Artistic Development

Artistic Development

The development of your artistic mindset

One of the most important transitions in the development of a student and especially a student of the arts is the transition from attendant/follower to self-reliant initiator.    This is not a question about the kind of person you are, but rather how you engage (or not) your own education.  You may be a leader or an initiator in many aspects of your personal life, but still be a rather passive ‘attendant’ or follower in your education.  In fact, most teenagers develop social skills far in advance of their intellectual development.

Unfortunately, the culture of our education system does not encourage or facilitate the development of self-reliance or the skills of initiation. Our education system was designed around intentions to ‘teach’ children to behave and to ultimately create employees to serve the needs of the industrial revolution- people who could reliably repeat the same task on a perpetual assembly line.  So, our education system functions by coercing children to ‘behave’ through applications of rewards and punishments.  Good behavior gets rewarded, bad behavior gets punished. Consequently students learn that their responsibility for their own education is simply to do what they are told- that the authorities determine what is to be learned and how it is to be learned and the student simply complies.  With sufficient complicity, students are conferred with ‘achievement’ in the form of a grade, credit, or diploma.

This approach is not without some merit.  Many important skills and values are taught and reinforced through it.  The problem is that the sophistication and complexity of learning beyond a certain point requires the curiosity and intention of the student in order to advance.  Abstract concepts, synthesized arguments, and disparate correlations in analysis cannot be taught simply by a student doing what he or she is told to do.

So, if you think that the completion of the theater major course of study (or that of any major within the liberal arts at any school) will completely prepare you to move into the world and do great artistic work, you are sadly mistaken.  People who succeed and accomplish in their fields are not people who wait to be told what and how to study and prove their knowledge.  Rather, they are people with strong interests, ideas and intentions which they explore and investigate for themselves and the rewards and achievements they have defined for themselves.  Your experience at UVa-Wise CAN be an amazing transformative educational experience, but only if you exploit that opportunity for your own intentions for all that it has to offer.  If you simply wind your way around and through the minimal expectations set to pass, that is likely how you will encounter all of the opportunities out there in the world- just passing.

If you want to truly exploit the opportunity you are being offered in your education at UVa-Wise, you will have to initiate and engage your own educational interests and you will have to do a lot of work outside those expectations set forth in your course syllabi.  If you want to truly transform and grow as an individual within your field of interest, you need to read a variety of materials, engage discussion about your work with classmates and faculty in addition to those discussions required of you, and you will take on additional responsibilities that provide practical experience- opportunities to practice what you are thinking about.

Below are some ways to get started with that process of taking charge of your own artistic education. 

Co-curricular Production Experience

Get involved in productions sponsored by the division of theater.  These opportunities are specifically designed and structured for you to explore, experiment, and practice the skills and accomplishments that you are reading about, thinking about, and discussing with your classmates and professors.  Whether onstage or behind the scenes, productions are the places where you gain the confidence, knowledge, and growth that only comes from practice and experience.

Don’t just meander through the experience unconsciously doing what you are told, however.  Set goals for yourself.   Read books about different approaches to the work that you are involved in and look at how others have describe achieving some of those goals that you have set for yourself.  Talk with your classmates and professors about your goals, the production process, and the quality of your accomplishments throughout that process.


While there are aspects of learning that only come from discipline and isolation, an important part of growth is the integration of individual learning and accomplishment back into the community.  Cultural Anthropologist Wilhelm Dilthey said that no experience is complete until it is expressed.   So, sharing your thoughts and questions for the books you have read and the experiences you have practiced are critical to your learning and development.  Artists and thinkers need to talk, debate and find consensus with other artists and thinkers.  Engage your classmates and your teachers and directors.  Dissect the projects and processes that you are engaged in together and describe the goals and aspirations that you bring to those projects.

See how other people conceive of and think about similar experiences and goals and learn from their ideas and intentions.    These kinds of discussions can be just as interesting as stimulating as social interactions or the latest gossip… and they can be ten times as productive!


