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