The 25 Best Drama Schools in 2014

12:00 AM PST 05/30/2014 by Tim Appelo
Lupita Nyong'o in "The Winter's Tale" at Yale in 2012

THR's poll of 60 top casting directors and agents reveals a hierarchy of dramatic prestige. New on this year's list: comic academies Second City, UCB and The Groundlings.

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

1. Yale School of Drama

New Haven, Conn.

In The Winter's Tale at Yale, Lupita Nyong'o played lost princess Perdita before being cast as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. "Booking a movie before graduation that leads to an Academy Award is obviously anomalous," says Yale School of Drama dean James Bundy, "but every acting graduate in the past 10 years has acquired an agent within a month." Nyong'o had YSD company at the Oscars (designer Adam Stockhausen and 18-time nominee Meryl Streep). "There's absolutely no way I could've done Patsey without my training at Yale," says Nyong'o.

Other notable alums: Paul Giamatti, Paul Newman

2. The Juilliard School

New York City

Patti Lupone found it educational when Juilliard drama school founder John Houseman did the unthinkable: He grabbed her throat and said, "I want to beat you black and blue until you are bloody!" Her exasperated diction professor did the same. "I started to take my diction problem seriously before they killed me," Lupone writes in her memoir. Juilliard is somewhat calmer now, but still so strict that Oscar nominee Viola Davis -- a '93 Juilliard grad recently awarded an honorary doctorate -- compared it to "great medicine that works. It tastes lousy going down, but ultimately helps and heals you." Says agent Bill Veloric, "The students really understand classical theater." Before Juilliard, Lupone writes, she was "a Long Island cheerleader. [Juilliard] is the basis of all my technique."

Other notable alums: Kevin Spacey, Jessica Chastain

3. Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh

CMU celebrated its 100th birthday May 8 in L.A., where alum Stephen Schwartz played his hits from Pippin and Wicked. Alums have won six Oscars, 31 Tonys and 99 Emmys. Says Emmy-nominated actor-director Charles Haid: "Carnegie's got 'em all beat."

Other notable alums: Steven Bochco, Holly Hunter, Ted Danson

4. Tisch School of the Arts

New York City

Tisch's undergrad programs are good, but Tisch's grad school, which accepts 16 out of 800, is the crown jewel. A dozen alums from the cutting-edge school are now on Broadway. According to Tisch dean Allyson Green, chair Mark Wing-Davey is innovating actor training in cooperation with NYU's famed neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux.

Notable alums: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael C. Hall

5. Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

London

George Bernard Shaw willed one-third of his royalties to RADA, which has produced stars from Anthony Hopkins to Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Other notable alums: Clive Owen, Peter O'Toole, Mike Leigh

6. University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Winston-Salem, N.C.

UNCSA accepts 28 out of 450 applicants, and after its 2013 showcases in New York and LA, 17 of 25 grads landed an agent or manager. Ten months after graduation, 13 have SAG or Equity cards.

Other notable alums: Mary-Louise Parker, Dane DeHaan

7. ACT

San Francisco

Part of a top regional theater, ACT's drama school attracts undergrads for its new 15-week San Francisco semester.

Notable alums: Annette Bening, Denzel Washington

8. Northwestern University

Evanston, Ill.

"It's a very Chicago mentality, not about trying to grow stars," says David Schwimmer, who also founded Lookingglass Theatre with 20 classmates (which won the 2011 regional theater Tony). "We weren't trying to be famous on our own." Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Gunn -- who all came through Northwestern -- won Emmys in 2013.

Other notable alums: Warren Beatty, Seth Meyers, Zach Braff

9. Brown

Providence, R.I.

Brown, celebrating its 250th birthday, offers bachelor's degrees in drama and (in partnership with the Trinity Repertory company) MFAs.

Notable alums: John Krasinski, Quiara Alegria Hudes

10. London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts

London

A record number of Americans applied to LAMDA in 2014, perhaps due to the skyrocketing profile of "Lamdroids" like Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave).

Other notable alums: John Lithgow, Donald Sutherland

11. UC San Diego

San Diego

Want a role in the Tony-winning, all-pro La Jolla Playhouse? All 60 MFA students are guaranteed to work in at least one show.

Notable alums: James Avery, James Bernstein, Danny Bernstein

12. CalArts

Valencia, Calif.

CalArts' Center for New Performance gives students the chance to work with the likes of Ron Cephas Jones in September's production of Prometheus Bound at Getty Villa.

Notable alums: Don Cheadle, Ed Harris, Alison Brie

13. Syracuse University

Syracuse, N.Y.

"The students work as actors the moment they arrive on campus," says new chancellor/president Kent Syverud. "And alumni won 19 Tonys in the past two years."

Notable alums: Aaron Sorkin, Frank Langella, Taye Diggs

14. Second City

Chicago

The storied improv troupe has 13,000 students in Chicago, L.A. and Toronto, a live audience of 1 million a year and a new deal with L.A.'s Thruline/Tagline to steer careers to Hollywood.

Notable alums: John Belushi, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key

15. ART at Harvard

Cambridge, Mass.

The Boston Globe calls the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning ART "a welcome jolt of adrenaline" to Boston -- and to Moscow, where ART MFAs also study.

Other notable alums: Jeff Zinn, Kate Whoriskey

16. Rutgers

New Brunswick, N.J.

Rutgers' Mason Gross School accepts 20 students a year (9 percent of applicants) and gives them a shot at an Equity card at the George Street Playhouse, directed by chair David Esbjornson.

Notable alums: Kristen Davis, Calista Flockhart

17. Actors Studio at Pace

New York City

The revered Actors Studio MFA program is separate from the undergrad Pace School of Performing Arts but gets a PR boost from the latter's expansion -- enrollment is up 60 percent.

Notable alums: Bradley Cooper

18. UCLA

Los Angeles

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is a great place to get noticed. "When I saw Jack Black just walking across a stage at an agency showcase," says one agent, "I knew he was a star."

Other notable alums: James Dean, Tim Robbins, Eric Roth

19. USC

Los Angeles

USC's drama school recently had its first New York showcase for BFAs and MFAs, and it is in talks for a program with the Shanghai Theater Academy.

Other notable alums: Eric Stoltz, Grant Heslov, Forest Whitaker

20. SUNY Purchase

Purchase, N.Y.

Purchase is where Stanley Tucci gave Ving Rhames his nickname (cooler than his real name, Irving). The school is high-quality and low-cost.

Other notable alums: Melissa Leo, Edie Falco, Wesley Snipes

21. DePaul

Chicago

DePaul's reputation is rising, and drama grad Tarell Alvin McCraney won a $625,000 MacArthur grant in 2013.

Other notable alums: John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson

22. The Groundlings

Los Angeles

Kathy Griffin and Lisa Kudrow cried the night SNL hired Julia Sweeney, not them. Then Griffin got Suddenly Susan and Kudrow got Friends. Alums have earned more than 15 Emmy nominations.

Other notable alums: Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy

23. Upright Citizens Brigade

New York City

"UCB taught me all the rules," says Rob Corddry of the improv group that has outposts in New York, Chicago and L.A. "And when I had them down, they taught me how to break them."

Other notable alums: Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Ed Helms

24. Guildhall School of Music & Drama

London

Founded in 1877, the famous music and drama school will start awarding degrees in 2015.

Notable alums: Daniel Craig, Ewan McGregor, Michelle Dockery

25. William Esper Studio

New York City

"Our program is a unique and affordable alternative to the university system," says founder Esper. "Inspiring and invaluable," says alum Timothy Olyphant.

Other notable alums: Kathy Bates, Larry David

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