Widely considered by many as the top acting school in the world, here is an in-depth review of my alma mater!
If you're an auditioning drama student about to audition for schools, here is what you need to know about Juilliard’s B.F.A. and M.F.A. actor training program.
NOTE: Whenever this article refers to "Juilliard", it means the Drama Division, not any other division.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I attended Juilliard and graduated with a B.F.A. in Acting in 2009.
Let’s dive in!
What Juilliard says about Juilliard...
According to their website, actors come to Juilliard to:
strengthen their capacity for expression in both body and voice
practice bringing vulnerability and empathy to their understanding of character
to develop an approach to storytelling that includes careful attention to text and engagement with the world
study with others who share intellectual and imaginative daring, generosity of spirit, and a fierce commitment to truthful play.
I would agree with that.
Couple of big picture things about Juilliard:
It’s a 4-year program and right around 18 students get accepted each year.
Out of those 18, some are getting their B.F.A. and some are getting their M.F.A. Obviously if you’ve already gotten you’re B.F.A., you’ll be getting your M.F.A. If you don’t have your B.F.A. yet, that’s what you’ll be getting when you graduate. Regardless of which degree you’re getting, you’re all taking the same classes except one class (read on...)!
The only difference in curriculum between the 2 degrees is that B.F.A. students have to take an additional class called Humanities (which is academics) 3hrs a week. In this Humanities class, it’s cool because you’re with dancers and musicians, and you read great classic literature (like Tao Te Ching, Sylvia Plath, The Odyssey and more) and write a paper on them every 6 weeks or so. THAT'S IT. Otherwise, there are no other academics. You’re in a rigorous actor training program with your class and nobody cares who’s getting what degree.
As far as WHO gets accepted, it’s diverse. A Juilliard acting student from decades ago who works with current students made a positive comment on “...the racial, cultural, and age diversity of the students coming in every year. In my class, the oldest person was, I think, 22 years old at the start, and most were a year or two out of high school.” There is not a prescribed amount of any particular person they’re obligated to accept (age, race, sex, background, etc). Also, good academics (like a certain GPA or standardized test scores) are NOT required to get accepted to Juilliard.
How much do actors perform during the 4 years?
You work on high quality literature (from brand new plays all the way back to the Greeks) and you perform in at least 3 plays every year. You get cast by the faculty, no auditions ever.
In the first 2 years, you have what are called “Showings” or “Rehearsal Projects”. These are plays that have a full rehearsal process and are shown for a few performances to a limited audience. Showings are not open to the public. They are only open to faculty and invited guests, like family and friends. My class had some awesome Rehearsal Projects in the first 2 years, which included:
All My Sons by Arthur Miller
The Greeks, 3 plays
Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
Richard III by Shakespeare
Brand new plays from the Juilliard playwright’s program.
Street Scene by Elmer Rice And more...
In the last 2 years of the training, you are performing for the paying public and they are full-on professional productions (with hired directors and designers on the show.) Sometimes they’ll even hire a guest actor to join the production. I remember my acting teacher was hired for one production and it was cool to watch her act. The last performance you do is an industry showcase at the end of your 4th year and you’re let off into the real world. Some of the productions we did were:
As You Like It by Shakespeare
‘Night Mother by Marsha Norman
Joe Turner's Come and Gone by August Wilson
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas
The Misanthrope by Moliere And more...
The Training & Faculty
Juilliard does not focus on one specific acting technique (like Meisner or “Method” etc).
The acting teachers have decades of experience working with actors to improve their overall storytelling skills. They are always helping you approach your craft with the most powerful and timeless acting pillars:
Raising the stakes
Listening and responding
Living in the unknown
Operating in the given circumstances
Making bold choices
Getting great at those is a lifelong journey anyway, so you’re creating a great foundation in class and it’s always challenging. The acting teachers always encourage the students to bring something into class that reflects what they want to work on for their growth, and you usually go up in class twice or three times a month with a scene before moving on to the next one.
The faculty is dedicated, available, talented, empathetic, qualified, and very enjoyable to be around...most of the time. :)
There is a heavy focus on fundamental breathing techniques, speech work, physical expression, stamina and energy.
