"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dear Struggling Actress

Jacqueline in Canada writes:
Do you know much about AMDA's reputation within the industry in L.A? And by that I mean, do agents/managers/CD's respect it and its graduates or is it somewhat of a joke? I always had the perception that it wasn't as respected as other institutions or training programs but I recently met a fellow Canadian actress who attended their conservatory program and LOVED it. Said she learned a whole lot and made tons of connections.
A little background on me:
I'm a professional actor from Vancouver who began working in Film/Tv in my teens. I have a BFA from a good theater program at a reputable Canadian University and since graduation 2 years ago have been pursuing my professional career up here in "Hollywood North".
I've been looking into training and programs in L.A. for various reasons - I'm always looking for more education/training/knowledge (when I can afford it), I want to come down to L.A. for a while to get a feel for it and perhaps make some connections and last but not least my boyfriend lives down there, so being in the same city as him would be great!
The reason I'm looking at AMDA is that the girl I met said they give out many FULL scholarships to students based on ability and merit. A scholarship and the cheap housing they provide is the only way I would be able to afford go.

 All this being said, any advice? Have you heard anything about this program, bad or good? Any insight you could share would be amazing. Sorry for the long winded email!

Thanks so much Lira!
You're welcome!

And here we go. 

Since you didn't specify what AMDA is, I'm guessing you're referring to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. They offer both BFAs and a two year conservatory program.

I'd like to take this time now to say I've never been there and therefore am not the best source. The best source would be someone who went there 10 years ago, to properly give an opinion of whether it boosted their career or if their network connections actually panned out to anything of note. So instead, I'll give you the perspective of someone who has not been there, has a similar education background as you, and, most likely, a smaller resume! :)
As far as my experience goes, if you are an actress in LA, your training at a formal institution doesn't really matter. What matters first is your headshot: Does your headshot and what you look like fill a niche agents don't have? If it does, they'll flip to the other side and take a look at your resume. Agents and casting will care more if you're currently training (you have the money and are still learning) and have decent credits than if you have your degree in Pretend. Natalie Portman, Julia Stiles, and James Franco did NOT get their degrees in Pretend. (Natalie got hers in Feelings, and Julia and James got it in How To Talk and Write and Read Good) What matters in LA is what you look like and how good you are (and most will argue not even the last part). 

You have a BFA and you've been working professionally since you were in your teens. You are now looking into a program filled with people who have most likely never been in anything besides community theater or their friends' YouTube videos. You, with a four year fine arts degree, want to go somewhere that charges $35,149 a year, with an estimated monthly living expense of $800/month.

I cannot fathom why. 

Let's say you sign up for Billy O'Leary's (I'm gonna plug cause I love him) classes. Let's say you want to take as many classes a month as you can to get in some good LA style practice (eg. more procedurals/sitcoms, less sci-fi:) You take his Intro and his On-Camera classes. That's normally $325 and $240 respectively, but he does a combo so you can get for $425. ($140 saved!) Then, you take his ongoing and on camera combo for the next seven months with that combo special of $360. 
To be fair, we're going to assume AMDA's academic year is 8 months (that's what mine was and I'm sure it's the same) with your "academic year" at Billy's acting school ($425 + ($360 x 7) = $2,945. Let's also include your rent of about or around $700/month in the valley. (you have a roommate, but it's a nice apartment!) For 8 months, that's $5,600
Billy's classes, + your own bedroom = $8,545
AMDA + a dorm room you most likely share = $35,149

Now again, you should meet with someone at AMDA to go over figures and tuition and everything else, but I can't understand why you think you need another four year or even two year program. You are going to go over everything you've already learned. They are selling you something you already have! 

It is my opinion that AMDA is not for you. You've gotten your degree in Pretend. You're Pretended Professionally! And their housing is not cheap. In fact, for the school term (eight months) they tag it as $6,700. They are not letting you stay there for that price for the summer. You will either move out and find a new place, where you'll stay, or they'll charge you much higher fees for their summer months. (it's a school, and therefore a business) That $6,700 is most likely only for 8 months, which puts you at $837.50/month. You could share a nice apartment for 700, and have $137.50 leftover for utilities and still have WAY MORE SPACE than you would a dorm. Having your own bedroom as an adult is great for your relationship, if you know what I'm saying...

