All Acting, All Singing, All Dancing: The College Admissions Audition

Even for the most seasoned performer, an audition can be daunting. When added to the already stressful college admissions process, admissions auditions, often used at universities with competitive programs in dance, drama, and music, can seem like an insurmountable and sometimes confusing challenge. To help you navigate this complicated process, we’ve gotten advice from Laura Skaug, a professor at the Theatre and Dance Department at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and Halley Shefler, a consultant at The Arts Edge and the Dean of Admissions at Boston Conservatory. Here is what they had to say: Choose Your Material Wisely Many theatre auditions ask that you prepare two contrasting monologues that are under a certain time limit (usually two to three minutes). While this might seem straightforward, there are a number of things to consider when selecting a piece. The two monologues you choose should be:
  • Age (and gender) appropriate. Both Laura and Halley cautioned against selecting monologues that are obviously meant for a much more mature performer or are meant for someone of the opposite gender. If you are a girl, selecting a monologue for Romeo from Romeo and Juliet or Orsino from Twelfth Night is a risky idea.
  • Adhere to the stated time limits. Laura notes, “No school will ever be upset if you are under time but because audition days are often long if you go long it can be a disadvantage.” While you may have only a few minutes onstage alone, auditions are an endurance test for the evaluators.
  • Well-written. Halley suggests starting with Shakespeare or Moliere when looking for classical pieces, and Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, William Inge, and Sam Shepard for modern, post-war pieces.
When considering monologues, you should also take the time to read each school’s audition information. Oftentimes, schools will give specific information on selecting a piece, including things they don’t want to see. Schools like Marymount Manhattan even offer a list of suggested monologues and monologues to avoid. Practice, Practice, Practice While practice might not make perfect, it is a key to having a successful audition. Besides determining the length of your pieces, rehearsing lets you get a better sense of the monologues and allows you to figure out how to play it in front of an audience. You should also consider rehearsing with your drama teacher or fellow drama students. Not only will this give you the opportunity to practice in front of an audience, but getting additional notes and critiques also can help you improve your performance and delivery. Besides practicing your monologues or songs, you should also be familiar with their context and how they fit within the larger work. Not only might this come up during your audition or interview, but it also is obvious when a student knows the monologue but does not understand how it fits within the play as a whole. Halley says, “Too often, students come in and they have no idea what the story is about and what they are singing about.” In this vein, Laura advises against using monologue books, since they are “the first place inexperienced actors go to look for material” and they can contain pieces that are overdone. Instead, students should discuss appropriate monologues with their drama teacher and, in particular, consider monologues from plays in which they have previously played roles. Be Ready for the Unexpected Admissions auditions can be unpredictable, and each college runs them differently. In some cases, you may be asked to do some improvisation work by yourself or with other students, or the professors in attendance might give you some direction regarding your monologues and ask you to perform them again. If you are auditioning for a musical theatre program, the auditions usually include a dance or movement workshop. Some schools, such as New York University, have an interview in addition to the audition. Be prepared to go with the flow and participate in anything that is asked of you. Come Prepared Although the audition process can be unpredictable, a little research can give you some idea of what to expect or at least help prepare you for whatever might happen. Prior to the audition, look up each of your school’s audition websites to see if there are any specifics on the audition process. New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts gives clear guidelines of what to expect on audition day. In general, you should come to auditions with:
  • A performing arts resume
  • A clear photograph of you (a headshot is ideal)
  • A clean copy of your monologues
  • A copy of your sheet music in the proper key
  • Appropriate attire for a movement workshop (especially if you have a dance audition)
  • A bottle of water
  • A good attitude
  • Lots of focused energy – some auditions can last several hours
Have Fun Laura’s most important piece of advice for students who are auditioning is to “Go into the audition as if there is no place else in the world they would rather be. It’s OK to be nervous but if it feels like they don’t want to be there it shows!” Halley Shefler of The Arts Edge conducts audition workshops and rehearsals for students. For more information, contact her at info@theartsedge.com.

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