Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Recording my immediate first impressions - one week later

Yeah, so I took this little side trip after Thanksgiving down to Virginia to visit two of the grad schools that I applied to, Virginia Commonwealth University (hereafter to be referred to as VCU) and Regent University. As I was driving back, I kept thinking, "I must record my impressions right away, so I don't forget and all that valuable gut feeling stuff won't be lost!" (That, and "Boy, I'm really glad we have this satellite radio so I can listen to three straight days of NPR!") So then life happened, and here we are a week later, which isn't exactly immediately, but still isn't too terrible in the scheme of things.
I went to VCU first, as Richmond is closer to DC than Virginia Beach is, so it made a kind of logical sense. And I have to say, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Richmond. I was expecting a big, dirty city and at least the part that I was in was quite quaint and pleasant. The campus area is much like the University of Pittsburgh, with campus buildings interspersed among townhouses, apartment buildings, cafes, and small storefronts. It's a pretty, pleasant area to walk, and the parking garage only cost $5.00 for the whole day. And students are only $3.50! (At Pitt, it's more like $5.00 per hour)The arts building is medium sized, and a little shabby, which is what I've come to expect from arts buildings in general - they get a lot more hard use than lecture rooms. The people were very nice, very helpful, willing to answer all my questions. They did not audition me, although the website called it an interview/audition, and apparently the reason they did not is because there really isn't any performance quotient to the program. It's a theater pedagogy program, and it focuses pretty exclusively on teaching. In fact, many of the grad students TA the first semester and have their own classes by the second. The pro side of that is, it's great experience, and it looks great on your resume. They are very focused on post-school preparation - helping you build up your resume, write a good CV, publish articles, etc. The con side is, I'm not sure how much I'd actually LEARN, besides what I already know, about different aspects of theater. Granted, I have a good background, but there's still a lot I don't know, and part of the reason I want to go back to school is to fill in some of the gaps. Financial aid seems pretty random and kind of "do it yourself". You have to scramble for assistantships, on campus work, etc. and don't find out until very last minute what aid you've received, if any. The curriculum is quite loosely structured, allowing a lot of flexibility in designing your own program. The cost of living in Richmond seems to be even lower than Pittsburgh, although finding a good school district in an area we can afford to live in will be a challenge.
The next day I went on to Virginia Beach. (After an overnight stay in Williamsburg with my first best friend, Laura. We had a great time reminiscing about what dorks we were as kids!) My first impressions of Regent weren't all that great, but for kind of strange reasons. The campus is pretty small, and very self contained. It's set off the main drag and it really feels like you're entering your own little world when you go into it. The buildings and grounds are all beautiful and perfectly maintained. There was a swan pond, complete with swan, and a pasture with several lovely horses. There were, however, hardly any people walking around on the campus, and it had almost a Camazotz feeling to it. (Referencing "A Wrinkle in Time" - the planet where everyone is exactly the same, because they are all part of the great MIND of IT") However, it was right after Thanksgiving break, and it was COLD. So I'm assuming the people were all inside. Once I got over the strangeness of how nice everything was, I began to enjoy and appreciate it. The Arts building is HUGE and lovely - marble tiles, crystal chandeliers, hand-painted Chinese silk tapestries. Again, the people were very charming and helpful. I did have an audition, and I think it went very well. I wasn't nervous, and I did good work, so regardless of the outcome, I feel good about that part. The program is very different from VCU. It is an Acting MFA, with an option to add a Directing emphasis. It's highly structured, and pretty time-intensive. Much more like CMU. The con side is, there's little to no focus on post-grad preparation, like there is at VCU, and it doesn't seem that there would be opportunity for teaching, since the program is so intensive. However, on the pro side, I'd learn tons of stuff that I don't already know, and would really like to. Voice and Speech training, Stage Combat certification, and many performance opportunities, which also look good on resumes. The financial aid is spotty here too - there are several University and College scholarships to apply for, but nothing is guaranteed. Virginia Beach itself seemed like kind of a hard place to get around, compared to Richmond. It's definitely a driving community. Of course, there is the actual beach to factor in. Which I'm sure will be even more pleasant when the winds aren't blowing at 20mph.
So, in summary, I liked both programs, and both places, but they are very different. I think ultimately both would get me to my goals, but they are very different approaches.
The next step is the audition week which includes Yale, Brown, and the URTAs which comes up at the end of January. Then, it will be wait-and-see time.
So that's the latest school info.
Personal stuff will have to wait for now. I need coffee.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

When is Yale/Brown week?