So here's what I recommend:

Come down here for a week with all your research done on four different independent acting classes down here and audit them. Take a tour with AMDA. Get your feel for the place. 
Go to Craig'sList and look at all your housing options and get familiar with the neighborhoods and their fees. Map out LA and find the freeways, major thoroughfares, and districts. Get familiar down here. 

If you stay in Vancouver, you most likely will have a very happy, successful, working career up there. Down here, it's a crapshoot. In Vancouver, you could be the big fish in the small pond (okay, big pond. Vancouver is awesome) and that's okay. That's GREAT.

But if you have your heart set on coming down to LA... listen to it.

See if your current agent up there can get you some meetings down here. Save up your money. Save up at least $12,000 Canadian before you come down here. Get your paperwork and working visas in order. Plan to stay at least ten years. Perfect your American accent (sorry and story do not rhyme here!). Be able to build a network of friends and people and yet stay independent enough so that if you and your boyfriend don't work out, you won't have to leave. 

Be prepared. Do your research. Find the school or acting classes that are going to be good for YOU. And listen to the voice in your head. 

You'll pick the right choice. 


  1. I wish someone would start paying you for your advice already! You're worth your words in gold.

  2. I second that opinion (unless you've gone to tisch, yale or northwestern and even then it's only important to some people,) don't spend money on a masters instead take legit improv and acting classes.

  3. Cannot agree more. Excellent advice. And here on the East Coast, AMDA isn't looked at in very high regard. Not low either. But it's more of a place for someone right out of highschool to come in and get a feel for what it's like to be a NY actor. I think your advice here is spot on, Jacqueline doesn't need more formal training, practical specific classes will be much more beneficial.

  4. Thanks guys! And Lira, of course! Really appreciate the feedback :)

  5. Sorry to dredge up an old post - but my daughter (18, recent HS grad) is in the final process of going to AMDA (as in, I need to get loans to pay for it). While I agree with your opinion for the gentleman that wrote in, what do you think about someone who just graduated HS? Would the same advice hold - moving to LA, getting a job, taking acting classes - or is "professional" training like AMDA the right thing for her?

    Would really like an opinion from a working actor before going $20K in debt (and that's just loans, and just the first year, nevermind living expenses, etc).

  6. I personally went to AMDA at the age of nineteen and also took classes on the side (which they strictly forbade us to do...) and felt that it was best for me to save my family the money, and myself for the loans we split, and go it my own with a coach, manager, and my instincts. Out of my entire class, one owns a dance studio, I teach lessons and direct, a few have toured with shows, many are musicians WORKING in the music business, and one, yes one, has made it to a multiple Broadway show. I would say, AMDA is exciting and does fill a need, but if you can find a few other places and price them out, come up with a plan as a family (mine was not able nor had the savvy) you can do the same and save money. To break in means more than the place you are attending. It is a larger process, bigger than this paragraph.

  7. I'm 17, got 6 more months of high school and I am looking into the BFA in acting at Amda, although I'm not a resident of NY or CA, so my tuition will be around $39,000. Any advice for me.
    Also I come from a very poor family and the only way for tuition would be scholarship or student loan.

    1. Don't go to AMDA. No one here in LA looks at it as better or worse than any other acting institution. Look at your state schools and see if they offer acting programs.

  8. Good Advice. I've been working since I hit LA after graduating HS (some 30 years ago now!) However, I had years of excellent training from good coaches at private drama and dance schools. As a matter of fact, one of my teachers who also taught college students, told me that he believed that I would get a job before his college students ever would. He explained that this was because I had experience! I invested in building my skills while building a resume. And this prediction has panned out! I don't see any of his college students working at all! Its up to you how you wish to spend your time. But your resume should show a nice history of experience. Once you leave AMDA, will your resume look 2 year different than it does today? Experience is what counts! Build your resume! LA and NY are tough places and good places to start your career. You just have to be willing to work hard on your craft and not get discouraged when you don't pass your first audition. You have to keep at it! Spend the money you would on AMDA to buy yourself a little time to learn the ropes without too much pressure. But don't be comfortable... you have to be hungry. Both LA and NY have some of the best teachers in studios all over the city. Many of them also work for AMDA! You can study with them without paying AMDA. And they will probably be more able to provide additional coaching and help to you better outside of the institutional environment of AMDA.


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