Juilliard dives deep into all aspects of the actor’s full instrument. Unlike the acting training, Juilliard DOES subscribe to specific techniques here. For example, when it comes to energy work and alignment, Juilliard students are taught the Alexander Technique. When it comes to speech, it's Speak With Distinction by Edith Skinner (a former Juilliard faculty member).
All technical classes get you more in touch with your full instrument and allow you to harness everything you’ve got in order to excel in any role.
I can say that many of these techniques and practices still live in my body and continue to serve me not only in acting but in many aspects of my life including personal well-being and business success.
There are coaches in the rehearsal rooms. So when you’re rehearsing, you’re getting acting notes from the director as well as vocal notes from the vocal coach and energy notes from the Alexander coach.
Some students enjoy this, some don’t. It’s true that sometimes you feel like “I don’t want vocal notes, I’m trying to act.” But other times you’re like “That’s a really good note and it freed me up.” So I personally wouldn’t change it, but it’s definitely pretty hands-on for all 4 years.
Four times a year, you sit down across from each faculty member and get feedback on your work and progress. Yikes!
Sometimes these reviews leave students super stressed (for obvious reasons), and sometimes super encouraged. Either way, it's a dedicated moment for you to talk with each faculty member individually about how you're doing, and the intention is to ultimately gain clarity and move forward powerfully.
I'll put it this way. In one faculty review, I was relaxed and dancing and laughing. In another one, I was yelling back at my teacher saying they're wrong. And each of my classmates can probably tell you a very interesting/entertaining faculty review story. Ha! Ultimately, it's all feedback and just like I tell my students when I coach their audition monologues, "you can take it or leave it, it's your call."
Juilliard has a cut system. Not anymore. In fact, a new faculty member who was a student 35 years ago (when the cut system was in full effect) acknowledged the huge change in today's program. He appreciates “the commitment to keeping every student who’s accepted—when I was here, there was a mandatory cut system.” Yay!
Juilliard creates snobby acting robots.
I can’t speak to the snobby part because that’s person by person. I can be a snob sometimes. Ha! But the "robots" thing has really been eliminated for the most part with the emergence of new leadership over the past 10-15 years.
These days, with the endless amount of content being created on different streaming platforms and such, it's necessary for the modern actor to be super flexible and bring authenticity to more unique voices, so Juilliard encourages its students to be the opposite of robots in that regard.
Juilliard Drama (and the entire Juilliard School) is currently under new leadership as of the 2019-2020 school year. The Drama Division is now headed by Evan Yionoulis, former head of the Yale M.F.A. Drama program, and her initiatives include more alumni/current student connection (which I can verify has definitely been the case and I know it’s appreciated) as well as encouraging student-initiated projects and interdisciplinary activity with dancers and musicians.
There is a Juilliard Playwriting Program, and it fosters collaboration between exciting new playwrights and Juilliard actors. The inclusion of those playwrights in the acting program is a huge perk for both the actors and the playwrights.
Best thing about Juilliard
Quality and depth of training
Credible name behind you as you enter the industry
Network after school is tight. It’s kind of like the West Point of actor training - it's considered the best, there’s not many of us in the world who went there, and when you meet another Juilliard actor there’s a mutual respect for sure and often an underlying enthusiasm to support one another.
Worst thing about Juilliard
Their apparel. My Goodness, it’s like, can’t you offer something we actually WANT to wear?? Just kidding, but not really.
In all seriousness, it’s easy to get brainwashed into thinking that "good technique = good acting". Whatever school you go to, resist leaning too heavily into technique in order to perform well. You are the artist. Your raw, emotional originality is vital to everything you do in school or out (rehearsal or performance). When you get out into the real world, casting directors won't care as much about you hitting the “T” at the end of “trumpet”, or that you have good posture. People are most interested in how your work makes them feel.
If you want the best conservatory training in the world, Juilliard is the scene.
Did I mention you’re in NYC? It's an invigorating city for sure, and just living there can be an education in itself. Specifically to your training though, it's a HUGE advantage for your career!
Use your last 2 years of school to invite NYC agents and casting directors to your shows if you want to jumpstart your career and develop relationships with the folks who will give you jobs after school.