Learning from experience is cornerstone of a good education.  However, no individual can encounter the breadth of experience represented by the collective understanding and experience of a community.  Whether from a local, regional, or global community, it is critical to try to understand how others have approached and defined the practices that you are engaging in.  While local communities can and should gather for conversation and debate, the larger artistic communities of the world have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with you and assist in your growth and achievement.  Taking advantage of that collected wisdom will require some discipline and autonomy.  However, the exponential growth in understanding that will come from that investment is well worth the sacrifice.  Read!  Read how great practitioners within your field have described and accomplished their achievements.  Read people who disagree with each other on what something means or how you accomplish it.  Read plays you might want to do or plays you can’t imagine being done.  Read histories and context and think about the causes behind artistic practices and aesthetics.  Read so that you can talk with other people about your field, about theater practices generally, and about life and society.  Read for a common vocabulary with which you can converse with others.  Read for new ideas of things you might experiment with in your own work and practice.  Read anything that interests you and read FOR your interest.  You don’t have to finish every book, you can read the chapter about your interest.  You can skim for the content that is relevant to your intentions or decide that a certain book may not be what you are interested in at the moment and look for another.  The important thing is to be curious enough to continue to search for new ideas, definitions, questions, and experiments.  Suggestions for readings can be found here.

Internships and Extra-curricular Production Experience

Obviously there are opportunities for learning and experience outside of those productions offered by or through the theater division at UVa-Wise.  Some of those are experiences that you will probably have to wait to engage until you have graduating.  However, it is never too early to begin researching those opportunities and the expectations they have of their participants.  If you wait until you graduate, you will have a lot of work to do before you can even begin applying for various positions and jobs in artistic fields and you will no longer have access to all the resources provided you by the college- resources for advice, access and assistance.

While limited there are also opportunities that you may engage while still in school, during a specific semester or over the summer.  These opportunities can vary widely from assisting with a professional production to studying at another school overseas.  All of those opportunities, however, require research and preparation.  Like most opportunities, they won’t come looking for you, you have to seek them out.

Professional Theater

While there are a wealth of different ‘jobs’ and vocations to which you can apply your knowledge and experience from studying theater, it is likely that you have some particular interest in pursuing professional work directly in the field of theater.  If you have exploited the many opportunities afforded you by UVa-Wise and followed most the advice for complimenting your course of study offered here, then you are probably ready to begin further education by working within a professional theater environment.   As mentioned above, this will require some research and preparation.  Though some websites may entice you to believe otherwise, there is not clearinghouse for all the job opportunities that exist in theater in this country.  You actually have to research and investigate those opportunities for yourself.

So, where do you start?  The best place to start is by trying to narrow your objectives down a bit.  What is it specifically that you are willing and interested in doing?  What are your highest priorities:  pay, location, type of work, type of institution, etc.?  Narrowing your intentions give you a way to start your research.  You can always expand your search, but you have to start somewhere so think about what is most important to you and begin your research there.

Once you know what you are looking for, determine what expectations they have of their employees or participants.  Do you need to prepare audition pieces and if so, what are the requirements?  Do you need a resume headshot or a portfolio?  How do you initiate your interest/application.  Can you write or call the company or institution?  Do you have to participate in a group hiring process like an audition or job fair?   Once you know what you need prepare, you can begin to organize your work, set goals and develop timelines.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Very few people get the first job they apply, interview, or audition for.  You normally have to make dozens or even hundreds of applications get your foot into the door of the type of job or the type place that you want to work.  Your schooling has given you the tools to do the work if you have engage those processes adequately, but you still have to go out and find the job/s and earn the position.  Just like with your school work, you will find the opportunities to the extent that you are willing to look for them.   If you take the easiest way forward, you’ll have very limited options.  If you are willing to research, investigate and really look for the work you want, you will find a lot more than what is listed in the local classified adds.

While there is no clearinghouse of all theater jobs, there are some places with a wider variety of opportunities to explore than individual theaters or institutions.  Some of those to explore are:

Artsearch at                


Broadly educated and self-reliant artists don’t have to wait around for companies or institutions to make work for them.  Ambitious artists with strong aesthetic ideas often create and produced their own work.   Whether working odd jobs to support their artistic ambitions, fundraising for projects or organizations, or obtaining grants, resourceful artists can develop the means to provide for their own creative work.  Writing, directing, designing, rehearsing and producing don’t have to be separate disciplines maintained by an institution or business.

Graduate School

Another obvious opportunity to continue your education and advance your artistic developments can be found in the pursuit of a graduate degree.  There are numerous institutions and programs offering graduate study in theater.  Some are highly specialized courses of study within a particular theatrical field.  Others are general programs offering a continuation of the broad course of study that you participated in at UVa-Wise.

