My Journey to an MFA Acting Program
As a part of my application to MFA programs I was required to write a Personal Statement. There are numerous prompts from the different programs, but really the key is to show who you are, what makes you unique, and explain why you want to study in an MFA Acting Program. Here's what I wrote:
Personal Statement MFA: Acting
I learned everything I know about acting from a motorcycle mechanic and a pair of hearing aids. As a young boy, my father would take me to his garage and I would watch him work on bikes. I could watch him for hours. He would explain the purpose of every piece; how they fit together and how the smallest pieces worked out to amazing mechanical feats. Sometimes he would curse over a frozen bolt or a sliced knuckle, but he would always continue working. For the especially stubborn hardware he’d break out the penetrating oil or even a blowtorch. “Work smart, not hard,” he’d say. My father taught me curiosity, he taught me to understand the value of process, and he especially taught me to stay calm when being bombarded with a million questions! I have carried these lessons into my understanding of the art of acting. Something I have always admired about my father is how he handled me with great patience. Sometimes, hearing “What?” for the 3rd time can be very frustrating for a parent.
I have worn hearing aids since I was eight months old. I was born with a bilateral hearing loss, and from the moment I could talk I was in speech therapy. In the first grade, I was assigned to solo speech sessions with a tall, curly haired, blonde woman named Susan. She had a very soft voice, always looked me directly in the eyes when she spoke, and would sign as she was speaking. I regret it now, but I always told her I didn't want her to sign, mostly because I didn’t know how, but also because I didn’t want to be different from the kids who could hear just fine. At the end of every month she would let me pick a silver dollar out of a silken bag she carried with her, as a reward for my hard work and progress.
Eventually, I stopped taking the coins. I just wanted to be back in class, a coin wasn’t going to change that. My Mom, a strong Italian woman, would always remind me of how lucky I was, how smart I was, and how grateful I should be. But at the age of thirteen, I put my foot down entirely. I was done being treated differently from the kids around me. My sessions were moved to once a month, and eventually tapered off entirely. Susan would stop into class once in a while to check on me. Nowadays, when I meet people who work in Audiology they’re always shocked that I don’t have a speech impediment. I never told Susan, but she’s the sole reason why I speak with no issues. I wish I had been more grateful, but sometimes you’re a thirteen year old boy and it takes time to understand just how greatly someone can affect your life.
When I performed in Persuasion I worked with a dialect coach for the first time. Immediately, the one-on-one session felt familiar. Vowel sounds, tongue placement, and annunciation were all things I had worked on with Susan. Who would have known that my mother was right all along and that those “boring therapy sessions” really would mean a lot to me when I was older?
I have learned many lessons from my hearing impairment but the most important, and possibly the most obvious, is the ability to physically read people. I can read lips, and it is without a doubt the best way for me to understand what is going on in a conversation. But sometimes, I can’t see the person’s face that I am talking to and I have to rely on a secondary form of communication; body language. Body language will tell you almost everything you need to know about a person’s emotional state. This awareness requires a high level of focus and attention. Looking at how a person directs their hips or crosses their arms can give clues to how they are feeling. As they say, “actions speak louder than words.”
Learning the subtleties of language and body movement has made me vitally aware of my own communication. I am sensitive to the movements of my scene partners, their shifts and physical nuances, and how those nuances affect my own actions. I am naturally a very physical actor. My hearing deficit forced me to become a focused listener and an observant person. I fully believe it makes me a better partner on stage. My “disability” makes me empathetic and helps me understand the perspective of characters with obstacles. Once I learn how to refine these strengths and combine them with the internal aspects of a character, I believe I will have the foundation to be a complete actor.
I have spent my entire life training to become an actor; learning body language, the correct way to pronounce vowels, how to distinguish sounds, and most importantly how to be heard. These lessons have prepared me for the pursuit of my dreams, with a little help from a wrench and some motor oil from my father.
I am pursuing your MFA program because I want the foundation to become a versatile actor. I believe it will prepare me for achieving my goals and acting in all mediums by integrating the skills I already have into everything I have yet to learn. The actors I admire are efficient. Most rehearsal periods are finite, and having a foundation for character development is crucial. Learning to create an efficient process of exploration will improve my chance for success in all avenues of acting. My goals include physical theatre, film, writing, and directing. And, with an MFA degree, I would have the potential to share my knowledge with others who have the desire to learn.
I chose to apply to your school not only because it has an excellent training program that will provide me with a fundamental education, but also because it will expose me to an environment full of experimental and emerging artists. I’m a firm believer in the old proverb “iron sharpens iron.” Being around strong and motivated actors will make me stronger and more motivated. This would prepare me for a life in the arts. I am very thankful for the opportunity to apply to your program, and I look forward to meeting with the faculty.