It's the Day of the College Audition...Now What?

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,
Travis

College Auditions: Coy Branscum

This is the first of a series of posts where TAP campers share their expe­ri­ence with the col­lege audi­tion process. If you have a sto­ry you’d like to share, let us know.

Coy is one of the TAP campers, prep­ping for his last year with us and his first year at col­lege. He will going to Millikin University this fall as a BFA Musical Theatre Major. Congrats, Coy! Fabulous pho­to cour­tesy of Coy’s Facebook pro­file.

Auditioning for col­leges can feel ter­ri­fy­ing. It’s easy, as I found out, to become over­whelmed and feel like you won’t suc­ceed. But the actu­al process is incred­i­bly fun. The rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each col­lege want you to do well, they’re look­ing for poten­tial stu­dents for their pro­gram!

While I feel you shouldn’t see col­lege audi­tions as daunt­ing, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to try. You real­ly have to focus on your mono­logue and song selec­tion. It’s a bit dif­fi­cult because you need to watch each program’s audi­tion require­ments (although they’re all pret­ty stan­dard). The feel­ing you get from a suc­cess­ful audi­tion is worth all the effort you put in to make it hap­pen.

The biggest part is push­ing through your fears. I’m not a dancer nec­es­sar­i­ly and it’s easy for me to feel dis­cour­aged in dance calls, but col­leges aren’t look­ing for Broadway stars. They’re look­ing for young tal­ent to nur­ture and grow. Rather than show­ing sim­ply how tal­ent­ed you are, show your will­ing­ness to try and to learn. In my audi­tion for CCM, we had a dance call to a song from Thoroughly Modern Millie. I walked in lit­er­al­ly shak­ing, feel­ing incom­pe­tent to the oth­ers sur­round­ing me (in my mind they radi­at­ed a dancer vibe) but I told myself to shut up and just. Do. It. It end­ed up being my best audi­tion. Although I wasn’t accept­ed to the pro­gram, I left with­out regrets and still have none.

College audi­tions are great — it makes the idea of col­lege even more appeal­ing. After my expe­ri­ence, I can’t wait to make the tran­si­tion and start build­ing the base for my future.

What do you do with a BFA in Theatre?

by Travis Brendle, Stage Manger – Actor’s Equity Association

Mom, Dad…I want to be an actor.” This phrase has stemmed fear and uncer­tain­ty in many a house­hold since the begin­ning of time. Looking into his­to­ry, Actors were con­stant­ly lumped into a social cat­e­go­ry along side gyp­sies, vagrants and thieves. Looking into the present, many con­sid­er a career in the enter­tain­ment indus­try, as one of uncer­tain­ty. Growing up I was always told “Only 10% of actors are work­ing at any giv­en time, and that includes they guy serv­ing your tea.” Many high school stu­dents who are gung ho about being an actor, tech­ni­cal, design­er or stage man­ag­er decide to go to col­lege to get either their BFA (Bachelor Fine Arts) or BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Theatre. After decid­ing to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Stage Management, I have learned of many dif­fer­ent things that can be done with a degree in the­atre. Just because one spends four years of col­lege learn­ing how to become an actor, tech­ni­cian or singer, doesn’t mean that each of the skills learned in their col­lege career won’t be an asset to any job that they may apply for. Here are three exam­ples of jobs that many of my friends and col­leagues have, or have had, not uti­liz­ing their BFA in their orig­i­nal intent.

1) Sales: Actors, in their purest form, are sales­men. An actor’s job is to con­vince an audi­ence that they are not only some­one else, but to believe that every­thing they are say­ing is truth. One of my dear­est friends went to a very good col­lege with one of the best BFA Acting pro­grams in the coun­try and is now a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sales­woman in the Chicago area. In talk­ing with her, she said that her degree came in handy in a more ways than she could ever imag­ine. In even the most basic of act­ing class­es, she learned the impor­tance of talk­ing clear­ly, using vocal inflec­tion to keep one’s atten­tion, and most impor­tant­ly, look­ing the per­son you are talk­ing to direct­ly in the eye. Since we are in the age of the iPhone and Facebook, many of the up and com­ing gen­er­a­tion does not have the basic con­ver­sa­tion­al skills that are required in the sales. Many actors are being employed by major com­pa­nies to sell there prod­ucts not only in the coun­try, but over­seas. In my opin­ion, actors are more per­son­able, open to change and dif­fer­ent cul­tures than their many of their busi­ness school coun­ter­parts. Many large com­pa­nies are employ­ing union actors to work in their over­seas offices, where the impor­tance of a good con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist is so impor­tant to ensur­ing the sale.

2) Teaching: The most com­pelling teach­ers are actors. If you think back to your favorite class­es in school, the root cause of that love is not nec­es­sar­i­ly because of the sub­ject, but often because of the edu­ca­tor lead­ing the con­ver­sa­tions. The best English teach­ers make the work of Dickinson, Steinbeck, and Twain jump off the page and come alive. The best his­to­ry teach­ers lead you through the March on Washington, the inva­sion of Normandy Beach and John Glenn’s first lunar step as if you were there. And even that great Math teacher made proofs and algo­rithms make sense by mak­ing them rel­e­vant, often by enter­tain­ing songs, poems or games. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (the composer/​lyricist team respon­si­ble for SeussicalOnce on This Island, and Ragtime) got their start writ­ing the epic teach­ing tool Schoolhouse Rock. The best teach­ers are inher­ent­ly sto­ry­tellers, whether they were trained in it or not. And hey, the ben­e­fits and time off is pret­ty appeal­ing, isn’t it?

3) Guest Relations: Down to it’s core, guest rela­tions staff deal with (peo­ple) prob­lems. Whether it be a concierge at a major resort, to a guest rela­tions offi­cer at major com­pa­ny, the peo­ple deal­ing with the con­cerns of their cus­tomers have a very hard job to do. With my BFA in Stage Management, I have had a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ty to solve prob­lems. From deal­ing with irate design­ers to work­ing with an actor who needs help mem­o­riz­ing their lines, a stage man­ag­er is the ulti­mate Guest Relations posi­tion. In my col­lege career, I was required to take many com­mu­ni­ca­tions class­es. My inter­per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion class taught me how to not only read people’s body lan­guage, but also how to use my body lan­guage to help com­mu­ni­cate a point. My human resources class taught me how to effec­tive­ly man­age a group of peo­ple with very dif­fer­ent job descrip­tions, while main­tain­ing author­i­ty. My speech class­es taught me how to speak effec­tive­ly, clear­ly and suc­cinct­ly. All of these class­es, and the many more class­es I took in my four years at CCM (University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music) gave me the skills need­ed to work with any and all peo­ple dur­ing any and all sit­u­a­tions

As seen above, in get­ting a BFA in Theatre a stu­dent is giv­en a wide and var­ied range of skills that will be a great asset in many job fields.

What oth­er jobs could you see a per­son with a BFA in Theatre doing? I can’t wait to hear from you!