University of the Arts Tour

Trip Start Feb 15, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Wal-Mart (Philadelphia)

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Today I headed into the center of downtown Philadelphia to the Avenue of the Arts.  This central road, leading up to city hall, is home to most of the theatres and art galleries in the city.  It is also the location of the University of the Arts campus.  The university owns portions of a number of buildings along a mile stretch of this road.  I think the only building entirely owned by the university was the main administration and admissions building, recognizable by its minimalist greek facade.

After finding a decently priced place to park for the day, I made my way to the main building and waited around with a group of other people for the tour guide to arrive.  While I was waiting, I wandered around a bit and noticed a large number of prints were set along the walls getting ready to be hung.  They appeared to be the work of the graphic arts department, and I think they could have been projects by the senior class.  They were all certainly impressive works of art, and it was fun to browse through them.  I guess I was the only one so inspired because the rest of the kids and parents just sat on the floor or leaned against the wall across from the admissions office, looking about as enthused as a buffalo at the zoo.

The first portion of the tour was focused on the dorms and campus facilities.  The dorm portion didn't interest me as much because I really don't plan on using campus housing, regardless of which school I end up attending.  I've had my fair share of the dorm lifestyle already, and I don't think I would really enjoy sharing a small living space with someone fresh out of high school.  The facilities, on the other hand, were of great interest to me.  I was eager to see what sort of performance spaces and classroom setups the school had to offer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find everything more than adequate.  They have a number of different theatres; a couple of them are grand old theatres from decades ago.  The buildings holding the classrooms were also well laid out, well maintained, and had plenty of space to go around.  A couple of things I liked about the school was their willingness to allow students to take classes outside of their major, allowing them to explore different areas as they see fit.  The school does focus on the arts and is the only university in the country to offer all of the arts along with a full degree program without outside assistance from another school.  I still question whether or not I would want a school that offered programs other than the arts, but two of my main interests are theatre and photography, both of which they have great programs for.  The school is also very big on promoting collaboration between the different areas of study whenever feasible.

For lunch I decided to give another one of Philadelphia's top sandwich shops a try.  I spent about forty minutes walking to find Geno's Steaks.  Their reputation is as strong as the others, but I myself preferred Jim's.  Geno's does have a better location and a larger and flashier building, but when so many establishments claim to make the best of a relatively simple sandwich, it comes down to details.  What I liked more about Jim's was simply the way they chopped the steak as it cooked, where Geno's left it in relatively whole slices...details.  I did make one change at Geno's and got the sandwich with Cheese Whiz since that seems to be the local preference.  Overall, the sandwich was still great and having always loved a good philly cheesesteak; it's nice to have finally had a couple in Philly.

Back at the school, I attended a senior acting studio class.  A girl that had been on the tour earlier in the day was also in the class.  She had already applied, auditioned, and been accepted to the school, but she seemed to be very out of her element.  While I was there primarily to observe the class, I didn't feel awkward about interacting with the students, asking questions of the professor, and helping out where I could to move furniture around or whatever.  It was a very comfortable atmosphere and they did their best to involve us.  The class was primarily focused on working on short scenes.  They were divided up into three groups and would present their scene, take some direction and suggestion from the professor, go work on the scene elsewhere for a while, and come back to perform it again with the changes implemented.  The class period lasted for around three and a half to four hours, which is not uncommon for acting studio classes.  As everyone was gathering their things to leave, one of the students invited the other observer and me to sit in on a dress/tech rehearsal of a show they were going to be opening on Friday night.  We both happily agreed and everyone dispersed until then.

The rehearsal was a great opportunity to see what sort of finished (or close enough to it) product the school is able to produce, and once again I was quite pleased with the result.  The show was called Blue Monster, and it was an interpretation of an old Italian comedy using masks.  I had never seen a show using mask before, and it was very entertaining to watch the actors use carefully developed demeanors and body language to express what their faces no longer allowed them to.  The masks themselves were all very intricate and expressive; at times it was almost possible to buy into the illusion that it was their face.  I should have asked to take some photos, but it felt intrusive.  The director also took the time to stop over and chat with the other student and myself about where we were from, what we were looking for, and to explain a few things about the show.  He told us that, while he is a faculty member, they have the students do as much of the work as possible for the show and occasionally let them flounder with problems until they find their own solution.  Pretty much everyone I met at the school was very welcoming and willing to get perfect strangers involved in their activities.  It had a very community-like feel which I liked.  I was also informed by one of the admissions counselors that, if I were accepted to the University, the school takes part in a VA program that would make sure that all tuition not covered by the G.I. Bill would be paid.  As that was my one and only qualm about the school, I can easily say that UArts has taken a high place on my short list.

I got back on the road after their rehearsal ended around eleven, and drove the short distance to Trenton, New Jersey for the night.  Also, my apologies to any readers who are bored to death by the days when I have college visits.
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