MFA Acting Student Finds Her Passion in Arts Education

For Karen Vance, there was no question Michigan State University was the graduate school for her. From the time she first stepped foot on campus and from the beginning of the audition process, Vance found a home within MSU’s Department of Theatre.

Before she was even admitted, Vance said the Department of Theatre faculty, previous graduate students, and staff made her feel welcome and impassioned to learn.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Vance moved to Chicago for her undergraduate education to study acting. After receiving her BFA from Roosevelt University-Chicago College of Performing Arts in 2012, she pursued a professional acting career.

portrait of a woman with brown eyes and black hair in a floral top
Karen Vance

“I was working, I had an agent, always had a gig, but I hated being a server and a babysitter because you need a flexible schedule as an actor in order to attend auditions and rehearsals,” Vance said. “It was becoming really unrewarding and it was starting to make me not enjoy this thing that I love so much.”

After years of performing professionally, Vance decided to take the next step in her career and pursue a graduate degree.

“A lot of what inspired me to go to graduate school was my professors in undergrad who were working professionals but also taught at the university,” Vance said. “The idea of having a job in the industry I love while staying passionate and inspired to do my own work was really enticing.”

Vance chose MSU for her graduate education because of the emphasis on theatre education. The Department of Theatre’s MFA program is equal parts theatre pedagogy and performance training. Each semester, Vance has taught classes in the department. This semester she teaches an online theatrical analysis class and acting 101 for non-majors.

"Not only have I learned how to become an educator, but I've had the opportunity to direct, to be on the season selection committee, and to choreograph," she said. "The opportunities have been endless."

Not only have I learned how to become an educator, but I’ve had the opportunity to direct, to be on the season selection committee, and to choreograph. The opportunities have been endless.

Another bonus of the MFA theatre program is the financial support students receive from the College. Through student teaching, tuition waivers, and stipends, students like Vance are able to focus on their craft and education without the financial burden.

“The financial support helps offset the cost of completing this degree, so it doesn’t feel like I have burdened myself to better myself professionally,” Vance said.

Aside from acting, Vance also is passionate about dance. While in Chicago, she worked as a dancer and choreographer, and because of the flexibility of MSU’s graduate program, she has been able to work in musical theatre as well. In her three years here, she’s choreographed/co-choreographed seven different shows, including the upcoming musical, Green Day’s American Idiot.

Currently, Vance and the other 2018 MFA Acting candidates are finishing up their final semester with their thesis production, Dog Act, a play about a traveling performer, Zetta Stone, and her companion dog as they explore the post-apocalyptic world that was once North America.

Like a typical thesis, the MFA students still write a paper, but the most important aspect is the process. Because of the subject matter of the show and the many different forms of theatre showcased, they have a wide variety of topics to research and synthesize.

Upon completing the MFA program at the end of this semester, Vance is looking to fulfill both her passions by working in education while also continuing to perform professionally.