College musical theatre auditions – how to prepare for success

As a voice teacher, my worst nightmare is lacking the knowledge or experience to help a client reach their goals. I think most teachers can relate to that fear. The area of college musical theatre auditions is a relatively small niche and foreign to most professionals in entertainment, making it difficult to obtain up-to-date and helpful information.

I’m here to fill that gap for anyone with clients who need mentoring through this challenging process. So here are some tips based on what I have learned during my years as a performer, musical director and vocal coach.

  • As much as it pains me to say this, singing your face off will not get you into a college programme by itself. Musical theatre has become so popular among young artists that those who audition for college programmes have been training seriously for years and many of them are true triple threats – that is they have mastered the three disciplines of musical theatre: acting, singing and dancing. For this reason, I ask all my clients who will be auditioning in the next audition season to take time off from performing to focus on training in these three disciplines.
  • As a voice teacher, do your research and find a great acting coach who teaches acting technique based on Meisner, Stanislavski, Chubbuck and Shurtleff (who specifically covers auditions) and who has a broad repertoire of monologues for clients to choose from. This needs to be someone who you feel comfortable working with and someone with whom you can create cohesive audition packages (read on for more on this) so that your client delivers their very best audition.
  • What is a college audition package? Basically, an audition package is a set of two contrasting songs and two contrasting monologues that will fulfil the requirements listed by colleges. Every school has different requirements, so visiting each college programme website and noting audition information is extremely important. Each song in the package will need a 16 bar cut and a 32 bar cut in order to fulfil the various audition requirements.
  • When a college programme asks for contrasting songs, they mean contrasting in every sense of the word. One song should be from contemporary musical theatre repertoire (from 1965 to the present) and another should be from repertoire written before 1965. One of those songs should allow your client to demonstrate “mix” voice and “belt” voice in both 16 and 32 bars. The other song should show “legit” (classical) voice with long legato lines, vibrato, etc. After you have chosen those two main songs and created their cuts, you will want to fill in your client’s repertoire with six to eight more songs that show different vocal styles, emotional content and anything else that your client shines on. 

Two key things to remember when choosing songs for a client

Firstly, choose songs that fit your client’s type. Don’t know what their type is? Ask yourself three basic questions: How old do they present? What is their personality? And what is their physical look? If you have a difficult time identifying your client’s type, then engage the help of a local director or acting coach who is accustomed to casting. If you have a client who presents as a sweet Disney princess, then you want to stay away from femme fatal material. Likewise, if you have a client who presents as the comedic sidekick character, you want to stay away from romantic leading man material. Sometimes the biggest challenge is helping the client understand and embrace their type (an issue worthy of a whole article itself another time).

Secondly, avoid overdone material. Unfortunately, this can be easier said than done since the list of overdone material can change every year. Last year, every girl seemed to have When It All Falls Down from Chaplin: The Musical in her book. The year before that it was Pulled from The Addams Family. My best advice is to search for material that hasn’t been on Broadway or off Broadway for several years. I love material from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s and there is LOT out there. Spend a little time digging for the hidden treasures in shows such as Romance Romance, Rags and Little Fish to name but a few. Obviously, there’s the standard “do not sing” list which includes anything from Wicked, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

  • Help your client prepare for questions about their resume, experience, training and goals. Some favourite questions are: If you couldn’t work in theatre what else would you do? Why do you want to come to our programme? What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
  • Encourage clients to keep their resume as simple and easy to read as possible. Only note training that has been completed within high school years. Don’t list every show they’ve been in – just give the highlights. Add special skills that they feel comfortable demonstrating on the spot.
  • Encourage clients to wear an outfit that is flattering to their figure, that won’t make others in the room feel uncomfortable (don’t show too much skin) and that shows some of their unique personality. Never be afraid to ask a stylist for suggestions.
  • Help your clients understand that no college programme is looking for perfection, because in the arts we all realise there in no such thing. What colleges are looking for is a young artist who fits their programme in terms of dedication, personality and goals. Encourage your students to be the best they can be but to always be themselves.

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