A fine arts program can enrich an actor’s education, but can it aid a career? 
Troy Lavallee in 'The Magnificent Cuckold' (2007)

Troy Lavallee in 'The Magnificent Cuckold' (2007)

Troy Lavallee knew he wanted to act in New York, so after graduating from Boston College in 2001, he enrolled in the three-year Master of Fine Arts program in acting at Columbia University. “Having come from a liberal arts school,” he says, “I wanted to just be able to focus on that. Live, breathe, sleep, eat that: acting, acting, acting. And it was that, and all that I could have hoped for. I mean, it was really intense. It was like a 70-hour-a-week job that you don’t get paid for.”

Since graduating from Columbia, Lavallee has been steadily building a career and has hit a few milestones along the way: He received a New York Innovative Theatre Award in 2005, was written up in The New York Times, and performs standup comedy regularly at Carolines on Broadway. He has yet to sign with an agent, however, and is carrying a debt load greater than many home mortgages: Including his undergraduate loans, he owes approximately $500,000. Asked if the MFA has been worth it, he answers with a nuance and ambivalence familiar to many who have contemplated, pursued, or earned a fine arts degree.

“Once in a while you run into the occasional agent or casting director that will appreciate the MFA,” Lavallee says. “But for the most part, the buyers and sellers don’t even know what that means. So in that respect, I can’t say that it’s helped. And I can’t say that because of the MFA I’ve been able to support myself, because I haven’t. I bartend and manage bars 50 or 60 hours a week, in addition to acting. But in terms of the training and what I’ve learned from it and how I feel when I walk into auditions and when I do shows? Then it’s priceless in the way that it’s helped.” Read the rest of this entry »