Why you do NOT need an MFA.

You may not know this, but I do a lot of speaking to organizations around the country, including a lot of universities.

I should say, I did a lot of speaking at universities.  Because after this blog, the higher education mafia might just wanna whack me.

Before you send your Grad School goons after me, all you Unis out there, let me get a a bit more specific.

You do NOT need an MFA . . . if you’re going to pursue a career as a Broadway Producer.

See?  You can put those whip-like-tassels down, Professors.

MFAs can be good for a lot of different careers.  It’s a safe place for writers to work, and more importantly to network with fellow students who are as serious as they are about their career.  Same with actors.

But for Producers?  Save your $150,000.

Commercial Theater Producing is a super specialty skill, and while I recommend everyone take a course in producing no matter what their major, there is currently no MFA program with a core curriculum that I believe is more effective than, well, what I’m going to suggest below.  (Maybe there will be one day, and if any of the MFA programs out there want some assistance in designing one, give me a shout.)

You know what you could do what that $150k?  You could get your name above-the-title on a Broadway show.  Or you could invest in 10 shows.  Or you could produce a NYMF show and be an above-the-title Producer on an Off Broadway show.  Or you could produce four Equity Showcases.  Or you could intern for three Broadway Producers for three years for free, using that tuition to live on.  The combinations are endless.

All of the above is going to give you a heck of a lot more experience, knowledge, and training than any school could provide.  And you’re going to leave with a real-life resume that’s going to open doors, increase your ability to raise money, maybe get you some nominations, or more.

You know how I know I’m right about this?  Take a look at the resumes of some of the Broadway Producers you admire.  See any MFAs in theater anywhere?  That’s what I thought.

If you want to teach, go to grad school.

If you want to be a lawyer, or a doctor, go to grad school.

But if you want to be a Producer, save the time and the money, and get out there and produce.

 

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Comments
  • You do however see a number of MBA’s in the resume of Broadway producers (as many folks come from finance or other industries). What are your thoughts on pursuing an MBA– especially if you are interested in running a production company long term?

  • Lyndsay Austin says:

    Same question as Megan, what about an MBA?

  • Annoying Producer Friend says:

    I completely disagree with you Ken. Have you heard of Barbara Whitman and Hal Luftig???? Oh yeah, they are two TONY WINNING lead producers that have their MFA. You might want to check your facts Ken before you make statements that aren’t true. $150,000 is really just investing in a Broadway show, but not producing, which is a completely different story. Oh yeah Randy Adams of Junkyard Dogs also has his MFA and won a Tony as a lead producer. I’m just saying!!

  • Ima Unimpressed says:

    Seems odd for someone who is so focused on networking and building relationships to alienate an entire group like this. So you didn’t take that path…so what? It doesn’t mean its a bad path. As a MFA Producing student I have worked in more Broadway offices than in all my previous years in the city. Your colleges see the value of the MFA and for someone’s who has so much ego wrapped in being a challenger of old industry ways of thinking, I am surprised you are so quick to shut this down. Throwing money at a show doesn’t teach you how to produce, nor does it make you a Tony winner. Producing makes you a producer and there is a lot of different paths to learn how to do that.

  • Producer Pete says:

    You are a Tony winning producer for Kinky Boots, correct? Doesn’t a producer have to show up for Advertising meetings on occasion to be considered a producer? Or do you just buy the title and move to the next thing. I’ll take knowledge over hollow credits any day.

  • Matt Windman says:

    But you are assuming the student has $150,000 to spare. A student with no money can take out federal student loans worth $150,000 easily, but they can’t choose to put money they don’t have in the first place to other uses. Nevertheless, your point stands, and I wish my law school loan money could have gotten me top billing on a Broadway marquee.

  • Frank says:

    Wow. There is a lot of hate being thrown about here. Calm down… step away from the keyboard and breathe.

    Ken is only saying that an MFA may not be the best option for people looking to break in to the business of producing. He is not taking a shot at the educational merits of MFA’s.

    As anyone who has ever gotten a new job can attest… the best training comes on the job, not before the job.

    • Andrew says:

      He didn’t say “may not be.” That would be a statement I could agree with. He said don’t even consider wasting your time and money. That’s a not so subtle difference.

  • Sean says:

    An interesting opinion…which I happen to disagree with.

    Spending 7 years of your life studying multiple disciplines such as acting, directing, design, writing, dramaturgy, production…understanding scansion; how actors approach their craft; what the difference between Stanislavsky and Meisner is; understanding Peter Brook, The Empty Space, Shakespeare…how to design a set, hang a light, gel it, put mics on actors and engage in the entire production process…immersed…write a thesis, defend your artistic ideas to a committee of your professors?

    I believe the exact opposite. Being a producer with the ability to understand how an actor is approaching their moment to moment journey, how a director is utilizing the transition to connect ideas and the simple understanding of communion with the audience, only would make stronger producers.

    I often share that the job of the producer is to walk the fine line between art and commerce.

    I certainly don’t believe you think the only way to be a good producer is the capacity to raise money. In fact, we all know that does not make a producer in the least. That is one single skill set…a very important skill none the less. But certainly not a skill specific and reserved for the American Theatre as Mark Cuban can attest to…but I’m not sure he would be the strongest choice to discuss the dramaturgical beats in the opening number of An American in Paris.

    An MFA isn’t the only way to become a highly skilled producer, but it certainly is as valid a path as any.

    PS…your assertion of dumping $150k into an investment of a Broadway show with a 70%+ failure rate vs. investing in your education is baffling.

  • RICK says:

    Well, this was an interesting read…Lots of interesting comments…Of all the small community shows I have produced, directed, and been in….my BFA degree along with my …”It’s a Hard Knock Life”…thanks Annie…has been my best asset…thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments…and Ken,…Keep up this great work!

  • Precious says:

    So that’s the case? Quite a reoavetiln that is.

  • AND, I experienced a lot of hate speech when I first started working for PP. Maybe YOU haven’t seen it, but it happens. And what matters is what the workers are hearing from their employer. They are hearing that pro-lifers are violent and out to harm them. It really doesn’t matter what you think about it…their perception is what matters.

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