BFA Audition Advice....For Both Sides of the Table
Now that we are in the middle of the audition season for Musical Theatre and Acting BFA programs, I know that everyone involved may be a little stressed out. As an audition coach, let me offer some observations to both students auditioning and faculty members who are adjudicating auditions. Hopefully my observations will make the process a little less stressful.
To the students:
1. The playing field may be more even than you think. Remember, you are auditioning colleges as much as they are auditioning you. Schools need to fill a certain number of slots. Naturally, the schools want to choose the best students they can for each slot. Most students are auditioning for several schools. Not every student a college offers a slot to will accept. It’s called the Yield Rate. This is why colleges offer slots to twice as many (or more) students as they have slots available. You want to end up in the school that is right for you. So my advice to the students and parents is to keep your eyes and ears open. If a faculty member is rude or curt, or someone did something to make you feel uncomfortable in the audition room, or the audition process is disorganized, or you get any other bad feelings… don’t ignore these observations. Count them as omens. It well may be that this may not be the school for you. It’s better to spend four years at a school where you will be nurtured, appreciated for who you are, and where you will be a good “fit” than to accept a position at a popular, prestigious school where you feel out of place, ignored, or uncomfortable.
2. Pick material that shows who you are. Are you funny? Go out on a limb and pick something that shows you have a great sense of humor. There is nothing that will score more points at your audition than making the auditors genuinely laugh. Take chances. Be different. Be brave. Be confident. Find your strengths.
Come with your audition prepared but be careful not to come in over-coached. Adjudicators have a love/hate relationship with audition coaches. The adjudicators want to see YOU, not some coach’s idea of who you are. So if they stop you in mid song, and ask you to adjust what you are doing, don’t take it personally. They might be trying to find a different aspect of your performance. Do your best to adjust to what they ask you. Sometimes auditions can be very rigid and sometimes they can be very fluid. Be prepared for either. Don’t spend too much time second guessing every word the auditors utter while you are in the room. The large percentage of the time they are trying to help you. Listen carefully to what they are asking you to do. If you have a question about what they are asking you, or you don’t understand what they are looking for… ask for clarification.
3. Practice “reading” the room. This means observing and properly addressing everyone and everything in the room as quickly as possible. Auditions always seem to fly by. You go in and before you know it the audition is over and you wonder exactly what you did in there. Your audition actually starts long before you enter the audition room. You want to be in a relaxed mental state before you enter the room. I always encourage my students to wisely use the crucial five minutes before they enter the room. Without being unfriendly, take the time for yourself. Don’t chat with the other students waiting to go in. Take some time to imagine yourself standing in the room and picture yourself as calm. Envision yourself in-charge, standing up straight, and breathing comfortably. Picture yourself smiling and answering questions easily.
I always have the students I work with practice entering the room. I have them practice saying hello and practice what they are going to say to the accompanist. I role play with them. I play each of the characters I think will be in the room and have the students interact with me as that person. In short…You want to have as much control over the seven minutes you are in that room as possible.
4. Don’t take anyone you encounter for granted. The monitor may be the chairperson’s daughter. The piano player may be a member of the music staff who is also adjudicating your audition. All of these people may get together and talk about the things that may have happened that day. You don’t want your name to come up in any way that is not part of a positive conversation.
To/About the Auditors:
Auditors and schools differ wildly. Some auditors have been in academia for 40 years and may be set in their ways. Many have never had a professional career in the theatre. Others may be accomplished performers and have taken leave from professional careers to teach. They are old, young, kind, unkind, nurturing and impatient. It runs the gamut.
1. Auditors should be in the room for one reason. That reason is to assess potential. The vast majority of auditors are rooting for the students to give great auditions. But we all know, there are some adjudicators in academia who think rather highly of themselves. I occasionally get the impression some of them are in the room expecting to be entertained. To the auditors, please remember you are at work. It’s your job to sit there for hours and be able to give each student your full attention and consideration. You haven’t bought a ticket to see a show.
2. Please don’t expect a polished performance. If these students were auditioning at a highly professional level, why would they need to go to your school? Allow the students to make bad choices and not be immediately eliminated because of it. They might come in and stand so close to you that you fear their spit may hit you. Adjust them. Help them. Allow them to be seventeen. Remember… you are looking for POTENTIAL. That potential may come in a very untidy package.
3. Remember not all 17 year olds have had equal training or access to professional coaches. There are certain areas of the country… The Metro NYC Area, Upper NJ, Parts of Texas, Parts of California, and others where there are many very excellent coaches. As a matter of fact, coaching students for college auditions has become big business. There are some coaches with dozens of students auditioning! What about the other students who don’t have access to great coaches? What about a student who lives in the middle of South Dakota on a ranch? That student may not have the same access to a lifetime training program of dance, acting, and voice classes. Again, the key word…“Potential”.
4. Give up the “Do Not Sing Lists”. I often wonder why do these lists exist in the first place? They usually exist because the auditors are sick of hearing certain songs. What is going to happen if you are forced to listen to 32 bars of a song you don’t like? Are you going to immediately disqualify that student? If that is the case, you should not be an auditor. I have sat for many hours auditioning singers and actors. I would rather hear the same song over and over, than have students stressing to find songs that they think will please the auditors. Let me put it this way, it’s not about you… it’s about the student. Let them sing what they want. If you desperately need to create a list… instead of “Do Not Sing” lists, how about schools start creating “Please Sing Lists”. Choose 40 songs you want to hear and let the students pick from the list. Or, how about you say “Choose any two contrasting songs by Rogers and Hammerstein”? This would take a lot of stress off of the students. I think it’s time for schools to be a little more creative with their requirements.
5. Remember, most students are auditioning for several schools. Some are going to be auditioning at as many as seven or eight different schools. Each of these schools have different requirements. Students are forced to learn several songs and several monologues to cover all these requirements. If I were running a theatre department, I would consider offering the students a “Suggested DO” list of monologues to perform. If they want to stray from those monologues on the list, then let them, but a list would be a very helpful starting point. Keep Shakespeare off the list. There are so few that are age appropriate anyway. I personally see no need for a 17 year old who is auditioning for a musical theatre program to perform a Shakespeare monologue.
Again, the audition process is stressful for everyone. Students… be prepared, confident, and try to have fun. Auditors… remember these are young performers putting themselves on the line. Try to make the experience as positive as possible for the students auditioning.
Tom Andolora is a voice teacher, acting coach, director, and playwright. He lives in NYC. He was on the faculty at Brooklyn College for several years where he taught Musical Theatre Classes and had a private voice studio in the Preparatory Center. His adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology, titled The Spoon River Project, is published by Playscripts. It is produced and performed all over the country. Mr. Andolora has a private studio in NYC and coaches students for college auditions. You can find out more about him at BFAAuditions.com or tomandolora.com.