Ask La Bricoleuse: Should I go to U/RTA or LiNK?

You may have heard about two opportunities to meet with several grad programs at once: U/RTA and LiNK. And you may wonder, what are they? Should you attend?

U/RTA stands for the University/Resident Theatres Association, a collective of professional theatres in residence at universities which offer masters study in theatrical disciplines, with significant crossover between the professional and the academic. Prospective graduate students in both performance and production foci take note of U/RTA because of their sponsorship of the National Unified Auditions/Interviews (NUA/I), held annually in NYC, Chicago, and San Fransisco or Las Vegas, where graduate applicants can meet representatives from member schools, and in some cases audition or interview for admission to their programs.

Some graduate programs in artistic development, stage management and technical disciplines interview prospective candidates at these events as well. For this reason undergrads and prospective applicants often ask me, "Should I go to U/RTA?"

As with everything else relating to graduate study, there is no cut-and-dried answer. It depends on what you hope to gain from it.

Clearly, if you are interested in a graduate program which operates within an "academic lab" paradigm (i.e., all productions are done with student actors, student directors, and student designers overseeing student-run production shops, all under the auspices of faculty advisors/mentors), or if you want a program with a costume/fashion/textile hybrid focus, U/RTA won't be of much help to you as those programs aren't members. If you want a program where there's a professional theatre component and are interested in more than one of the programs offered at member universities though, it's something to consider further.

Caveat: Some students are under the impression that attending one of the NUA/I events is akin to a "one-stop grad-school shop," that they can show up with a portfolio in a nice outfit and meet all the relevant faculty of every member organization, schedule a passel of interviews, and bam, find the perfect grad program. That's not a reasonable expectation.

Going to a NUA/I event can be a great way to get a lot of information fast, in terms of the research-arc of deciding whether a program with a resident company is for you. You *will* be able to get information on several programs at once, and have the opportunity of discussing your portfolio with some programs' faculty, and also to see the portfolios of other prospective students from other undergraduate programs. You will be able to network, meet and talk to people in your area of focus, as well as those in other performance and production disciplines. These will be valuable experiences, especially the experience of showing your portfolio. That is something you can't do too many times, and which gets exponentially easier each time, i think.

LiNK is very similar to U/RTAs, except it's newer--only six years old, while U/RTA is over 50 years in the running--and is sponsored by the Southeast Theatre Conference (SETC) and USITT. It's held in the fall, typically only at one location in the Southeast (this year in Atlanta, GA). LiNK seems to be more focused on the tech side of things, in that one day is devoted to acting auditions while two days are dedicated to design/tech portfolios/interviews. For a variety of reasons--scheduling, proximity, focus--the heads of our technical and costume production programs attend LiNK each year but not any of the U/RTAs.

Basically, my advice is this: if you live in or within a reasonable drive of a NUA/I hub city or the LiNK site(s), or have the budget to attend one as part of your graduate school research, do so! However, go with the foreknowledge of what you can expect.

First, if you are going with a preconceived list of programs in mind that you want to connect with, contact the heads of those programs in advance and make sure that someone will be in attendance who can talk to you. Though U/RTA has a pretty long membership list, it's only a small section of all the schools out there with costume-focus degrees, and not every discipline from every program will attend every NUA/I event.

For example, our school is a member, but only our MFA acting faculty attend any NUA/I event, and not every one in every city every year. So, if you were hoping to hit the NYC event and talk to someone about our Technical Production MFA program, interview and show your'd be disappointed, because our TD wouldn't be there. (Which, had you contacted him in advance, you'd know.) Same for costumes--we don't send a rep to U/RTA NUA/Is. Our Costume Director and Technical Director attend LiNK every year (though we are not yet listed on this year's site) and the national USITT conference; as those offer "more bang for the buck" visibility.

Second, be aware that you may go and not find any program that feels like a good fit, or that you may have no one indicate interest in your portfolio...and that doesn't mean you're a failure, or grad school's not for you and you'll never get into one, it just means that of the handful of programs who attended, none were a mutual match.

See, U/RTA/LiNK are like grad-school speed dating--you get a little bit of time to interact with whatever handful of programs by chance happen to be there the same time you are. You won't get to know any of them as well as you would if you went on a real date (i.e., scheduled an on-site visit to the program), but if you don't click with any of them, that doesn't mean you are unlovably doomed to a life of dateless hermitude. It just means none of these ten folks set your pants afire in five minutes flat, and you should just keep casting your net because there are a lot of fish in the sea.

If you live somewhere too far to easily drive to a NUA/I or LiNK city, you're better off starting out your research by attending a regional conference like SETC or USITT-Regional, or hitting USITT's national conference. Granted, USITT is held too late in the year to go there expecting to find a graduate program to enter that fall; you will want to attend it figuring on narrowing your choices over the next few months, with a mind to applying for the following fall, 15-16 months down the line.

And, don't let that be a discouragement--it's actually a good thing, as it gives you that much more time to prepare, add to your portfolio and resume, and learn more about every program you think might interest you!

That is my actual ultimate advice on applying to graduate school: don't rush it.

Grad school is not going anywhere, and many programs will be impressed by you taking the time to do long-term legwork. No university that offers assistantships and/or tuition waivers can afford to take a risk on admitting a poorly-informed, impulsive incoming grad student who might become disenchanted and drop out upon realizing they're actually in the wrong program or not cut out for the school's expectations and workload.

We invest a lot of responsibility in our students--they have teaching or research workloads as part of their assistantship funding, and if they can't hack it and drop out, it's a domino effect: the undergraduate students in the courses they teach or the grant-driven programs that depend on them will falter. So take your time and if you realize you need to put it off another year, no worries! It can only work in your favor.

As always, i am a big proponent of "open-source costume education" and welcome inquiries about costume-career graduate study in general, our program in particular, or really any crafts-centric topic, so feel free to comment and "Ask La Bricoleuse" any questions you have that you think i might be able to answer. I am happy to do so.

And, if you are one of the many folks who will be seeking admission to graduate programs for Fall 2020, i wish you the best of luck in your application process!

Period pattern bodice detail by Erin Rodgers


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