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Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?

Performing Arts High School Auditions: Preparation

Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?Your child has decided that they want to go to a specialized arts high school. That’s a big decision. Now what? If they are in seventh grade, going into eighth grade in the fall, then hopefully you have already addressed some of the items covered in this prevous blog on the first steps to take regarding performing arts high school auditions.

So here you are a couple of months away from the start of eighth grade, it’s summer — time for relaxing before school starts, right? Nope. You and your child need to be starting your preparation now for auditions that could begin as soon as late October (yes, that’s soon). For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the New York City schools preparation, but most of it should apply generally to your local schools.

Once you and your child have narrowed down what schools they are interested in, you need to determine the audition schedules and any other pre-audition testing or requirements. Your middle school/junior high school counselor should be able to help you with some of this, and if you are in a large district like New York that has multiple options for performing arts high schools, there should be information on your school district site like this. Get a notebook or keep a good calendar so you don’t lose track of things. The whole process can get overwhelming, especially with multiple schools, and you don’t want to get any dates mixed up and not be allowed to have your child attend the auditions.


Once you have determined your choice of schools and the audition dates, it’s time to think about audition pieces. And hopefully your youngster is already studying in the arts. Here we will focus on acting and vocal auditions, but much of the timing and general advice will be the same.


Be sure to check for your school’s specific requirements (and they could differ by school even in the same district), but in general an acting audition will require two memorized, contrasting monologues (for example, a comedic one and a dramatic one). They must be from either published collections of monologues for young people, or they can be taken from a play. But the key is that they must exist in some published form. The play that Aunt Susan wrote as a college project or a monologue from a TV show or movie your kid loves does not count. The characters in the monologues should be close in age to your child, and they should avoid classical (ie, Shakespeare) at this stage. Check out the StageAgent monologue tool and our partfinder to start looking up some possible audition monologues. Some school sites will also give you a list of suggested monologues to use.

As a student preparing for auditions, finding a monologue isn’t just a matter of picking something off a list and using the first one. You must try a few out, see how they feel, see how you like the character and how comfortable you are with the language. You shouldn’t just decide to perform the first ones you pick. I have had students work through half a dozen monologues or more before settling on the final two pieces; then we have to work out just the right cut of it to fit the time requirements, generally a minute long. As a parent in this process, try to find someone to coach your youngster; often they are just too self-conscious to work with mom and dad, and then they won’t really be prepared. Your school’s drama teacher, local conservatories, or private acting coaches all will have experience that will help your child feel really ready to audition.

Starting this process is not something you want to do a mere few weeks before the auditions. Once you’ve found monologues that seem interesting, your child needs to read the plays they come from (where possible–many of the monologues in anthologies may not come from full plays). Your acting coach will work your child on creating a character, understanding what makes that character tick, working on their diction and projection skills, as well as keeping them on task with memorization. Coaches will help a student work on additional skills like how to confidently walk into the audition room and introduce themselves, “cold” reading (performing a scene or monologue without benefit of extra preparation), or improvisation or theater games.

Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.
Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.

If a student is auditioning for a straight drama/acting program, this will be the general run-down. Students auditioning for musical theatre programs will need to perform song selections as well, which we’ll address next.

Vocal/Musical Theatre Auditions

Vocal programs could be either classically based or musical theatre. Once again, check the specific school’s requirements, and more specifically, understand the types of vocal classes offered. If your child only wants to do musical theatre, you want to be very clear that you are not auditioning from a more operatic/classical program (although the skills learned in either are going to serve them well down the line). Musical audition pieces should be chosen with the same care as monologues. They need to be age-appropriate and show an understanding and relation to the lyrics being sung. Lyrics need to be acted; singing pretty isn’t the only option here. I believe that an auditioning singer needs to read the libretto for the musical they are singing from just as the actor doing a monologue would read the play.

Two contrasting pieces should be prepared: an uptempo and a ballad; a comedic and a more dramatic song; or a musical theater piece and a classical piece, which might be in a foreign language for more classical programs. Once again, the StageAgent Partfinder and our audition songs database are a good place to start looking for material. The pieces must be memorized and fit comfortably in the student’s range. It can be better to choose an easier song that your child can perform really, really well than a more showy piece they might struggle with. And as with monologues, the process of choosing these pieces should be started months before the auditions! Hopefully, for singers, they are already in choirs or musicals or are working with private vocal coaches to develop their skills. At the auditions, students may be asked to sing scales or listen to rhythms or pitches and repeat them back to show facility with musicality in an improvised, unrehearsed setting.

