“Just show ‘em what you got.” These were the final words from my high school theatre director before I stepped into my first college interview at Unified Auditions in Chicago (oddly, my first interview was for CCM, the university I ended up attending). The college audition/interview process is certainly a daunting one. From deciding where to apply to preparing your audition “book” or portfolio to submitting your applications and scheduling your interview/audition, the selection process for a student wanting to go to college for theatre is can be overwhelming. Not to mention daunting to the parents. Unlike every other kid who picks a school that they think they would like to attend, applies, and hears back yes or no, the college bound performer/director/technician has many more hoops to jump through, all leading up to the big day: the audition. We will talk through the lead up in a later post, but today the focus is the actual audition; more specifically what you will encounter and what to do on the big day (or days).
A quick side note to make this all make sense. There two main ways to be seen by a college. The first option is to go directly to the school. Most schools that offer a BFA in Theatre (whatever concentration it may be) will have the option of attending an on campus audition. This is a good way to, metaphorically, kill two birds with one stone. A collegiate hopeful will get to visit the school and audition on the same several days. One downside to this is, because a large number of students are visiting/auditioning at the same time, the college may limit the number of classes, rehearsals, etc. that each student will be allowed to attend.
The other option is to attend what’s called a “unified audition”. Most of the major BFA (and some BA) schools hold auditions during select weekend in several different cities: New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Students applying to each program can request a time slot to be seen during these audition weekends and can audition for as many colleges as they can fit into their schedule in a single plane trip. Also, many colleges will offer “walk-in” auditions, so even if you didn’t apply to the school you can audition for them, and if they like you they will ask you to apply to the university. The unified experience is also wonderful (I went to Chicago unifieds) because all of the auditions were held at the hotel where most of the kids auditioning stayed. It was really wonderful to meet hundreds of students from all over the country who loved the theatre as much as I did. I made some friends at Unifieds that I still keep up with.
That aside, here are some tips that, having gone through the experience five years ago (yikes!), helped me and my classmates a lot:
1) Do your homework: The goal is to stay in the room as long as possible. The schools will often ask you questions about you, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions about the program and university after you do your monologue or sing your song. If you ask a really specific question about the program, they will know you did your research and have chosen to audition for them because you like their program, not just because they have a name or have an impressive list of alumni. Instead of asking a question like “Tell me about your movement program”, ask a question more akin to, “In reading your course catalogue on your website, I noticed that you focus in the second year on Alexander technique. Can you tell me a little more about that?” Be as specific and knowledgeable as possible. The goal is to dialogue, not just have one-sided communication. Also, you shouldn’t wait until the day before your audition to prepare for the audition. It was recommended to me to start preparing for unifieds in my Junior year of high school so that I would be more than ready for auditions the following winter. Also, if someone asks you a question like “what do you like to do for fun”, please don’t say something theatre related. Hopefully you have some other hobbies, and if not get some!
2) Maintain as close to normalcy as possible: Let me be honest. I have never been as scared in my life as I was walking into my first college interview. The realization that the next five minutes or so will affect the course of the rest of your life. That being said, taking a breath and sticking to a routine is extremely important. Your body and mind are already going to be in hyper drive, so try to keep as normal a routine as possible. If you work out every day at a certain time, don’t schedule an audition then and work out. If you have dinner around the same time everyday, put it in your schedule that you will eat at that time. Keeping your body fueled is so important. And for goodness sake, get a good night sleep. I know you will want to stay up and work on that monologue one last time, but you’ve totally got it because you started prepping for these auditions in your junior year of high school, right?
3) Make a schedule and stick to it: I applied to thirteen schools and interviewed for ten of them at Unifieds. I had a very very tight schedule during the two and a half days I was in Chicago. I made a schedule in Microsoft Excel a week in advance. I scheduled everything: from the auditions to meals to time I could watch TV and relax. Also, be sure to schedule at least a half hour before and an hour after each scheduled audition because schools may (probably) be running late and you don’t want to worry about not making it to your next audition.
4) Be prepared to adapt: Each college will have different audition requirements. I’d love to say that every acting program will ask for two one minute monologues, and I’d love to say that every musical theatre program will ask for an up-tempo and a ballad, but they don’t Some schools want 16-bar cuts. Some schools want a whole song. Some schools want Shakespeare. Some schools want something written after 1985. Every school’s website will have a list of their requirements and I can guarantee that most will be different. You should also double-check the requirements when you schedule your audition with the school. That being said, be prepared to adapt. One of my friends from high school (a now graduate of the musical theatre program at Ithaca College in upstate New York) went into an audition and sang his two 32-bar cuts and did his monologue. He was then asked if he had anything else. He did, and sang another six songs for them. They wanted to hear another one, but he was out of music in his book. He asked the pianist if he knew a certain song, which he did, and he sang the entire song. He wasn’t freaked out in the least, he just went with the flow and gave one heck of an audition. In one of my interviews for a “to remain nameless BFA Stage Management program in Florida”, they asked me for a monologue as part of their interview requirements. For stage management! And in another interview, I talked about my performance background and they asked me to sing a song for them a capella on the spot. Anything can happen. If you are required to go to a dance call, bring all the shoes you have, as you never know when a school could throw in a Tap combo or a ballet bar diagnostic. Again, I can’t stress it enough: if you are prepared and go with the flow, each audition will be an easy, effortless and exciting few minutes.
Most importantly, have a good time. Tell me the next time you will get to spend time meeting completely new people from all of the country all in one place showing “what they got”. Also, introduce yourself to as many people as you can, adults and students. Who knows, one or more of those folks may be an instructor or a fellow student that you will be working for the next four years. Most importantly remember to relax and do what you came there to do: show the schools what you got. Every single person on the audition panels wants you to succeed because they want to get the best people for their program out of these auditions. If you’ve done your prep work and are ready to do your stuff, there should be no reason not to have fun.
The college audition process is one of the best experiences I have ever had. Yes it is stressful, yes it is hard, and yes it is downright scary, but the payoff is so worth it. There is nothing like the feeling of completing your first audition and having that “ok, I got this” moment. For those seniors who have gone through the process, I’d love to hear from you with any other tips. Students who haven’t yet auditioned, what questions do you have? And parents and educators, I’d love to hear what your take on the “day” is. Feel free to post all of your comments below.
Until next time,