It’s that time of year again when thousands of high school students are applying to drama and musical theater college programs nationwide. These schools get more competitive with each passing year—depending on the track, they can accept as few as 10 new students a year. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what type of school and program you’re looking for as early as your freshman or sophomore year of high school. To help you in the process, I’ve pulled together seven steps to help you prepare for a successful audition, starting as early as that first year of high school.
1. Find the right program for you.
BFA? BA? BM? Conservatory? Emphasis on dance? Every school is different, even down to the degrees they offer. So make sure you do your research and figure out what it is you want to study for the next four years. Learn the difference between a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Music. Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll want to study onlythe dramatic arts or if you want to get a full liberal arts education. Do you want to study abroad? Do you want the chance to learn how things work behind the scenes? All of these are questions you should know the answers to before starting the search as they will likely narrow the list down significantly.
Develop a list of questions to ask potential theatre departments and start visiting college campuses early. You will be spending four years there, so consider where you’ll be happy living. Decide if you want a small or large school, access to a city, and whether you want to be in driving distance or an airplane ride away from your family.
2. Prepare for your audition.
Applying to college is incredibly time-consuming: studying for and taking standardized tests, collecting transcripts and letters of recommendation, writing essays, submitting applications. But don’t forget that you need to add audition prep to this list! When I work with high school students, we begin preparing their monologues junior year so they have ample time to choose and practice their pieces wisely, and also to film the video pre-screen.
Every November, I get a frantic call from a student asking for help and though technically there is still time, it feels like a rush job. Start early.
3. Choose appropriate material.
Unless you’re applying to a non-audition program, you will need to choose several monologues and songs for musical theater. Most schools ask for two contrasting contemporary monologues. Some require a classical piece. Your pieces need to be from published plays, not monologue books, so make sure you actually read the entire play, not just your selection. Schools will be unimpressed if you don’t know the origin of your character. Find pieces you connect with, show contrast, and are age appropriate.
4. Execute songs and monologue.
I highly recommend working with a coach on the selection and performance of your songs and monologues. Auditors don’t want to see formulaic performances—they’re looking for honesty and whether you’re present, relaxed, focused, and able to enjoy the process. In your pieces, make sure you know who you’re talking to and have a strong intention. Take the audience on a journey showing how your character changes from beginning to end.
However, it isn’t just the audition that matters. Schools with top programs aren’t easy to get into academically so grades and test scores matter! You must be accepted into the school itself to be considered for the theater or MT program. Your essay counts and may be why one candidate is chosen over another. Schools are looking for good citizens who are disciplined with an exceptional work ethic. How you interact with others in the room is important. Just like you want to be happy for the next four years, so does the faculty.
5. Be ready for the interview.
Schools can tell a lot about you from the interview. Work on your interview skills, be yourself and be ready to give thoughtful answers to questions asked. Research the school so you can speak about why you chose their program. Whether it’s the faculty, alumni, philosophy, or networking opportunities, have specifics.
6. Don’t forget the prescreen and tapings.
Each school has its own admission process and many require a pre-screen video (due in the fall) that will determine if you get an invitation to audition. This tape showcases your acting and, if applicable, singing talent. Make sure you understand the material and are making choices. For musical theater programs, you will not get past the prescreening if you have vocal damage or pitch problems. You don’t need professional equipment to tape but make sure you are filming with no distractions and adequate lighting.
7. Get ready for audition day.
You’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time so it’s understandable to be nervous. But make sure to leave your nerves outside or turn them into excitement and energy. Be yourself, be alive, let go of perfection, and enjoy the process you have worked so hard on while letting go of the outcome.