Once again, any coaching outside of the family setting is a huge help. Having someplace to go and sing other than their bedroom will encourage exploration and better practice skills where your child isn’t worried about people hearing mistakes as she learns her music or if he is singing too loudly and bothering the neighbors. And a professional vocal coach will make sure that your child’s music is prepared correctly for the accompanist and work with your child on how to make their entrance and speak appropriately to the accompanist as well. Anything you can do to boost your child’s confidence is key.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

One last note about musical theatre auditions. Those students will need both songs and monologues prepared, and they will need to be ready for a dance audition as well. They don’t need to be ballerinas or amazing tap dancers to get accepted (that’s why there are dance-specific programs), but they need to be able to demonstrate an ability to move well and keep count with the music. They need to demonstrate that they can make the effort to learn the dance movement and sell it and show their character and personality! Overall, schools are looking for potential.

So, here are your summer homework assignments that you need to get cracking on now (sorry about those summer plans):

  • Reread the First Steps blog for a few reality checks/reminders.
  • Determine audition dates.
  • Choose audition material with your child and an outside arts professional.
  • Encourage and support your child to practice daily now and consistently for the next few months and not wait until the last minute.

These next few months will fly by. Create a plan and help your child stick to it so that they will be well-prepared, confident, and be able to nail that performing arts high school audition!

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audition blackboard

Performing Arts High School Auditions: First Steps

audition blackboardApplying to get into some high schools these days is like applying for college. As an acting coach here in New York and part of the faculty of a small arts conservatory, I was flabbergasted at the process of getting into high school here, especially performing arts schools.

Here in New York in the first few months of the 8th-grade school year, there are weeks of competitive auditions at various arts schools across multiple disciplines such as drama/acting, vocal, or musical theater (note: while I am focusing on the student actor/singer, much of this applies to the dance, instrumental, fine arts, and film/television students). Some schools in other states begin the process with online applications after which audition appointments are granted. But regardless of where you live, you need to deal with applications, audition preparation, rehearsal, and lots of time visiting campuses for open houses and sample showcases to meet students and staff before the actual auditions. It’s a pressure-filled several months that can lead to big smiles or lots of tears when you get that all-important decision letter. But how can you prepare your child – and yourself — for this process?

Listen to Your Kid
If your kids are like most tweens, they might not be the most forthcoming in stating or even knowing what they want to do right now – even those who are already gravitating toward the performing arts. They might not realize that these magical, artistic school options even exist near them. Your youngsters may not feel like they are good enough or understand that they could actually go to high school to learn to act or sing operatically at this age. They might feel that you wouldn’t want them to do it. If you hear the subtle, or not-so-subtle hints, like an obsession with the Broadway Cast Recording of Wicked or Hamilton or anything written by Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown, talk to them about their dreams.

kid singing hairbrush

Now, maybe you don’t want your youngster to go into the arts; it’s a tough business and making a living is not easy, but attending an arts school doesn’t mean they must pursue it in the future – this is just high school after all, and they will be studying English, science, math, foreign languages, etc. Many performing arts schools have excellent academic records, and there are many other careers where an arts study is great training. Companies these days are always on the lookout for creative thinkers –and seriously, an acting background would come in handy for a lawyer or anyone who needs to speak in front of crowds, right?

Start Preparing for Auditions Early
Performing arts schools don’t necessarily want stars; they want kids with promise, a glimmer of something special, and a hint of talent with room to grow. They want a kid who will help fill out an existing troupe of characters in the Drama or Musical Theater departments or those who will round out a vocal ensemble, filling in the Alto or Tenor gaps that will be left by graduating seniors. Realistically, they want kids with good grades and who have good attendance records –7th grade is not the year to oversleep or miss class as those are the records that will be pulled for the 8th grade auditions. So watch for the signs that you may have a talented or driven kid and start preparing for these auditions in 6th or 7th grade; don’t wait until only five or six weeks before the auditions. Unless your child is extremely gifted, you’re very likely too late at this point. There are songs and scales to be memorized and polished, cold reading and a capella singing skills to be honed; kids need to be taught how to talk to an accompanist and even how to clearly introduce themselves. It’s possible, but difficult, and who needs that added pressure? START. EARLY.

