Michelle L. Barraclough
Part 2: Prepare your audition material: On your mark, get set…
Hopefully during the summer before your student’s senior year of high school they have developed a balanced list of schools where they will apply. The number of schools and degree of audition difficulty should be agreed on by you both--it will help both of you stay on the same track and hopefully have similar expectations about the process. It’s also important to look at the cost of these schools. While everyone dreams of a full ride, not everyone is going to get one.
Now it’s time to delve into the necessary steps to prepare the audition materials. Besides preparing audition material, you will have to apply to the actual school as well if you’re looking at a college or university. Academics count here. Colleges and universities will demand that you be academically accepted to the school before you are allowed to audition, so be careful how much you daydream about the stage in biology class!
I strongly suggest trying to get some of this audition material nailed down in the summertime, when your student will have more time to focus on it before the busyness of senior year starts. First, take a look at each school’s website, specifically their theater department page. Find the audition information and start making a list or a chart of each school and their audition requirements. Note deadlines for applications, pre-screen videos, audition registration and actual audition dates. Start plotting audition dates on a calendar so you can spot potential conflicts and figure see everything you will be dealing with. I was a little frustrated to discover that everyone seems to audition on the same days! You may have to contact schools to see if they will allow you to come on an alternate day or submit a video audition. Next, make a note to yourself to re-check the required audition material again in early September. Why? Because schools will often update their audition information over the summertime. Trust me on this one--you don’t want to find out the week before a pre-screen video is due that your child has the incorrect thing recorded and now has only days to learn the proper dance and find time to record it. Yes, I am speaking from experience, and yes, my daughter got it done--but not without a good deal of stress and anxiety.
Now that you have your audition information, you can start to make choices about which material you will do. A common request for musical theater auditions is to prepare two songs (one ballad and one up-tempo), and a monologue or two. The songs and monologues are often limited to a specific amount of time or number of measures, and students are frequently asked to cover specific time periods. I urge you to follow the audition material guidelines from each school to the letter. Some schools will have hundreds of applicants, and a very easy way to start eliminating applicants is to throw out auditions or pre-screens that did not follow the requirements. I remember vividly my daughter’s voice teacher figuring out the exact cut in her songs to fit the time restrictions perfectly. That might seem extreme, but we did not want to take any chances on being removed from consideration based on a technicality. As someone who listens to music auditions myself, I am still frequently surprised at students who have clearly made no attempt to follow the audition material guidelines. Don’t be that student! It really starts you off on the wrong foot with the audition committee, and that is not the impression you want to make.
Many schools asked for ‘age-appropriate’ material--so don’t choose a monologue that has you playing a 65 year old widow. Finding monologues was a big challenge for us, but my daughter’s voice teacher helped us out by loaning her a book where we found one piece. You should read the play that is the source of your monologue. You may be asked questions about it in the audition, so be prepared. Another common “please avoid this” request: do not do a monologue that would require you to use an any kind of accent. Online sources can be helpful here--especially to find material that isn’t really overused or inappropriate. Songs have a bit more flexibility here, but it’s best to choose songs that are appropriate for your voice range/type. Again, stick to the school guidelines: one school had a lengthy and detailed list of material they did NOT want to see. While there was some really great stuff on that list, she stuck to the guidelines they requested.
For my daughter’s pre-screen videos a dance segment was also required. Some schools wanted specific movements or styles in the dance and others were not as definitive. One school had a video that showed a dance that applicants were expected to learn and video themselves performing the exact movements. Again, check the audition requirements carefully here. Most of the live auditions for musical theater we went to required a dance call. I’ll speak more about an actual audition day in a future blog. If your child has never studied any dance, my recommendation is the same as most schools: get into a basic ballet class as soon as possible. Since ballet is the foundation for most other dance, it will really be useful.
How to find material
If your child is fortunate to study acting/dance/voice, etc., their teacher should be aware of their desire to audition and should help them find material and prepare it. Most of them have previous experience preparing these auditions with students and may be very familiar with specific schools’ processes. What if your child doesn’t formally study in these areas? A high school English teacher or a local community college theater professor may be able to suggest monologues and even provide a few coaching sessions, if you’re willing to pay them a bit. The internet has numerous lists of best songs for specific voice ranges/types, and your child’s school music teacher can also provide guidance in choosing songs and possibly helping them prepare. If your student is involved in community theater, a director there might have suggestions as well. While college audition coaching has practically become a cottage industry, I suggest you first use the resources available to you in your area, as these people may already have a strong connection to your student and they will be able to guide them in a meaningful way.
