In addition to being an actor, director and now blogger, I've had the wonderful opportunity to work in college admissions for two elite performing arts colleges. I've not only been apart of the admissions process, but I've also spent almost a decade sitting behind the table at various auditions for their BFA Acting and Musical Theatre programs.
Given that this is the time of year when students begin to think about their auditions, I thought I might share some helpful tips that I've learned, seen or heard from various faculty members on what they typically like and don't like seeing during an audition.
Yelling/Belting Doesn't Equal Range
If a dramatic monologue is requested, many students feel the need pick one where they are shouting through most of it. While that certainly might demonstrate power, don't expect that to impress those auditioning you.
According to the faculty I've worked with, more than often they don't like seeing someone simply shout through their monologue. They would rather see a monologue where you display a range of emotions. It shows them that you put a lot more thought and research into what you're saying .
The same could be said for someone who chooses to belt their entire song during a musical theatre audition. Faculty want to see all sides of your voice, so give them as much as possible and stop concerning yourself with the decibel level.
Nothing will dismiss you from an audition faster or set you in a deeper hole before you begin, than dressing inappropriately for an audition. Your attire should be the last thing the faculty think about when you walk through the door, so don't give them a reason to. I'm not saying you have to wear black ties and evening gowns, but if you dress like this audition is the most important part of your day, it will go a long way with the faculty viewing you.
You might give a great audition but if you show up in ripped jeans, yoga pants and sweat shirts, the faculty might suspect how serious you are treating this audition and how much respect you're paying the school.
Be Prepared to Wait
Depending on the school, they might tell you that your audition is at a certain time. In most cases, this is a general time, no specific to you, so don't expect to go on right at that moment. They could be running behind, so show up when you're supposed to and ask if they're running on time. This way it could buy you some time to relax, run lines, or even get something to eat. But always be prepared that it could be an hour wait to audition in some cases.
Your Grades Do Matter
This has been a debatable point in the past, but despite what any school says, your grades do matter. This is mostly the case if you're applying to a conservatory that's ran by a larger institution. Poor grades and test scores can trump audition results in these cases. So while the theatre department might love you, if you're barely passing your classes, you still won't get into the program.
This probably isn't the case for conservatories that aren't linked to colleges and universities, but it is for most programs. If they're telling you different, then you need to ask further. My best advice? Contact the admissions department, ask them how much do grades factor into BFA auditions and if bad grades trump an audition result and take down the name of the person you talked to. Of course the best advice is to keep your grades as high as possible. This way, not only will you likely qualify for a talent scholarship, but an academic one as well.
Obscure Isn't Always Better
One "tip" I hear over and over again is that picking an obscure monologue or song is always a good thing. This isn't always a case. While picking less notable material is attractive, if it's too obscure, it could negatively effect your audition. If you want to pick something obscure, my advice is to pick less notable material from a known composer or writer. One student was admitted to the program with a selection from Stephen Schwartz's "Working" and another was admitted by using a monologue from Arthur Miller's "A Memory of Two Mondays".
On the flip side, it's not totally a terrible idea to use known material either. One student was admitted by using Romeo & Juliet's "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks" monologue. My general advice is to pick something that best displays your talent. If that happens to be an iconic monologue or song, then you better nail it!
If the faculty member offers to answer any questions, ask them! Simply auditioning for a school doesn't demonstrate your interest in the school. Asking questions about the program, what they look for, performance opportunities, etc, is a good thing.
Also, ask questions about what you read on their website, for instance, "I noticed on your website that you study these acting techniques" or "I noticed that last season you performed these shows." This will tell the faculty member that you spent time really looking at their program and what they have to offer. Many a faculty member I've worked with have been impressed when asked questions like these. Just don't ask about how much scholarship money their give...do not ask this!
Explore the Space....Within Reason
Most faculty will tell you that the "room is yours" which means feel free to move about during your audition. So move, don't stand still. But don't move for movement's sake, rehearse where you're going to go and why. And for God's sake, stay away from the audition table. Resist the urge to bang on it or get in the faculty's faces during your audition...you would think this would be obvious but it happens in every session I've been on.
Most Are Denied Before They Leave the Room
As sad and mean as it sounds, if you're denied from a program, most of the time that decision is made before your done with your monologue or song. I've seen it happen hundreds of times where mid way a monologue or song, the dreaded "DENY" space is circled or checked off moments into the audition. Why? It could be a variety of reasons, but it happens a lot.
Some Are Admitted Before They Leave the Room
It doesn't happen often, but I've saw several students last year admitted the day of their audition. There isn't a sure fire blue print or secret formula to have this happen. But it does happen.
So when it comes your BFA auditions; prepare, rehearse and ask questions. Treat it like the important performance of your life and you will certainly give off a positive impression on faculty viewing you.