Talk to Others Who Have Been Through the Process
If you are on the path with your child to pursue performing arts high school auditions, find other parents to talk to about the process. It isn’t for the faint of heart, especially in New York. Talk to your middle school counselor; they are often responsible for helping with audition appointments. If you already have your child in private voice or acting lessons or dance classes, the instructors could advise you on the appropriate preparation and put you in touch with students and families who will be willing to chat with you. And start planning as soon as you even think it might a possibility, because even if you’re not quite sure, you have a lot of research to do on schools. And know that while it may seem to be a terrifying project to tackle, once you have begun, the process will become clearer, especially with other folks to talk to.

Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst Reality
Every year thousands of kids compete for a limited number of spots at these specialized schools. The odds are not great. And not getting in can feel like the end of the world to a kid. It isn’t. It’s not a crushing of dreams and, although it stings, it’s just the odds. This isn’t anyone saying, “You’ll never be a serious actress,” as Diana Morales is informed in A Chorus Line; it’s just not now, not here. And it’s nothing personal – this is the hardest thing to learn, even for adults. Plus, if your kid truly wants to go into the performing arts, they will hear “No” far more often than “Yes” and will need to learn how to handle rejection now. Your job is to support and encourage your dreamers, but with caution and guidance about the possibility that it won’t work out every time. There are still many, many training and performing opportunities to come in another high school, private lessons, or college programs.

And the even harder reality is that regardless of dreams and desires and drive, the timing may just not be right for your child. Maybe their voices are just not agile enough right now or their acting skills need time and maturity to develop. Talk frankly with your child’s various coaches and teachers—without your youngster present—for their honest assessment and advice on attending auditions.

So start listening, talking, researching, and preparing now for the not-so-far-off day when you drop your youngster at a strange school teeming with hundreds of kids, give them a hug, tell them you believe in them no matter what, and call out “break a leg” as they are enveloped into the auditioning throng of kids.

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set model

Break Into the Biz: A Career in Theatre Design

set modelSo, you want to design for theatre? Where do you begin? It’s an odd industry, combining a myriad of skills that apply to other industries, but are entirely unique to our craft. Luckily, the industry thrives on collaboration, evolution, and the spirt of artists both green and seasoned. Whether you’re in high school considering the college path, or mid-career with an urge to see your art onstage, there’s room and potential for everyone.

As with many industries, the easiest “in” is education. Whether you’re just embarking on a design career and are considering a major, either a BA in general theatre with a design emphasis, or a more focused BFA in design and technical theatre, this is a traditional first step. If you’re afraid it’s too late in life to start over with a bachelor’s degree, have no fear, it’s never too late to design a play! I’ve know many designers who chose graduate school after a few years designing low budget theatre. Their majors have ranged from fine art to fashion design. Graduate school is perfect for the serious late-start designers and those out of BA or BFA programs.

If it’s too soon for school, volunteering is the easiest way into the industry. Theatre thrives off of eager volunteers. Once you earn your stripes, companies are also more willing and likely to hire you and connect you with other artists. There are two levels to begin volunteering—community theatre and regional theatre. Both are an excellent start. In a community theatre where musicals featuring large family-friendly ensembles like The Music Man or smaller single-set plays like Steel Magnolias are the norm, you’ll likely have more hands-on experience with design, while a regional theatre usually looks for administrative help. Both situations provide excellent networking opportunities.

There are low-budget, no-budget, and rough-and-tough community theatres everywhere. These are theatres that operate on sheer will and love of the art, and they are always looking for volunteer help. Maybe you have to begin as an usher if you have no technical experience, but just getting your foot literally in the door can open up networking opportunities with designers, and most likely at this industry entry level, people will accept any willing extra hands.

Regional theatres rarely ask for volunteers in their production departments. Often, their craftsmen are union and highly skilled, but if you happen to be a carpenter aspiring to become a scenic designer, it never hurts to get to know your local regional theatre’s technical director. Start by contacting the institution’s volunteer coordinator, or reach out to departments directly, you never know what a theatre needs!

For those in-between volunteer and school phases, internships are an excellent way to transition from enthusiast to professional. Many regional theatres have internship or fellowship programs designed to jump-start careers in technical theatre. If this isn’t an option in your area, try the local community college for design classes. Generally, students are given the opportunity to design or assist designers on shows, while networking with professionals. Brushing up on sewing and drawing skills, or learning CAD drafting and video editing are great ways to develop employable skills.