Several schools that my daughter applied to required a pre-screen video to be uploaded. The school then viewed the video and decided if she would be invited to audition in person. To show you how varied the results can be with identical videos: one school invited her to audition, one rejected her completely, and one allowed her to audition for acting only but denied her for musical theater. This just shows you how amazingly varied the audition process can be and how subjective it truly is. I’ll talk more about acceptances and rejections in a future blog, but for now, know this: there are so many factors in auditioning that have nothing to do with you personally, so do your best to remember that.
When preparing a pre-screen video, think about the following: what clothing will you wear? What is in the background of the video? How is the lighting? Is the device I’m using to record going to have good audio and visual quality? If you don’t have access to a high quality video camera, don’t worry. You can get acceptable quality sound and video on an iPad or similar device. Since I’m a musician, I concentrated a great deal on sound quality in the recordings, and was pleasantly surprised with the results we got on a newer iPad. I have to say I didn’t realize the audition process was going to require me to add videography to my list of skills! I promise it would have made for great comedy to see me perched on a chair or box to get the proper angle for a video--but I got the desired result!. As for background and lighting, think creatively: can you use a school or church auditorium? Maybe a friend has a nice large room they would be willing to let you use. If using a room in your house, try to find a space that has a blank wall so viewers are not distracted by some picture on the wall. Put a few extra lights into the room so it’s well lit. When creating your video, make sure there aren’t distracting sounds happening (phones, barking dogs, TV noise, etc.) that could detract from your performance. Finally, record it until it is PERFECT. Don’t settle for less! Give yourself adequate time to get it right--there’s really no excuse to submit a sub-standard recording of your skills.
Many schools ask for a headshot--a photo of you that shows only your face and shoulders--in the application or at the actual audition. This need not be an extra photo shoot (and expense): I suggest having a professional photographer do a headshot at your student’s senior picture photo session. Bonus: you’ll get another beautiful picture of your amazing kid! Make sure that when you purchase the photos from the photographer that you ask for a high quality digital image that you can use for reproductions. I had the image file saved on my computer and then printed headshots at a local store as my daughter needed them.
Acting resumes are a bit different from resumes for other jobs. You can find formats online, and some schools provide a format to use for their application. Include your contact information, a list of roles that include the role name, the name of the production, the theater name, and the director’s name if it’s appropriate. You should list any training, special skills, or awards as well. Keep it short and simple--it should not be more than one page long, and many schools will specify that. Finally, be honest: do not lie on your resume or overstate your skills. Audition committees understand that they are seeing students with a variety of experience and backgrounds, and they are going to train you if you are accepted! The truth of your abilities will come out in the audition room, and you can imagine the result if you’ve lied or overstated things on your resume.
Our Journey (part 2)
My daughter’s final list had a fair portion of schools that were a reach, although it seemed like a good list at the time. Looking back, it would have been a better strategy to balance that list more. She applied to nine schools, including one safety school that did not require an audition. Several schools required pre-screen video submissions before inviting a student for a live audition. We also really didn’t have a solid concept of the percentage of students that were accepted until we were at the live auditions. We were perhaps a bit naive about the list, but at that point we were trusting the process and doing the best we could with the information we had. She was fortunate to have a good amount of prior stage experience, with plenty of quality school and community theater performances, voice lessons, and numerous years of good dance training. I didn’t realize until much later how fortunate we are to live in an area that has access to these things.
See you in September for the next blog: what to expect on a typical audition day. Until then, get that audition material in super shape so you can present your best self at the actual auditions!
Michelle Barraclough is an adjunct professor of music at a small Pennsylavnia college. She is a flutist and loves playing for musical theater productions or any large collaborative work. Her older daughter just completed her freshman year of college as a musical theater major. Both are happy to have survived the audition process and extremely grateful and satisfied with the outcome.