For an aspiring actor, no city is more exciting, inspiring, and potentially door-opening than Los Angeles. Luckily, the City of Angels is home to some incredibly strong acting schools where students can hone their craft, gain stage and screen experience, and network with peers and industry professionals.
With Hollywood in your backyard, world-famous actors as your neighbors (well, almost), and a buzzing hub of media, television, movies, and drama all around, LA is the perfect backdrop to pursue a degree in acting.
Nowadays, it’s very rare to waltz into an audition and land a break-out role successfully. Contemporary young actors need training, industry know-how, and connections. That’s exactly what acting schools provide.
Acting school students study both theory and practice, linking drama concepts and philosophy with actual on-stage and/or on-screen experience. That’s a powerful combination. Acting school students also benefit from being enmeshed in a community of fellow thespians, learning from some of the world’s best actors and theatre professionals. Aspiring actors can truly eat, sleep, and breathe their craft.
In this article, we’ll highlight College Gazette’s picks for 10 acting schools in Los Angeles and discuss what makes each of them unique. These schools truly live up to the “lights, camera, action” of LA, and offer aspiring actors countless opportunities for students to strengthen their acting skills, explore new genres, learn from professional actors, and connect with peers and industry professionals in search of new talent. These schools are the training ground of the most compelling actors of tomorrow.
Here are 10 of the best acting schools in Los Angeles.
California State University, Northridge
CSUN’s Theatre Department offers young thespians a well-rounded undergraduate education in theatrical production, theatre history, literature, and criticism, as well as the ins and outs of the acting profession.
All theatre majors are required to participate in theatre and production activities through the department each semester. Given that the department puts on seven or more full-length productions of stage dramas, musicals, and operas each year, theatre students have no shortage of opportunities to stand in the spotlight. These productions are like a living laboratory for theatre majors: this is where students test out the theories, methods, philosophies, and skills they learn in class.
In addition to the wide-ranging B.A. in Theatre, CSUN also offers a number of specialized Theatre minors for students who want to pair their study of theatre with a major in another field. Theatre minors can concentrate on acting/directing, design/production, history/literature, or musical theatre.
California State University, Los Angeles
Cal State LA’s Department of Theatre and Dance invites aspiring actors to pursue a liberal arts undergraduate degree in Theatre with a specialization in Performance. Cal State LA’s program aims to help aspiring thespians “discover and develop their own unique voices in a collaborative, diverse, inclusive, community-centered, and enriching learning environment.”
Situated in the heart of the entertainment industry, Cal State LA not only offers students interdisciplinary learning opportunities within the university, but also matches students with exciting opportunities in the bustling artistic community of LA. Students study performance theory, putting their knowledge into practice with live productions. Participating in department productions is mandatory. Theatre majors with an interest in movement arts can also pursue a minor in Dance within the department.
At Occidental College, a.k.a. “Oxy”, the Theater program is on a mission to help students “Find your voice.” Oxy welcomes students into the study and practice of the art of Theater by challenging them to explore themselves and others “through theory, production and performance — over time, across cultures, and technology.”
Oxy Theater majors get a comprehensive education in the theory, practice, history, and current and future trends in production and performance.
Oxy makes frequent use of all the theater-related opportunities present in Los Angeles, the world’s entertainment capital, by connecting students with industry professionals and production companies. The theater program is multifaceted, consisting of the stage, studio, and classroom work under the guidance of highly regarded professors and visiting artists who are successful in the fields of film, television, and theater. Within the theater program, students can elect to concentrate on nearly a dozen different aspects of theater, including acting.
Loyola Marymount University
The Theatre Arts program at Loyola Marymount views theatre as a “laboratory for the study of life,” a way to learn more about what it means to be human through performing drama. Students benefit from small, intimate classes in everything ranging from acting, directing, and design to theatre technology, playwriting, history, and criticism. In addition to training students for careers in film, television, and theatre, LMU’s program emphasizes highly applicable and transferable communication and leadership skills that can help students make a positive impact in the world.
Some notable LMU alumni include Chris Sullivan, best known for his role as Toby on the wildly popular TV show This Is Us, and Linda Cardellini, who many people recognize from her roles in the Scooby-Doo films and Legally Blonde. Amber White, production stage manager for Hamilton: An American Musical on Broadway, is also an LMU alum.
American Musical Dramatic Academy
American Musical Dramatic Academic begins with the premise that “acting is a calling, an aspiration to the extraordinary […], the purest examination of human nature.” In order to prepare students to make a career out of their calling, the Acting program helps aspiring actors cultivate discipline, discernment, and a foundation of strong acting technique. AMDA acting graduates go on to work in stage, film, and television.
