College Drama and Music Auditions: How to shake the jitters and impress the directors

17 Aug 2017

Don Kruszka | March Consulting Arts Specialist

I never liked auditioning. In fact, I hate it.  Especially when that audition involves contrasting monologues. Preparing an out-of-context speech for strangers who have never seen you before and will judge your worthiness in five minutes or less always seemed fraught with peril.  There is a reason auditions have been dubbed “cattle calls.”  You feel like you’re a piece of meat being appraised for slaughter.

But, in order to pursue our passion as performers, auditioning is a necessary evil. And, to enter a prestigious college drama or music program, auditions are often required.  Admissions directors wants to know who they’re getting.  

So, with that in mind, how do you prepare an audition piece that will impress the admissions people?  A number of directors from various drama programs offer the following helpful advice:

First, choose pieces that work for you.

For drama majors, choose pieces that you would realistically be able to play right now.  It’s good to make bold choices, but try to keep them age-appropriate. For musicians, pick pieces that speak to you, that you enjoy playing. That tip also applies to drama majors, as well.

Next, research your piece.

You’ve got your monologue, now read the entire play, get to know who your character is, and the context of the scene you have chosen. Characters don’t start the scene when they get on stage.  They are coming from somewhere and going somewhere. Keeping this in mind will help further define your role. For musicians, learn everything you can about your piece: who composed it, what time period it’s from, what style is it typically played in? The more time you spend studying a piece, the more you have internalized it and made it your own.

Then, practice, practice, practice!  

Get to know the lines and the character as if you were putting on a comfortable shirt.  Lack of preparation not only leads to nervousness, it becomes apparent right away to the people conducting the audition, and it can severely hurt your chances.  If you can, work with a trusted mentor (this is good advice for all performers) who can give you constructive criticisms and help you find your choices.

Don’t be afraid to own this character or this piece.

As you are rehearsing your dramatic or musical pieces (or dances or songs),  remember that this is YOUR part, driven by YOUR talent, and the people controlling your fate are looking for performers who can tell a story with what they present.  They aren’t looking for perfection.  They’re looking for the passion that you bring to the table, the potential you offer that will enhance their program with your presence. That being said, remember that passion does not necessarily translate to screaming the lines or playing fortissimo.  Watch your volume.  Often the most intense lines can be more effective in a whisper rather than a roar.

It’s all about presentation (and not just on the stage).

At the audition, it is important to dress appropriately, be respectful to other performers and the people in charge and present a confident and comfortable bearing.  SMILE!  Speak clearly.  You’ve got this.  Remember that nervousness is normal and understandable.  There’s a lot riding on this, and you will sometimes be auditioning for a number of schools at the same time. So, admissions directors advise that you take time to BREATHE. Find some centering exercises that will help calm your nerves and put you in the moment.  It’s alright to take a few seconds to center yourself before you begin your piece.  Don’t rush in.

Keep in mind that you are performing for a friendly audience.  

The people who are evaluating you WANT to see you succeed, and if they see something they like, they will give you ample opportunity to do so.  

Their final piece of advice is to have fun.

This is your chosen field. Your idiom. Your calling. Be strong. Be yourself. Be the character. Break a leg.

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