Acting and illustration majors compete for limited-enrollment admission

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Professors in acting and in illustration fields search for students who are willing to take risks and express their creativity through artistic forms. Determining who will be in these programs is no easy task, especially considering the amount of talented students at BYU.

Students are competing against some of the most talented and driven students in Utah County, but can succeed inside the high-competition majors, or outside of them, by putting their hearts into their work.

Jasmine Fullmer poses with other actors in the play Misalliance. BYU acting majors audition every semester to advance in the program. (Facebook/Jasmine Fullmer)

BYU theater and arts assistant Lindsi Neilson said the percentage of students who get into the acting major ranges anywhere from 20 to 30 percent on a yearly basis.

In the 2013–2014 school year, 16 percent of applicants to the acting major were admitted into the program, according to the undergraduate catalog. This was down from the 2012–2013 year, in which 21 percent of applicants were admitted, and up from 2011–2012, when 12 percent of applicants were admitted. The maximum number of participants is 32.

The only other majors with lower admittance rates were commercial music (12 percent) and vocal performance (13 percent).

“Not being accepted into the program doesn’t mean you can’t take any acting classes,” Neilson said. “You can still audition to get into the acting classes. You just aren’t eligible to graduate with a BFA in acting.”

Senior Jasmine Fullmer, who in the acting program, said she started acting at a young age and knew it was something she wanted to pursue.

“When I came to college I had to think a lot about if (acting) was something I was going to dedicate my life to,” Fullmer said. “You can’t go halfway with acting as your profession. You either have to be all in or find something else. For me, I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”

Acting majors are required to audition every semester in order to stay in the program. These auditions are called proficiencies.

“Proficiencies are basically auditions that anybody who wants to can (audition),” Neilson said. “They get a score between one and five and then that determines their eligibility to get into the program or get into the next level of classes.”

Fullmer explained that students spend the entire semester practicing two monologues. At the end of the semester, they perform them in front of three professors in the acting program. The professors compare the students against each other and determine which ones will move forward.

“If (the students) don’t do well and they have below sixty credit hours, then they can do a third proficiency and try again,” Neilson said. “If they have about sixty credit hours and they’ve already auditioned two or three times, then they can’t be let into the program.”

Because the acceptance rate into the acting program at BYU is so low, many students have to apply to programs they weren’t planning on applying to.

Neilson said most students decide to do theater and art studies so they can still take acting classes even though they aren’t in the acting program.

Fullmer said success in the acting business is not dependent on graduating with a BFA in acting.

Daniel Sappenfield poses with T.C. Christensen, the director of “Ephraim’s Rescue.” (Facebook/Daniel Sappenfield)

BYU student Daniel Sappenfield didn’t pass his proficiencies and decided to major in graphic design instead. Since then, Sappenfield has been in multiple films, including “Ephraim’s Rescue.” He is currently working for the acting company Talent Management Group in Salt Lake City.

Illustration majors also have to compete to get accepted into the program. Justin Kunz, assistant professor in the department of design, said the type of students the admissions staff are looking for must be unique, creative and visionary.

Only one in four students get accepted into the illustration major, according to Kunz.

“We expect and encourage (students) to keep a sketchbook,” he said. “It’s like a diary. It’s just like a writer that keeps a writer’s notebook. A writer is constantly writing. An illustrator is constantly sketching. That’s just a part of how we work and communicate.”

The sketchbook and other artwork samples are given to illustration professors as part of the student’s application to the program. Together the professors decide which students are able to communicate real feelings through their artwork.

“Do they have a unique look and feel to their work?” Kunz said regarding what they look for in the application process. “Are they developing real ideas or are they just drawing Batman and Spiderman?”

A design studio in Harris Fine Arts Center is shown. Students spend hours here once they are accepted into the illustration program. (Daniel Sappenfield)

Kunz said professors can tell if interesting things are happening in students’ heads as they evaluate artwork.

“It’s surprising,” Kunz said. “We’ve had students who are very sweet, mild-mannered, meek, quiet, and yet their drawings have to do with death, horror and things like that. So it’s not always a match that you would expect between personality and artist.”

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