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Who What Where When Why

August 9, 2010

Who: Brendan Ragan

What: The chronicles of an MFA journey.

Where: WordPress, baby.

When: Always. Starting now. Well, starting at the top of this post. Starting then.

Why:  The answer to “why a blog?” is easy. I am about to embark on a crazy adventure working at a magnificent theater in a resort community. No doubt I’l learn a lot, face some serious challenges, and take a couple of faceplants in the next three years. Don’t you want to follow along?

The answer to “why grad school?” is a far more complicated one. For those close to my heart, you know that very recently I made the decision to leave two pretty superb arts organizations  (Young Audiences of Maryland and Single Carrot Theatre) so that I could pursue my Master’s in Acting. And why did I do that, exactly?

Let me see if I can try to explain.

There is no doubt in my mind that making this decision was the hardest I’ve ever faced. I started Single Carrot from scratch. I poured blood, sweat and the warm remnants of about 971 Natty Bohs into Single Carrot, and I got to see the company grow into a thriving, nationally-respected theater brimming with potential.

Young Audiences was two years of arts administration bliss. I left as the Director of PR and Marketing, and couldn’t be more thankful for a sweet job in a balls economy.

There came a time however, at around 11:30pm on a weeknight somewhere about 7 months ago. I was slouching feebly over about two fingers of chilled Cutty Sark with an episode of Half and Half blaring in front of my squinty eyes when I realized something. I was tired. Not just physically, or emotionally, or mentally. I was spiritually tired.

Leaving for school isn’t an escape or an exit. It’s a pit stop.

After burning the midnight oil, and the morning oil, and the afternoon, midday and early evening oils, I realized that I was craving training, experience and personal exploration. I didn’t get tired of Single Carrot or Young Audiences. I just worked myself into a stupor. I plateaued or flatlined, or some other analogy for ‘spinning my wheels and staying in the same place’ (hey, that’ll do). I went to a first read for a recent production I was lucky enough to be cast into, and I realized I had almost nothing left in the tank.

Working at Single Carrot meant a plethora of exciting artistic opportunities, and working at Young Audiences meant a comfortable life and health insurance. Working at both made sure I was satiated. Factor in my work tendencies and nitpicky, must-be-better-than-the-next-guy high standards for myself, and you’ll end up with an equation that makes sense on paper, if not in practice: work hard, feed yourself, pay rent, act a lot, sleep tomorrow.

I had so much damn opportunity that I had a hard time saying no to anything. The burnout guilt had gotten to me. “How many actors would kill to be associated with a group like Single Carrot?” I’d ask myself as I wearily drove home from rehearsal each night. “How many people would knife me in the chest for a rewarding day job with an arts non-profit?” I’d inquire as I groggily trudged to work each morning. So, I wore on.

At a “Future’s Meeting” at Single Carrot (where we all get together and bitch about how tired we are talk about our futures with the company) I mentioned that I was considering auditioning for grad school. I was years away from getting paid full-time at Single Carrot, and my personal and social lives were dying. Nay, they were on life support. They had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I needed a life where I felt fulfilled and only worked 8 hours a day, not 12 or 13. I’m a Gemini, so I need an ambitious, self-employing adventurous career, not a 9-5 snoozer  glued to a computer. I had the feeling that I needed to re-ignite my soul and my passion, and take the next step of my career. I wanted to dip my toes in the grad school water and see what bit.

The goal was simple. Audition for schools, and see what happens. No commitments, no tour of campus visits. Just audition. Ohandbytheway, set some pretty lofty (see: egotistical) goals for myself along the way:

A) Get a full ride. Scratch that. Get a full ride plus a stipend. Yeah, that’s right. You pay ME to go to grad school, baby.

B) Prestige.  I’m only taking this circus to town if your program has a national reputation, an established and respected set of professors, and dovetailing philosophies between voice, movement and acting. Sorry, Eastern Central Tennessee Tech University, good programs only.

C) Location. Hey, I’m already waving wands and making wishes. Why not a nice place, too?

I auditioned at URTA. Passed on to the finals. 9 callbacks. And then wouldn’t you know who came calling?

Florida State/Asolo University. It took a while for the actual offer, but when it came in, she was a doozy. Full ride. Plus stipend. At a consistently ranked top ten program. In Sara-freaking-sota, Florida.


Sometimes, you just have to put it out there in the world. Tell the world what you want. Scream it, even. Just don’t be too slackjawed and stupid-looking when the world turns around and gives it to you.

So, I had the exact offer on the table that I was looking for. I wouldn’t have left Baltimore for anything less. I called up Asolo two days later (with both unspeakable joy and a dreadfully heavy heart) and I accepted.

Now,  I write this sitting on the floor of my empty Baltimore apartment, just about 40 hours before tearing off down I-95 and starting a journey of studying, reading, rehearsing, acting, and training. Sure, it’ll be hard work, but the work will be on me. The best hours of my day will be devoted to achieving the ultimate goal that brought me to Baltimore in the first place.

Act, Brendan. It’s what your good at.

It’s going to be a hard journey, a rewarding journey, and a bittersweet journey. It ain’t easy to leave my loved ones behind in Baltimore, I’ll tell you that much. But before the journey of life can go anywhere, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a full tank.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen permalink
    August 9, 2010 3:21 pm

    Wonder what first read that was, and whether it’ll still be Bohs in Florida.

    I’ll read this.

  2. janet tolbert permalink
    September 6, 2010 11:26 am

    Brendan, I also, left Baltimore , tho 5 years ago, and really felt the wrenching that you wrote about as you left. I knew Young Audiences through Gil Brungardt, retired Dean of College of Fine Arts at Towson University. Was this your era?
    I am a community supporter of the Conservatory and am blown away by your ability to express your feelings in writing. I look forward to meeting you and the rest of the 2013 First Year students.
    Best, Janet

    • September 6, 2010 1:03 pm

      That’s a great small world connection, Janet!

      The name Gil Brungardt doesn’t ring any bells, so he must have been before my time. I worked at YA from fall of 2008 to August of 2010.

      I look forward to meeting you, and other supporters in this fantastic community as well.

  3. MTC permalink
    June 10, 2013 3:33 pm

    Brendan –

    Thank you for that full commentary.

    But WHERE are you now? We want to hear about your Florida experience – !

    What is the “philosophy” like down there, as you say?

    Recently returned to the US after about a decade abroad, I am struggling to learn the landscape here. All commentary, discussion and research is invaluable to all of us.


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  7. Stephanie Wilson permalink
    December 13, 2015 9:45 am

    Hey Brendan, I know you wrote this blog over five years ago, but I wanted to let you know how helpful it was to me, as I’m currently embarking on an MFA journey that’s off to a similar start. This gave me a boost of confidence in sticking my standards to what I really want (as I’m going back to school well out of undergrad), and your writing was a joy to read. Thanks again! Steph

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  1. Ask an MFA Student « An Actor Repairs

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