As the college acceptance letters started landing in our mailbox recently, I spoke with Halley Shefler, founder and CEO of an organization called “The Arts Edge” — which offers educational consulting for students seeking admission to visual and performing arts programs.
Because some college theater programs require that students audition as part of the admissions process, our 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth is one of many students fanning out across the country to compete for coveted spots.
Shefler is a musician (she plays the flute) and a former dean of admissions for The Boston Conservatory. She holds an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a graduate degree from Boston University.
Though audition panels “really want to find kids who are good,” Shefler notes that they’re also looking for a “good fit.” It’s rather like a job interview, I suppose. Even the best author isn’t likely to land a CEO gig — but that’s as it should be.
Don’t just seek to impress. Strive to be the best “you” that you can be, rather than some cookie cutter image of what you assume panelists are looking for. But make sure you’ve done your homework. “They want to see people who are prepared,” says Shefler.
Following directions is just as essential. Know the exact monologue and vocal performance requirements for each school where you’ll be auditioning.
High school juniors just beginning the process might find it helpful to have a three-ring binder with a section on each school they are considering.
Sometimes a master chart comparing requirements is helpful as students begin to narrow down their choices of possible schools.
Most auditions consist of one or more monologues (usually “contrasting”) and at least one vocal selection of a certain length (often 16 or 32 bars). Sometimes students are asked to sing both a ballad-style song and something more up-tempo.
Shefler has several tips in the monologue department. First and foremost, make sure your monologue is “age-appropriate.”
As fond as your teenage daughter may be of playwright Tracy Letts, you wouldn’t want her using a monologue written for a middle-aged character using substance abuse to cope with a troubled marriage.
“Make sure you know the play your monologue is from,” urges Shefler. “You need to have read it and to know what is going on in the play.”
Choose vocal selections with equal care. “Don’t do a talking song,” says Shefler. “You need to be singing the whole time.”
If you’re expected to provide the music, have it “queued up and ready to go.” Shefler describes the faculty members on audition panels as “impatient” — noting that “nobody wants to wait.”
“Sing well and within your range,” suggest Shefler. It’s something best accomplished by picking song within your range and vocal abilities to begin with. “Know the notes, and know the rhythym.”
“Know the entire song too,” urges Shefler. You may be asked to sing additional bars. If piano accompaniment is being provided, have sheet music clearly marked and ready to give the person playing piano.
But don’t assume it’s all about your acting and singing chops. “You are being judged from the moment you walk in the room,” reveals Shefler. “You have to be in audition mode from the time you first open that door.”
While some of you may have been charmed by the sight of Johnny Depp chewing gum during the recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony, no one wants to see you spit out your gum or yank up your saggy britches as you enter (or leave) the room.
“Dress professionally,” says Shefler. Translation: Lose the T-shirt and jeans. Dress like you’re “going to meet someone for a first date.” Muscle tops and tuxedos, bad. Casual elegance, better. For women, think nice leggings tucked into classy boots with a long top and belt.
“Make sure your hair doesn’t cover your face or your eyes,” says Shefler. “And don’t be overly chatty.” Unless you’ve been told by the panel beforehand whether to start with your monologue/s or vocal selection/s, just choose one or the other and go for it. “Don’t ask the faculty what they would like you to start off with.” (I’d probably ask you to fetch me a latte.)
Also on the “don’t” list — getting too involved with the other people waiting outside the audition room door. “They try and psych people out,” cautions Shefler. “Wear a headset,” she suggests, “even if your iPod isn’t turned on.” (Were this me, of course, I’d end up never hearing them call my name.)
If nerves are a problem, Shefler suggests you “go jump around in the hall to get rid of them.” And remember, the more prepared you are ahead of time — the fewer nerves you’re likely to experience.
One final piece of advice offered by Shefler as we spoke — “Don’t get the last slot of the day.” She didn’t specify a reason but it’s easy to imagine both auditioners and panelists growing somewhat fatigued by the end of a long day.
Be ready. Be yourself. Be your best.
Note: For more audition insights, as well as information on related workshops and summer programs, click here to visit “The Arts Edge” online. Please note that “The Arts Edge” is not affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which has an arts education program titled “ArtsEdge.”
Coming up: The role of arts in bullying prevention