On the blog today, Jasmine Witmer offers some expert advice. Her Four County Players credits include Our Town, choreography for The Fantasticks, and stage management for Bye Bye Birdie. Welcome, Jasmine!
Having worked with teenagers throughout the years in various theatrical settings, I’ve gotten the college audition question more than once. How do I prepare? What are schools looking for? What if I don’t get in anywhere?
Before the Audition: Do your Research and Be Yourself
There are many things to consider when applying to and auditioning for college theatre programs. First, and most importantly, what kind of program are you applying for? The most important step in prepping for your audition is looking at your prospective school as a resource! Visit its home page, make sure you read the program offerings thoroughly, take notes, and prepare yourself for the program you want to audition for. An audition for a BFA in musical theatre at Pace University in New York is going to be drastically different from an audition for a pedagogy program at VCU here in Virginia. Just some of the options for theatre degrees include: Musical Theatre (BFA/BM), Theatre, Dance, Bachelor of Arts, Music Therapy/Education, Vocal Performance, Technical Theatre, and so on. Know what you want from a program — list the things you want to learn to guide what type of program you’re ultimately looking for. Knowing this will ultimately guide whether you end up in a conservatory or liberal arts institution.
After you’ve discovered the type of program you want to pursue, look at individual program pages. Know your prospective school and program inside and out:
- Read individual program pages
- Reach out to the program advisor or director if you have any questions that are not obviously answered by reading through the program page — that’s what their email address is there for!
- Take notes on your audition requirements. Do you need a comedic monologue as well as a dramatic? How long does each monologue need to be? Is a musical selection required? Is it sixteen bars or thirty-two? Will you be learning choreography during your audition? Know the answers to these questions BEFORE you start your search for materials.
- Make a list of required materials for each school. Organization is your friend, and you’ll end up considerably less stressed if you know what’s required of you each and every time. Don’t make yourself feel like you’re scrambling — no one can prep for any kind of audition that way!
An equally important step in applying to a theatre program is knowing yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What types of characters do you play best? What types of characters would you never in a million years be cast to play? Don’t perform a monologue thirty-five years outside of your age range, and don’t sing something that’s really going to stretch your vocal ability. Now is the time to highlight your strengths, NOT to experiment with something that may not work for you. You will have plenty of time in college to experiment after you get in! Knowing yourself extends to your dress, hair, and make up the day of. Do not take this day to go over the top with any of it — be real, be yourself, and be comfortable. The audition panel does not want to see a character the whole time; they want to see your talent, your honest personality, and your willingness to take direction, correct in the moment, and learn.
When it comes time to choose your monologues, stay in line both with what your prospective school requires and what fits on your body and within your abilities. Do your research to ensure that you aren’t going to deliver the same monologue or sing the same song fifty other auditioners are doing. If it is in the most popular song books, has been “best musical” or “best play” on Broadway within the last few years, or is ANYTHING from Hamilton, avoid it! If you are having a hard time finding a monologue or song, there are some resources listed below for both overdone choices, as well as the best choices for college auditions. Don’t be afraid to turn to your high school teachers or your local community theatre resources to help with monologue and song selection, either.
Prepping for the Audition
If you’re preparing a song, work with an accompanist who is not your regular accompanist after you’ve learned the song. You will not be working with your regular accompanist the day of, so you need to be ready for a different player who may not accompany you the way you are accustomed to.
Try to have at least five sixteen-bar cuts, but prepare as many as you can. Some colleges will have a requirement for how many different sixteen/thirty-two (etc.) bar cuts you should have. Make sure you have a variation of up-tempo and ballad style cuts — choose a song that allows for this to show the variance of your talent!
KNOW THE ENTIRE SONG. Know the character who sings the song. Know the show the song comes from. Read the show before your audition.
Video tape your audition in the event of illness.
Do not ever choose a monologue from a television show or movie. You are auditioning for a theatre program — most schools are explicit about this rule. Look to individual school guidelines, but this is usually a steadfast one to stick to! Do not select pieces with excessive language or obscene or graphic descriptions for the purposes of shocking your audiences.
Memorize your monologues! Having something in your hands during your audition will make inhibit your movement and make you look unprepared.
Do not rehearse in front of a mirror — this will bring a self awareness to your acting. Rehearse for this audition just as if you are rehearsing for a play!
If you can, work with a coach or trusted director. Having someone to give you feedback on your materials and presentation will be invaluable to helping you prepare for the day of your audition. Look to this person as you would a director of any play you are in — listen to their feedback with respect and trust and employ their suggested changes in the delivery of your monologues.
Know the character who delivers the monologue. Know the show the monologue comes from. Read the show before your audition.
Video tape your audition in the event of illness.
The Day of your Audition
Your Resume and Materials
Keep your resume organized and limited to one page. Be honest about your experiences, and if you’ve been acting for a long time, list your accomplishments in order of significance. Do not list choral or service accomplishments- keep it strictly theatre-related, as you would for a professional or community theatre audition.
Make sure your headshot looks like you do when you walk in the room, and do not use senior portraits or glamour shots! Now is the time to spend money on real headshots.
If you’re bringing an entire song book, have a table of contents at the beginning of the song book, and have your song marked in the book (you can use a paper clip) for the accompanist. Have cuts clearly marked. Most schools will be specific in their guide for how they would like you to provide music, whether that is in a notebook or taped together. Find this information out — and whatever you do, make it as convenient as possible for the accompanist.
Be prepared not to have a chair provided for you. You should not have rehearsed to be dependent on a chair for your monologues. Some schools will provide you with a chair, others will not. Be prepared to think on your feet and adjust as necessary.
Your Appearance and Attitude
Dress your age and according to your body type. Do not go over the top with your hair or make up, and do not turn yourself into a character. The audition panel wants to see the real you! Furthermore, don’t act disingenuously in order to impress the panel. Be a real person who is willing to take feedback, look the panel in their eyes when you speak with them, and remember — if they don’t like you, you don’t want to be there! It must be a good fit for YOU as well as for the panel!
The panel’s impression of you begins the moment you walk in the door, not the moment you begin performing. Own your audition from the moment you step in front of them; walk in with confidence, greet them politely, speak clearly, and make a lasting first impression by being prepared, polite, and not taking up more time than you are allotted, arguing if you are cut off mid-performance, or being to meek.
Remember, too, to ask questions. This goes back to the importance of remembering that this first and foremost must be a good fit for YOU. Do not be afraid to ask what the department does to help students find work, how many recent alumni are in major cities actively working in theatre, where notable alumni are currently working, and if there are any student projects or showcases, etc.
After you’ve left your audition, write a thank you card. Emails are acceptable, but a thank you card will make a longer lasting impression and show a deeper level of thoughtfulness. Be specific in who you address it to, and if you need to send more than one, send more than one.
Most of all, have fun, stay prepared, and remember that this is part of a very long and exciting journey in your theatre career. Look to your trusted directors, friends, and mentors in your schools and local community and professional theaters for help, and remember that you are not alone in this process!
Resources: Do Not Lists: Overdone Songs and Monologues: https://
Backstage: 4 Great College Audition Monologues: https://www.
Monologue Blogger: Top Rated College Audition Monologues: http://www.
The Audition Blog: Age Appropriate Songs for up to Age 25 https://
Backstage: Eight Elements of a Perfect College Audition Song https://www.backstage.