Generalist programs often offer Master Degrees, while specialized courses of study offer Masters of Fine Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy Degrees.  Both the MFA and PhD degrees of specialized courses of study are terminal degrees qualifying the graduate to teach at the college level.  Generalist Masters Degrees (MA) can allow a graduate to teach at the college level, but usually preclude someone from rising through promotions to ‘higher’ positions within a given institution.

Many of the strongest and most competitive graduate programs in theater do not accept students right out of their undergraduate education, but prefer to select students who have gone out into the world and continued their theater studies and experience in venues other than school- community theater, professional theater, independent projects, etc.

Like job hunting, Graduate School applications require a degree of research and preparation.

Film and Television

While your study of theater at UVa-Wise has not been targeted to the practices of film or television, most of the skills of theater can be reapplied in those media as well.  There are a great number of technical and production jobs in the film and television industry.  Acting jobs are much harder to come by and are often based much more on the appearance of the actor than his or her acting abilities.  There are two important things to consider if you are interested in the film or television industry.  First, to make a living full-time in this industry, you would most likely have to live in a major metropolitan area and would have the most opportunities in New York City or Los Angeles.  The second consideration is that while film and television draw on many of the same skills as theater, the process is VERY different than theater.  In theater everything is centered around the actor.  In film, everything is centered around the camera and the director.  Unless you are working in lighting or photography (Cinematography or Videography) much of your experience in film and television will involve waiting!  If you are interested in these fields, consider speaking with faculty about those differences and how you can prepare for those fields specifically.

Reading Recommendations:

Books on the practice of making Theater


Important Plays in Theater History
Practical Handbook for the Actor Oedipus
Method or Madness Antigone
The End of Acting Electra
At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions Lysistrata
Why is That So Funny? The Oresteia Trilogy
Dream of Passion The Duchess of Malfi
Respect for the Actor Hamlet
Challenge to the Actor King Lear
The Art of Acting Macbeth
Stanford Meisner on Acting Midsummer Night’s Dream
Presence of the Actor Twelfth Night
On Directing Life is a Dream
A Director Prepares She Stoops to Conquer
Fundamentals of Directing The Cid
Backwards and Forwards Tartuffe
How to Read a Play The Missanthrope
Boleslavski; The First Six Lessons The Marriage of Figaro
The Viewpoints Book The Beggars Opera
The Alexander Workbook Valpone
Awareness through Movement The Prince of Homburg
Freeing the Natural Voice Woyzeck
Voice and the Actor The Inspector General
The Actor and the Text Peer Gynt
The Scenographic Imagination A Doll’s House
The Dramatic Imagination Enemy of the People
The Stage Manager’s Handbook Miss Julie
Three Uses of the Knife HeddaGabler
The Empty Space The Cherry Orchard
True and False Uncle Vanya
The Origins of the Theater Endgame
Towards a Poor Theater Waiting for Godot
Theater and its Double The Rhinoceros
Theater of the Oppressed The Bald Soprano
Games for Actors and Non-Actors Arms and the Man
Brecht on Theater Six Characters in Search of an Author
From the Page to the Stage Orpheus
The Magic Garment Mother Courage
The Grammar of Ornament Caucasian Chalk Circle
Audition Ice Man Cometh
The Necessity of Theater The Visit
To the Actor Betrayal
Great Acting Teachers and their Methods Angels in America
Comic Mask in Commedia Dell ‘Arte Ubu Roi
On Theatre The Spanish Tragedy
The Moving Body Edward II
The Process of Theatre The Changeling
From Ritual to Theatre Uncle Tom’s Cabin
An Actor Prepares Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Building a Character Blasted
Creating a Role Slave Ship
Theatre of the Absurd Topdog/Underdog
Theatre in Crisis Talking to Terrorists
Theatre and the Good Cloud 9
Performance Theory Twilight Los Angeles
Homo Ludens True West
Sociodrama: Who’s in your shoes Glengarry Glenn Ross
The Tricks of the Trade Fences
Impro I am my own Wife
Impro for Storytellers The Rover
Commedia Dell ‘Arte Ubu and the Truth Commission
Truth in Comedy The Importance of Being Earnest