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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.

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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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Of Tonys, Snacks, and Hamilton

IMG_4389So, that’s the 70th Annual Tony Awards in the books, and it was a great night! I spent the evening with about a dozen friends–several teens included–and we had a viewing party at my arts conservatory with the show projected on the big screen in our theatre. It was awesome! It was like we were in the Beacon Theatre, well, except that we had snacks and weren’t quite as dressed up as the Tony-goers were. And our ballots weren’t quite official.

We gathered around 7:00 PM with the red carpet arrivals playing on a monitor in our lobby, while a 60 Minutes episode featuring Hamilton coverage was streaming on the big screen. For only a dozen people, we had food enough to feed a small army. It’s so fun to see what people bring to a potluck! From roasted garlic chickpea snacks and chocolate-covered Oreo cookie balls to chili cheese dip and this crazy good grape salad (yes, you heard me, grape salad–with cream cheese, brown sugar, and pecans) and other healthy and not-so-healthy munchies. And to top it off, we had margaritas, Prosecco, and a chocolate fondue fountain — classy, eh?

So on to a quick recap (see complete list below). Hamilton didn’t break The Producers 2001 record, but it still won eleven of the sixteen awards including (as should have been pretty obvious) Best Musical. The Humans won four awards including Best Play. The four primary acting categories were all won by actors of color (three for Hamilton, one for The Color Purple)–a historic first for the Tonys, and James Corden was a terrific, charming, slightly silly host.  

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After a somber opening speech dedicating the evening’s show to those killed in the Orlando shootings late Saturday night, Corden in his delightful opening number spoke to something I mentioned in my previous Tony blog: that for many kids watching the Tonys every year, this was a chance to see Broadway in action and maybe even dream about being a Broadway star. Our little viewing gang of performers, parents, and kids in performing arts school agreed and cheered loudly when the number was over.

All of the performances were top notch–although due to a little glitch in streaming, we didn’t see all of the Waitress number–gonna need to find that on YouTube later. We were all thrilled to see a young student and friend rocking the house as part of the children’s cast of School of Rock, both in the main telecast number and the fun little bumpers they were doing out in front of the theatre throughout the night. Our kids (and a couple of adults) were all right down front on the floor for the Hamilton numbers and singing/rapping during commercial breaks. The grown-ups in the room gave a pleasant shout of surprise when Frank Langella won for The Father, and applauded loudly for Jessica Lange and her award for Long Day’s Journey into Night. And we all laughed when our youngest viewer, upon Broadway legend Angela Lansbury’s entrance, said, “Oh! That’s the lady from Mrs. Santa Claus!” It was a good reminder that Broadway always has its classy past to lean on, but the future, as demonstrated last night,  is wide open with possibilities.

Complete List of 2016 Tony Award Winners

Best Play: The Humans

Best Musical: Hamilton

Best Revival of a Play: Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Revival of a Musical: The Color Purple

Best Book of a Musical Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre: Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Frank Langella, The Father

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Reed Birney, The Humans

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton

Best Scenic Design of a Play: David Zinn, The Humans

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Best Costume Design of a Play: Clint Ramos, Eclipsed

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Natasha Katz, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Howell Binkley, Hamilton

Best Direction of a Play: Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Direction of a Musical: Thomas Kail, Hamilton

Best Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton

Best Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton

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