While the audition process for college BFA programs can be stressful,. the interview/portfolio process for theatre tech students can be equally strenuous. For many performance students, the audition is the only piece to the admissions process, however for theatre tech students, there are multiple parts to consider.
After spending the better half of the last decade reviewing these materials and sitting in on the interview process, here are some tips for students looking to be accepted to some of these major theatre design and technology programs.
First, let's breakdown typically what these colleges want to see from their applicants. Most theatre design/tech programs will ask you give them the following:
- A Resume of theatrical work
- 2-3 Letters of Recommendation
- Live interview
- Portfolio of work
My best advice is to make sure your resume is accurate and presentable. Even though you're not a "professional" yet, it doesn't mean your resume can't look professional. Format your resume so that everything is organized. Pictured right is a good example. Notice how design roles, shows, etc are all easily organized for the person reading it. Don't ever lie on your resume, believe it or not, these schools will find out if you're lying.
Also, do not panic if you're resume isn't terribly long. These colleges know you're only a high school student and aren't expecting you to have 20-30 credits coming in. More than likely, you're going to have less than 10, which is perfectly alright. What they want to see is how involved you've been and what types of experience you've had. So if you're applying for a stage management program, it's good to see you've at least had some experience calling a show already. However some BFA programs might be reluctant to accept you into a particular program, if you haven't had any experience in that area. So if you want to major in lighting design but don't have any experience in it, it's a good idea to seek some right now before you apply.
Letters of Recommendation
My biggest advice when it comes to letters of recommendation is to find people who can write about you at detailed length. It's also best to find a teacher who has known you for multiple years. This way, they can talk about your growth as a student. Obviously when it comes to these types of applications, getting a letter from your high school's theatre teacher or technical director would be key. However, as long as the college allows it, don't hesitate to seek outside people as well. If you've worked at a local or regional theatre and know the designers there, they could be fantastic options. If you've attended after-school theatre programs or summer theatre camps, asking staff from there would also be strong choices.
As I mentioned before, find people that can really talk about your at great length. These letters can make a huge difference in your admissibility, so make sure you perform your due diligence in who to ask for them.
Many of these programs will ask for some sort of live interview. The best thing you can do is treat this if it was actually a job interview. Be yourself but be the polite and professional version. Other than the portfolio, this is where I see most applications make it or break. So how can you give the best interview? Just like monologues or song, it takes practice. My advice: Start answering questions about yourself. The two biggest questions you should practice answering are - "Why do I want to study theatre design/tech?" and "Why do I want to study theatre design/tech at this particular school?" I can almost guarantee that variations of those two questions will be asked.
Also, start pulling up interesting stories or situations from shows you've worked on. What lessons did you learn from these experiences? By answering these questions for yourself, it will be much easier to pull up this information during an interview when your heart is beating a million times a minute. It will also help you identify your tone and speed of talking in case you need to adjust it before you walk in the room. And ask questions about the program to the people interviewing you. It shows you've done research into their program and tells them how interested you are in attending there.
Ah, the all important portfolio. I'm not downplaying it when I say that this is the most important piece of the application to any reputable theatre design.tech program. So make sure you take the time in putting it together. Trying to piece this together at the last minute is, more than not, a disaster.
Your portfolio materials should ALWAYS reflect your interest and/or work in one of the following potential areas of specialization. Believe me when I say a application for a lighting design program with a portfolio full of costume designs will not look favorable and just confuse the person looking at it. So, you're portfolio specialization breakdown should look like this:
- Costume Design – Drawings, paintings, or garments that you have made. These items do not always need to be theatrical, if you happen to have done a lot of fashion work.
- Lighting Design – Drawings, paintings, photography, drafting plots and lighting plots.
- Scene Design – Drawings, paintings, still life or drafting designs.
- Stage Management – Prompt scripts, cue sheets, ground plans, rehearsal notes and programs.
- Technical Direction – Drafting samples, objects that you have built, photographs and production paperwork.
These are just examples. If you have any questions about what a college wants to see in a portfolio, contact the college. You want these to be right, so getting the correct information from all these colleges is key.
There is no 100% successful blueprint for a portfolio to be accepted to a college. However, you do want your portfolio to be chock full of not only your strongest work, but the work that you feel shows off your creativity as well. Make sure you're including materials that you are the main contributor. For instance. if you're submitting photos of set designs, make sure you were the main designer and not the person that built the one section of the staircase or one flat. And again, make sure you're 100% honest about your involvement. These things can be checked. I once saw a portfolio from a costume design applicant who claimed she had designed a particular costume, only to have another student from the same school apply and prove that they had, in fact, designed that costume.
Also, some colleges might ask you to design a particular show. If that's the case, make sure you read the play/musical thoroughly in order to put together the best portfolio.
In closing, this can be a stressful process. To help with that, my advice is to start early. For Juniors, start your portfolios now. For anyone younger, start saving materials you've done. I always recommend starting a journal of achievements which will help when piecing together a resume a couple years from now. And for Seniors, well, best of luck. I hope reading this, you will have some time to apply it to your applications.
These colleges are looking for the best of the best for their programs, so make sure you're giving yourself the time to present the best application materials you can.