Once you’ve honed your skills with classes and volunteer experience, then you’ve also met some designers that are always looking for assistants. Assisting is one of the hardest, but most rewarding steps toward a design career. If you have an excellent attention to detail and are great with a scale rule, you’re the model builder your local scenic designer has been waiting for. Do you know some simple hand sewing and are great at organizing receipts? You’re a costume designer’s dream assistant. If you’re patient, eager, and willing, nearly any designer would love your help, and assisting is one of the greatest resume credits. Eventually, designers have too much work for any given show, and often recommend the theatre hire their favorite assistant instead. Just like that, you go from assistant to designer.

There is no simple path to a career in design. Some people find their way into the industry fresh out of college; others discover theatre later in life. Many receive traditional education; others learn on the job. This diversity in knowledge and experience is the life force that keeps theatre innovative and evolutionary. We welcome new generations of thespians with open arms, so what are you waiting for?


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The Theatre Performer’s Back-to-School Guide

The start of a new school year is exciting for a performing artist. Hopefully, you go to a school or college that has an active, professionally-managed drama department along with student-run productions.  Day one of school is an exciting fresh start.  Your time in school is a special period of life where you can focus on developing the necessary skills to become the adult you want to be someday. A brand new season of plays and musicals opens up a world of artistic possibilities. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of the coming school year:

Apple and Books


Set some goals:  Having goals will help you make the most of your time this school year, and actually writing them down provides a visual reminder, giving you something to aim for.  Make sure these goals are achievable during this school year. You might want to make it to Broadway some day, but smaller milestones will provide you greater motivation. Examples of achievable goals include mastering a particular tap dance step, working as artistic staff on a production, or adding ten songs to your singing repertoire.

Get organized:  Time management is one of the most important issues for an artist. Be careful not to over commit yourself.  Research and decide on the classes you want to take, long in advance.  Avoid committing to multiple major extra-curricular commitments that happen simultaneously.  Aim to work on a play in the fall, if you’re going to be playing tennis in the spring.  It’s better to do a few things well than lots of things poorly. You will also enjoy things more if you don’t totally stress yourself out.  

Stay healthy:  Make sure to eat well and keep a regular sleep schedule. Do whatever it takes to avoid getting sick. Hydrate!  When it comes to performing, your body is your instrument, and it is very important to take care of it.  

Prepare:  The name of the game at the beginning of the school year is audition, audition, audition!  There are so many opportunities, and it’s tricky to balance them all and also do your best work.  A savvy performers prepare for auditions far in advance. Start working now to master a repertoire of audition songs and monologues that suit your type but also show range.  That way, you have an arsenal to draw from at the drop of a hat.  When you’re not sure if a part is right for you, and there are a bunch of auditions happening simultaneously, read the guide for each show on StageAgent!  It will save you a huge amount of time and help you know where to focus your energy.  

Once you know you’re auditioning for a play, try to read it carefully before the audition and find appropriate material that will allow auditors to see how you are right for the role for which you are auditioning.  Decide on a few audition outfits now, instead of at the last minute.  You want to avoid rushing to prepare for an audition and avoid surprises. By preparing now, you will be much more comfortable on stage when that perfect audition comes along.  

Find a mentor!  Every great artist has had one or more mentors guiding him or her along the way. Unless you are psychic, you will need someone to guide you along your path to success.  School is a great place to find that mentor. Research the reputation of each teacher.  Just because he or she has a fancy job title, it does not necessarily mean that you will want to spend your valuable time with that person. Find a teacher that people love and respect and do what it takes to get that person’s attention. The performing arts world is very small and recommendations from the right people can give you a huge boost.

Last but not least, be kind.  Making art is hard, and falling on your face is an integral part of that process.  In the words of the great director, Harold Clurman, “You can’t have good plays unless you have a lot of bad ones.  People have asked me why don’t we have more good plays; I say why don’t you ask me why we don’t have more bad plays, because if you have more bad plays, you’ll have more good plays, because that feeds the ground — that’s the manure that makes things grow.”  


Take risks, but be kind to yourself when they don’t work out, and extend that same generosity to your fellow artists.  Kindness makes you more professional, gracious and courteous — and it also helps you navigate the inevitable politics of every drama department. With your peers, try to become a great listener, but don’t become a judge. Suspend your ego, and give only constructive feedback, and only when asked.  It’ll help you in the audition room, as well.

Directors want to cast great performers, but they like it even better when they are also great humans!  The best artists don’t just play roles well, they are masterful collaborators — and becoming a great collaborator early can make all the difference in securing a role.  You might be in school, but if you act like a professional, people will treat you like one.

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News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.