Thousands of high school seniors are coming home everyday and searching the mailbox to see if the letter has arrived. The dreaded yea or nay acceptance letter from colleges they have applied to.
Thousands of kids are counting down the days until they hear from a school. One by one my friends have come into school, their faces filled with excitement and relief. It can mean only a few things: they got concert tickets for the hot show coming up, they got a job, they went shopping, or the most likely answer, they got accepted into college. Many of my friends have already been accepted and they ask me, “Chelsea, did you get into college yet?”
The answer is no. I have not. I will be honest and say that I haven’t really been focused on the whole college process this year, but that isn’t the reason I haven’t heard.
I want to pursue a major in acting, drama or musical theatre. While my friends are content and happy because they were accepted into the school of their choice, and into a major of psychology or English or education, I have to prepare for brutal auditions. I have to present my talent in front of a panel of judges at these schools like a prized pig at the fair. They are extremely competitive programs and very few people get into them. At UConn they receive 180 applications for their intensive acting program, and accept 15 students. Ay Syracuse University they receive 800 applications and accept 80. Needless to say, the students applying to these programs are up against it. We have to go through this agonizingly brutal process of applying, auditioning and then waiting until April to hear if we got in or not. While my friends can relax and unwind the next couple of months until graduation, I have to stay focused, kick into gear for my auditions, and then patiently wait to hear from the schools.
I recently went for my musical theatre audition at Syracuse University. I sat in a conference room with a handful of other very talented young women. We discussed our interest in the field and we talked about school and our friends. They all voiced their opinion on how annoying and aggravating it is to hear everyday about their friends acceptance into college, how easy it was for their friends to get their applications out, and how we have to do so much more work. When you apply to a school to be engineering major you don’t have to go and show the college that you know how to design a bridge. They accept you based on your application and a few other factors. When you apply to a school for performing arts, you have to go show the school what you are made of.
Most people I’ve encountered don’t completely understand the auditioning process. I didn’t even understand it myself a few months ago. I wasn’t sure how important it really was in their decision to accept me or not. I quickly found out that it was a huge factor. The admissions office looks at a student’s application filled with transcripts, essays, letters of recommendations, extra curricular activities and many other required goodies. They look heavily upon all that criteria, but a great part of the admissions process is the audition itself. The school wants to see exactly what the student has to offer to their program. They want to know if they can work with the students and mold them into successful members of the performing arts community.
My first college audition was January 28th at the University of Connecticut. My dad and I made our way to Storrs the night before the audition to soak in the college atmosphere. I had been there a few times before, but never as a prospective student. The campus seemed so different as I tried to picture myself walking the sidewalks, boarding the bus and eating in the dinning halls. Once we made it to the hotel room, my nervous father wanted me to practice my audition pieces. Whenever I do a show or have a big audition coming up, my dad turns into my personal coach and pushes me along to the finish line. In the past my dad and my dog, Dakota, sit on the couch in our living room and I come in and practice my lines in front of them. At UConn my dad helped me work through the kinks in my two monologues and practice my song in the hotel room. I wasn’t very cooperative or happy to be doing this, but I tried to practice the best I could under the circumstances. I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t completely in the right mood to be doing this audition, but my dad helped me pull my act together (no pun intended), so I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the UConn adjudicators.
Early the next morning we entered a room filled with other high school seniors sitting in desks in a circle around two current UConn students. They were bubbly, nice, informative students who told us as much as we wanted to know about the acting program at UConn. The two students were part of the acting program and gave first hand knowledge about the major and what UConn had to offer a budding actor. I sat there in a small desk listening to the information. Even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with my audition pieces, I wasn’t nervous. I felt like everything was going to turn out all right. It was my first college audition experience, so once I got it under my belt, I knew I could get through them in one piece.
