6 Tips on Preparing the Theatre School Application Portfolio

Perfecting the visual add-on to your applications.

By Heather Fishel

Portfolios can come in many shapes, forms, and departments. A portfolio is perfect for showing colleges just how skilled and creative you are – and it’s your chance to express yourself in a totally different way.

Students who apply to theatre design, production, or management programs will be required to submit a portfolio with their application. There aren’t many rules on how to craft the perfect portfolio, but there are a few ways to ensure yours lands on the top of the pile. Here are six tips to help you organize your theatre experience into a portfolio.

1. Check Each School’s Suggestions for Portfolio Materials

There’s one thing that you must include in your portfolio for every school: photographs. These can be photographs of your set designs, photographs of shows you’ve directed, or even general production photographs. It doesn’t matter if you’re applying to Boston University or Ithaca College - every school wants to see pictures of your theatre work.

For the most part, everything else that goes into your portfolio will depend on the programs, departments, and schools you’re applying to. If you’re applying to production programs, you can include programs or posters you designed. If it’s theatre design you’re interested in, schools such as Illinois State’s College of Fine Arts recommend including drawings, drafting, and sketches.

2. Use the Best Material You’ve Got

Making your portfolio stand out is simple. Submit the best, most professional work you have. Choose photos that clearly show your technical skills, or how you perfected a show’s lighting. Add fliers, programs, or posters that you’re proud of. Feel free to add a video or two as well if that’s what communicates your talent best.

An easy way to make your portfolio pop is to dress it up. If your portfolio display is eye-catching or particularly elaborate, it’ll certainly stand out. But beware: you want the material inside your portfolio to help you stand out, not the folder.

3. Don’t Make Your Resume Part of Your Portfolio

No matter what theatre school or department you apply to, you’ll need to send in a resume. Your resume shows colleges what productions you’ve worked on. It also shows them what you have experience in, and if you’ve worked in the appropriate field.

Your resume shouldn’t make an appearance in your portfolio - save that for a separate piece of paper. Your portfolio should bring your resume to life. Rather than listing your accomplishments, you’ll want to show the admissions office how you put all that talent and experience to work.

4. Avoid An All-Video Portfolio

Acting and musical theatre students are occasionally asked to submit portfolios or acting reels. If you aren’t applying to these programs, don’t rely on videos to fill your portfolio. Sure, scenes and numbers from shows you’ve worked on are a great example of what you’re capable of. But remember that when it comes to videos, the cast stands out more than anything else. You want to submit a portfolio that engages the admissions committee – so give them a behind-the-scenes look at your skills. Including different types of material in your portfolio makes for a more interesting and unique application.

5. Make Your Portfolio About Talent, Not Length

Here’s an easy way to determine how long your portfolio should be: choose quality over quantity. Don’t waste your time putting together a 35-piece portfolio. Instead, select the best examples of your theatre work that you can find and go from there. It’s rare that a performing arts college will set a strict maximum or minimum on portfolio items.

6. Keep the Display Simple

There’s no set rule on how to display your portfolio. Theatre schools require in-person interviews and auditions, so you’ll submit your portfolio at the interview rather than mailing it in.

If you’re handing in a portfolio that includes drawings, photos of shows and set you designed, or other artwork, it’s a good idea to display your portfolio in a portfolio case. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be fancy or bound in leather. Some schools, such as Mason Gross School of the Arts suggest that you display your work with an inexpensive cardboard portfolio or manila folder.

Quick Tips

  • Don’t forget to use sheet protectors to keep the work inside your portfolio safe.
  • Feel free to include material from productions that you’ve marked up and written notes on. It’ll show schools how you think and work.
  • The wider the range of your accomplishments, the more varied your portfolio should be.

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