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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.

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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.

Drama/Acting

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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How Can You Have a Family and Work in the Arts?

Family with car in natureAn actor asked me, “Do you have children?” I shook my head, wide-eyed. “No. I’m only twenty-seven!” I responded, as if he asked if I were a home owner. After saying it, I realized, I am nearly thirty. Plenty of my peers have children, so I could, too, except I work in the arts. It’s just not that simple in this line of work. Whether you’re doing a community production of Into the Woods or a regional production of King Lear, the thought has probably crossed your mind: How can you have a family when you work in theatre arts?

What I love about this industry is its ability to allow you to grow up at your own pace. We literally play pretend for a living. Age becomes less important. Five-year plans, 401k’s, worries about the future wind up on the back burner because you are so busy living the art you’re making, that the reality of the future is less present. I’m not saying this is a good thing—everyone should start saving for retirement. Even if you live in a minuscule two-bedroom apartment with three people and a cat, the future will arrive before you’re ready. But, in theatre, we’re given a little more time to relish the now, enjoy the art, and “adult” at a more leisurely pace. Maybe, this is why we’re not all as focused on starting a family.

In my short career, I’ve seen several variations of the “theatre family.” The most commonplace is one spouse in theatre, the other with a more lucrative career. This provides financial stability, as well as a parent more permanently located to raise children. This, however, requires meeting a spouse outside of the arts, which can be a challenge, when your whole life is your art.

A more common family scenario is two artists, or artist and non-artist who only have pets. The choice to have children or not is made for a myriad of reasons, but the time and financial responsibility isn’t always manageable in theatre. Pet families are awesome—their dogs and cats are their children, and their work is their passion.

Sometimes, there are single parents in theater. They are demigods often holding staff jobs or professorships to provide stability in an otherwise unstable life. Their children are, in part, raised by their theatre community, watching over the child during tech rehearsal or auditions.

The theatre family I’m most familiar with is two artists raising children in theatre. Often they’re both working constantly, and have teaching jobs to keep their family afloat. Again, their community pitches in to babysit. Theatre children are some of the most wonderful and well rounded kids I’ve known. They spend their formative years in rehearsals, surrounded by adults. Usually, they are wicked smart, witty, and thoughtful. They understand Shakespeare years before most of us did. And many of them go into the arts. In these families, the parents are raising the future generation of theatre.

happy young family have fun on beach

For many of us, a theatre family is the dream. I was raised by a pair of ceramists; I’m no stranger to the struggles of raising children in the arts. My friends got actual Barbie Dreamhouses; I had to build my own. Now, as a professional who builds all sorts of odd things, I’m grateful my parents are artists. I didn’t appreciate it when I was twelve, but I sure do now. They are why I’ve always assumed I’d find a spouse in theatre. Some artists are attracted to other artists. Or, some artists only meet other artists. But, as I’ve reached the point in which my peers have families, the importance of stability has started to outweigh a partner’s mutual love of theatre.

After he asked if I had children, the actor said, “Are you telling me if you did, you wouldn’t work here?” I had to think long and hard about my answer. There are so many factors to consider. Some theatre families have the benefit of old money or living in a family home. Others live in affordable parts of the country. Many of them are incredibly good with their finances. Most of them will never retire. They probably won’t be able to send their children to private school on their own. Not even all of them will be home owners, or take family vacations. This is a reality I know all too well. But, like so many challenges we are faced with as artists on a daily basis, the answer to “How can you have a family in theatre?” is pretty simple—you figure it out.

 

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