We had to go as one group to a warm up down the hall. The five teachers that would be judging our auditions were seated in chairs as we entered the room. We were to have a group warm-up that would be part of our audition. They wanted to see how we worked with the group and how comfortably we listened to direction and movement instructions. I didn’t know a soul in the room, so it was going to be extra difficult to work well with the group, but I tried my best. I love meeting and interacting with new people, so I just took it in stride and did my best. We had to do some dance movements. I looked around and some people were exceptionally good. Others, like myself, were not as experienced, and had some trouble keeping up with some of the moves.
I learned through this audition process that dancing is a big part of musical theatre. Unfortunately, I am not a very good dancer, I’m not very limber and flexible, so it was a part of my audition that have shot me in the foot. The instructor was a nice, warm and kind middle aged woman. Despite my lack of dance ability, she made me feel comfortable. The group quickly got to know one another and during the half-hour group warm-up, we all played off one another and did very well in front of the critical eyes of the teachers.
Then we had to pile back into the room we started in with our parents and wait patiently to go perform our monologues and song for the panel of adjudicators. I was the last person on the list to enter the chamber and perform my audition pieces for the judges. I still wasn’t nervous as I sat and waited. One by one students would come back and relay tales of how their audition went and what the room was like up there. I wasn’t nervous at all until I stepped in front of the panel.
I took a shaky breath and began my first monologue. I didn’t make eye contact with any of the five teachers and acted to the wall behind them. I felt comfortable with my first monologue because it connected to me on a deep level and I felt I could accurately portray the character. My second monologue had been my Achilles’ heel all week. It was a long speech from Lady MacBeth from Shakespeare’s drama ‘MacBeth’. It was impossible for me to get the words down. Shakespeare was not sticking in my head that week. I dramatically represented Lady MacBeth for the teachers, but I messed up a couple times. Every time I slipped up I felt a knot in my stomach. Even though it was a few little mistakes, it could knock me out of the running for their competitive program.
I made it through my monologues alive. It wasn’t the best I could do, but it was above average for me. Next I proceeded to pop in an accompaniment CD for my song “Wouldn’t Be Loverly,” from ‘My Fair Lady’. I was sure that this would be the part of the audition that would knock their socks off. I began the song cheerfully and confidently, but was sabotaged by a scratch in my CD. The CD started skipping right in the middle of my song. I had to go with the flow and asked them if I could sing without it. It was a major gaff on my part, but I recovered.
The teachers stared blankly at me the whole time. Once in awhile they would smile or laugh at something in my monologue, but basically they were emotionless. They couldn’t show any signs of what their decision might be. I felt like an animal in a zoo. They were all looking at me performing, but had nothing to offer me in return right on the spot.
I was so relieved to get the first audition out of the way. It was a great weight off my shoulders. Now I knew I could make it through alive. I went to Syracuse University the next weekend, which was a few notches above the UConn audition. It was professionally set up and all the sections of the audition were divided up. There was another dance audition, but much harder this time. My legs were like Jell-O. I couldn’t make them do anything that they were supposed to. I can imagine I looked like a reprise of my role of the Tinman from “The Wizard of Oz” as I attempted to dance. I was blown away by some of the other girls in my group when they danced. They were so good. I was up against a lot of talent at Syracuse.
They placed us all in a conference room to wait to perform our monologues and songs. We all got to know each other and it was interesting to meet other people from California, Puerto Rico and Hawaii that had such a passion for musical theater. I was almost embarrassed by my resume and list of accomplishments next to some of the other girls. I’m sure they were showing off a tad bit, but honestly, they were polished and seasoned young actors. This one girl, from Plano, Texas, had been in 20 or more shows and had played the lead in many of them. She had a huge portfolio made of her work, with pictures and everything. It was very impressive and nauseating at the same time. I come from a school where I am the cream of the crop, the best at what I do, and now I was up against 800 other people with similar or better situations.
I still have four more auditions to go and then I have to sit and wait patiently to hear the verdict. This is an agonizing process to go through, but it’s only a small dose of what the real acting world is like. So while my friends are all receiving their letters from colleges now, I have to work hard and wait. It’s a small price to pay to follow my dream.