Getting the most from your college program
Hopefully by the end of April, the right school will be revealed to you and your student. It may or may not be one of their top choices. That’s okay, because (as we all know), your student will get out of this experience what they put into it.
Hopefully your student will be open to new ideas and experiences, no matter where they land. The college experience is about broadening a student’s horizons in many ways, not just within their major. Encourage them to be open minded. They may find that their new theater home has very different procedures and practices from their high school experience. Their professors should challenge them in classes and push them to new levels--but ultimately, it is up to the student to put in the work. Hard work will be noticed, and you owe it to yourself to make a solid attempt to do that crazy thing your acting teacher is asking of you.
Do the auditions
This may seem obvious--after all, you’re here to major in theater! Unless you are prohibited from auditioning as a freshman, do it! You may be pleasantly surprised with the end result. If nothing else, you’ll gain experience from the audition process itself, which may be very different from your high school show auditions. Some schools do not permit freshman to audition for all or part of their first year. There are varying reasons for doing this--it can allow freshmen time to adjust to college life and give them a semester or two of acting classes under their belt.
College is really a clean slate. It’s not that your high school background doesn’t count (it’s part of what got you this far), but once you arrive on campus, the significance of your high school show resume will fade quickly. Some schools will only allow freshmen to use their high school show resume for the first year, and then they must start only listing their collegiate experiences.
You may have been very successful in your high school program, and that’s great! Now you will have a different level of competition. Take a look around--all of your fellow freshmen probably were very successful in their high school careers also. Get ready to step up your game if you want to be taken seriously. All of this means you may not be cast immediately. Don’t get down on yourself--check out the next paragraph instead.
Do costumes, scenery, lights, props, etc.
If you don’t get cast, that’s no excuse not to get involved in a show right away. As you know, there’s always a need for help backstage--so get back there and help out. Chances are you will be required to do a certain number of hours in these jobs as a part of your major. If you have never done the behind the scenes jobs, it’s a great learning experience. You’ll gain new skills (my daughter learned how to use numerous power tools and enjoyed it!) You will also gain a deeper appreciation for those jobs. Plus, you may someday need to use those skills for a job, so the more knowledge you can gain, the more well rounded you will be.
These are great chances to connect with your fellow theater majors. You will be spending a lot of quality time together, so get to know these folks. Chances are you will become fast friends with many of them. The upperclassmen can guide you about class choices and quirks of different teachers. Their advice can be helpful but can also sometimes color your judgement--so remember to think for yourself, too. Because theater is such a collaborative art form, it’s likely that your next group of great friends is just waiting to meet you inside the campus theater building.
Be prepared and professional
No matter what aspect of a production you become involved with, it’s important to be prepared and professional. So: know your material, practice your vocal parts and dance routines, pay attention in rehearsal, support your fellow actors and technicians, keep your phone out of sight in the rehearsal room/classroom and keep any negative thoughts or comments about others to yourself. Your director, stage manager, and professors will be watching.
Attend campus events
Your school (and probably the surrounding community) will offer many theater events for you to attend. It’s easy to make excuses for how busy you are, but schedule your time wisely and go to them! Your professors work very hard to plan these events and secure funding to make them possible. Hopefully, you’ll have visiting performers, masterclasses, and trips to professional productions available to you. Whenever possible, see other shows both on and off campus--it’s a great way to learn more about your craft.
Take care of yourself
At the risk of sounding like your mother, guard your health carefully. Community and dorm living seems to expose everyone to new germs they didn’t know existed previously. Eat right, get regular exercise, and get regular sleep--all of these will help protect you from illness. Taking vitamins, drinking lots of water, and steaming your vocal folds are good ideas too. As a performer, your body is your tool--so if it can’t work properly, you will not be able to do your job. Your mom won’t be there to remind you about this stuff, so get in the habit over the summertime, if you haven’t already.
Find an outside interest/hobby
Being a performer can be all consuming--you’ll find many spare moments quickly eaten up by practice, rehearsal time, listening that new song your teacher wants you to learn, and so on. Oh, and somewhere in there you’ll still have your other academic classes to deal with! It can be hard to find time for something that’s just for fun, but make the effort to find it. Draw, write in a journal, play a pickup basketball game, learn a new craft, join a campus organization, volunteer at an animal shelter--anything outside of theater. It’s a chance to meet people outside of the major, clear your head, get some perspective, and observe. In a funny way, your outside interests will end up fueling your art, as actors should be observant of others so they can use what they see in their craft. Plus, it will be a much needed break from the grind of college life.
It’s a rollercoaster
I’ll let you in on a little secret--no school is absolutely perfect. You will find flaws and situations that make you upset. Every school has them, so unless there is something that is a complete deal breaker, you have to take the good with the bad. Learn to accept the flaws and problems as part of the process, and try as best you can to rise above them. Life overall is full of ups and downs and constant change. If you can see them as just individual moments and keep perspective, you will be satisfied, content, and productive. Now that’s a meaningful life lesson for all of us.
Our journey: the conclusion (and the beginning of the next chapter)
As I mentioned in the previous article, my daughter chose a school that she had some reservations about initially. Most of those ideas in her head were simply questions about the unknown: what would college really be like? Would she like the school? Would she really be cut out to do this? I think those are things that a lot of students feel when entering college, in any major. Her school holds ‘unified’ auditions for all of the shows in a semester right away, so she gamely auditioned, not having any idea of what the result would be. It was better than any of us could have guessed--she landed a significant role, immediately was welcomed into the department by the other students and teachers, and had an absolutely amazing first semester. It was so far beyond our expectations that it’s hard to put in words. Of course, there have been ups and downs since then--that’s life! But we continue to be blown away by the opportunities offered by the school and the amount we see her grow in her abilities.
A final word to parents: first, pat yourself on the back. You made it through the college. audition gauntlet. Congratulations to you and your student for getting to this place. I knew you could do it! Now, you’ll get to enjoy the new experience that collegiate level theater brings.
Remember how proud you were to see your kid on stage in high school shows? It’s a great moment. I’m here to tell you--college theater is going to rock your world in the best way! College shows are a huge step up on every level you can imagine. I have a hard time explaining to people at home how amazing they are. It’s really something to see your student and their friends performing on a large stage with high quality staging, costumes, and lighting. You’ll be exposed to new shows, challenging ideas, and get to watch these students climb to new heights. Get ready for an amazing ride!
Michelle Barraclough is an adjunct professor of music at a small college in the Northeast. She is a flutist and loves teaching, providing guidance for students, and performing. Her older daughter is a musical theater major. Both are happy to have survived the audition process and extremely grateful and satisfied with the outcome.