Sac State art grads persevere despite uncertainty, parental skepticism
For Sac State art students, college admissions is the beginning of an uphill climb
August 29, 2019
According to a 2017 Sacramento State survey, 43 percent of theatre and dance alumni are on a career path related only somewhat or very little to their field of study — which can cause concern for parents.
Page Yang, a Sac State alumna who graduated in 2018 with a dance degree, said she initially intended to major in nutrition or kinesiology before switching to dance during her fourth year.
Angela Kruts is the youngest of her three siblings and the first in her family to graduate from a university. She said her parents hoped she would become a nurse or doctor “to make more money and have everything I need in my life.” Kruts originally enrolled into Sac State’s liberal arts studies program to become a teacher.
Two years into school, she wasn’t interested in what she was learning and says she “hated” her classes. Her former passions include theater and dance, hobbies she grew up practicing.
So, Kruts changed her major to theater with a minor in dance without her parents’ knowledge. They didn’t find out until just moments before she walked the stage to accept her diploma in May.
“They never supported me in my acting, dancing, singing career ever,” Kruts, 22, said. “When my mom saw my name and degree on the screen, she was shocked.”
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The Sac State alumni survey found only 17 percent of alumni from the College of Arts and Letters accepted an offer of employment post-graduation in 2017. Despite most of these students not being in jobs immediately after graduation, over two-thirds of students are satisfied with their experience in the theatre and dance major.
Albert Contreras is a recent Sac State graduate. Contreras majored in photography with a minor in marketing. Like many art students, he worried about the uncertainty and instability of an art major.
Contreras decided to go down the marketing route independently — unlike Kruts, he said his family and friends were supportive of his photography studies.
“I also had a fear that my one degree would not be enough to compete in a highly competitive market, so I wanted to do something that would help me in any way,” Contreras said.
Contreras said he left a position in which he was able to use his photography degree due to low pay and the inconvenient location. He is now looking for a marketing job because he said they offer more stability and better pay.
Yang, 24, actually received an offer for her dream job of teaching the youth but turned it down.
“That’s something I definitely want, but not right now,” Yang said. “I decided not to take up the offer because I just felt like I wasn’t ready, and I felt like I have a lot more to offer if I allowed myself to be the dancer I want to be.”
Instead, she’s moving to Utah to explore opportunities there and herself as an artist.
“I am very hungry to travel the world and allow dance to bring me to those places,” Yang said. “I want to be booked as a teaching artist to teach choreography or to create a whole show, be a creative director but in China or Brazil or in France. That is the career I am hungry for right now.”
Michelle Felten, vice chair of the Theatre Department at Sac State, said she understands why parents might be worried about a child who studies the arts, and that there can be a lot of uncertainty for recent graduates as they enter a competitive field.
According to Felten, theatre students receive career training as part of their coursework. This includes a class on audition technique, panels with artists working professionally, and a budgeting exercise in which students create a financial plan for living in a particular city of their choice. Students also prepare resumes and bios as well as headshots. These are all part of the overall career preparation for theater and dance.
“Everything you learn in theater is something that you are going to apply in real life,” Felten said. “It’s about team building. It’s about communication, articulation, and being punctual right now. Learning how to work within a bigger group or learning how to collaborate. All those things can be applied to many jobs.”
Kruts received support from friends as well as mentors such as Felten. Even though she just graduated, Kruts is already working or worked on four different projects — she landed a role in American River College’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,”worked on a dance team to create a routine for a Fourth of July event in Modesto, is part of the production team and an actress in a locally-produced film, and auditioned for another show.
Kruts said her parents have come to accept and support her path.
“I think they’re just overall proud that I have a bachelors now,” she said. “They don’t really care what I have it in because they know that I work really hard.”
She said that after graduation, her father told her, “I know how much you do now,” bringing tears to both of their eyes. “I never realized it and I’m proud of you.”
Kayla Brown, Victor Martinez, Eucario Calderon and Milan Cabebe contributed to this report.