AMDA’s BFA Acting program is pre-professional in nature and geared towards each student’s individual interests and talents. As students advance in their degree, they can take highly specialized and practical courses on topics like stage combat, dialects, and dance and movement. The program also integrates coursework in entrepreneurship, audition techniques, and networking to ensure that students graduate ready to meet the professional performance industry’s competitive demands. In their final term, students collaborate on an original showcase that incorporates the strengths of each performer.
Pepperdine is a Christian university perched on the gorgeous hills of Malibu. Theatre Arts majors can choose to specialize in one of four areas, including Acting. Students on the Acting track learn to put Stanislansky’s acting principles into practice, study tried and true voice and movement techniques, and participate in engaging masterclasses led by professional teachers and performers.
Pepperdine’s Theatre Arts program is small by design, ensuring that students get tons of hands-on learning opportunities and valuable feedback from their professors and mentors. Students are encouraged to “create art that has the power to change lives, hearts, and minds.”
Theatre Arts majors have the unique opportunity to spend a summer in Scotland through the Edinburgh Summer Program/Pepperdine Scotland, where they travel throughout Scotland, learn to mesh British and American styles, and perform at festivals such as the International Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
California Institute of the Arts
The Acting Program at California Institute of the Arts exists to support students in becoming diversely talented theater artists capable of recognizing and capitalizing upon their creative and professional passions. CalArts attracts imaginative, fervent, innovative aspiring actors who want to share their voices and stories with others.
CalArts’ BFA in Acting is craft-oriented and designed to prepare students to be working actors. Students in the Acting program are viewed as actor-artists, and are encouraged to pursue what calls to them, particularly if it is experimental or outside-the-box. CalArts wants students to push the boundaries of what they think they are capable of actor-artists, and also push the boundaries of the art form itself.
The BFA draws on the best of classical actor training but brings all lessons up to the present day and keeps a finger on the pulse of where the art form is headed in the 21st century. The curriculum places “a strong emphasis on movement and physical expression as a means to unlock the imagination” and progressively builds towards more professional performance experiences in line with the student’s individual goals and interests.
In Chapman’s Department of Theatre, aspiring actors can choose one of three paths: a BA in Theatre, BFA in Theatre Performance, or BFA in Screen Acting. The BA track is a broad liberal arts program with a major in Theatre. The BFA degrees are more pre-professional in natural, focusing on performance and industry readiness. Interestingly, the BFA in Screen Acting is offered in collaboration with the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
Regardless of which path students choose, they benefit from a strong, vibrant theatre community and curriculum. Students take part in high-quality performances and enjoy the close-knit camaraderie and access to faculty that a small university provides. Theater majors also get to experience real-world production first-hand by working onstage and backstage with organizations like Shakespeare Orange County.
The Department of Theatre aims to ready students for the profession by emphasizing strong professional ethics and career preparation.
University of California, Los Angeles
UCLA is known as one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States, with an overall acceptance rate of just 14%. US News and World Report ranks UCLA #20 nationally (ahead of famous rival UC Berkeley), and the acting program definitely lives up to UCLA’s luminous reputation.
UCLA offers a Theatre major with an emphasis in acting. Students who choose the acting specialization are exposed to various techniques and methods in acting, vocalization, and stage movement under the guidance of accomplished faculty.
The UCLA Theatre program emphasizes that this is not a conservatory training program; this is a liberal arts degree program with a focus on theatre. UCLA Theatre majors are simultaneously scholars and artists who want to not only study and practice theatre, but also benefit from the wide-ranging resources of a top research university.
Famous alumni of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television include Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Black, Jim Morrison, James Dean, James Franco, and Ben Stiller.
University of Southern California
The University of California offers aspiring actors the best of all worlds: it’s located in the heart of LA, it’s a nationally top-ranked university (#24) with worldwide renown, it’s home to household name actors, and it’s cultivated many notable alumni.
Some successful actors who call USC their alma mater include Suits’ Patrick J. Adams, Roswell’s Shiri Appleby, Pretty Little Liars’ Troian Bellisario, and renowned Hollywood producer Todd Black.
Within the School of Dramatic Arts, students have many avenues to customize their experience and play to their strengths. Students can pursue a traditional BA degree or a more practice-oriented BFA, and can specialize in anything from musical theatre to sound design to tech. USC truly combines the best of tradition with the best of progressive, forward-thinking, hands-on education.