Guest post by Nikki Kim
A new school year brings many things: new clothes, old friends, and the dreaded textbooks breaking your back. On top of all this, Seniors have another big thing on their mind–college. For music theatre, and dance majors, that means more than just filling out the CommonApp–that means the start of preparation for college auditions. As someone who dealt with this chaos as a senior last year, there are several things I wish I’d known beforehand:
1. Get Your Prescreens Done Early
During my time with college auditions, I did two auditions on-campus, two auditions at New York Unifieds, one local audition in a hotel ballroom (in November) and one audition via video. I auditioned for two programs that had prescreens, which are videos you send in to a college before live auditions. If they want to see you again, you’ll be invited to campus for a callback.
This leads me to my first point: Get your prescreens done early. I decided to wait on mine until November, even though both of mine were due Dec. 1 (which seems to be the universal date for Common App applications and prescreens, but check with each program individually. Some schools, like Carnegie Mellon, open prescreens on a first-come-first-served basis as early as September 1st.)
When I recorded my videos, I went from my first college audition to my accompanist’s house, and then to a rehearsal, and I was sick while recording them. It was a mess, and I still had to edit my videos. I ended up submitting them at 11 that night, and that added a lot of unnecessary stress. If you start working on your prescreens early, you won’t be rushing to get them all done in a day or so. Even if you feel like they’re not your best, you’ll have time to redo them.
2. Rehearse With an Accompanist
I was lucky enough to already have a relationship with a good accompanist before going into this, but when I was auditioning, I heard plenty of horror stories about kids doing their prescreens with an accompanist for the first time. Find an accompanist and rehearse with them before you record. Don’t know where to find one? Head to your local university’s music department and ask about an accompanist. I happen to live close to Kennesaw State University, so my accompanist works there.
One song I’ve recorded before is “Astonishing” from “Little Women.” This was originally my competition piece, and not to be done with live accompaniment. When I ran it for the first time with a pianist, it was so difficult and it took me a couple tries to adjust. You don’t want your hour with an accompanist to result in only one or two takes for your prescreen. Rehearse first, then record.
3. Find Out What Coaching Style Works for You
Everyone has a different way that they learn, grow and progress. Personally, I’ve always liked working on different shows with different directors because this gives me multiple perspectives. I like this approach because I feel like every college will have a different take on the material and I can ask many of my coaches and pick and choose what feels truthful and right to me. Find out what coaching style works for you, and work at it! I feel much better after hearing what multiple people have to say, but you might be the kind of person who does better with a single coach. Experiment for a little bit until you find what works for you.
4. Go to Professional Auditions
One thing a lot of kids mentioned going in is that working with an accompanist in an audition was a fairly foreign concept to them. Personally, I was surprised, because most of my auditions for the past two years have been with a piano. I realized that part of it was because we had different strategies for auditioning. Since I started, I have been encouraged to audition for professional theatres in the area. One tip I cannot stress enough is to go on professional auditions. I’m not saying to pack up and start auditioning for Broadway, but look around for your local equity/non-equity houses and go to their auditions. There is a 99 percent chance you won’t be cast, but that’s OK! The whole point of these auditions is experience, not booking the job. Going into my college auditions, I felt so comfortable (well, as comfortable as you can feel while auditioning) because it felt just like walking into one of my typical Equity-house auditions.
5. Find an Audition Routine
Another thing that professional auditions made me start to do was find an audition routine. I happened to stumble upon mine randomly, but I’ve adopted it and used it for every morning audition. I auditioned at one of the biggest Disney Theatrical cattle calls and had to be there by 7:30 a.m., and it takes a little over an hour to get into the city from my home. I ended up getting up at 4 a.m. to get ready and realized how well that worked for my voice and body. I was awake, alert and ready to go! This always helps me perform at my best, and I’m not in that “I’m really tired and need my coffee” zone at 8 a.m. when I need to belt “Astonishing.”
You’ll also learn what you do with your diet during audition days. For me, I cut out soda a week before big auditions and dairy two days before. The morning of, I chug a Mountain Dew (seems hypocritical, I know) because it gives me 96 milligrams of caffeine and 77 grams of sugar. Then I stick to just water and Throat Coat until after I sing. Everyone is different, and this may not work for you, so find your routine and stick with what works best.
6. Stay in Tune With Your Body
Traveling is often a big part of the college audition process. We chose to drive because we wanted to carry specific bigger items in the backseat, namely a HEPA filter and humidifier. Think about you, your body and how you like to feel when you sing and act. Personally, I have allergies, and hotel rooms often agitate them. I always carry a HEPA filter when I travel and have to sing so it cleans the air. I go set it up in the room and then try to stay out of the room for about an hour or two to let it get to work. This is also a great opportunity to eat and check out your new surroundings.
Hotel rooms also tend to have very, very dry air. This is actually helpful to 99 percent of people there because it helps limit the spread of infection, but it’s not good for vocalists. There is a simple solution: a humidifier! We also set up the humidifier so that when I woke up, my throat wasn’t dry and I wasn’t guzzling water to play catch-up. You can take a bigger one if you and your family choose to drive, but if this is an issue and you have to fly, you can find smaller ones to fit in your carry-on. However, this will take up half of your bag, so try to budget space in your checked bag or family members’ carry-ons.
7. Keep Important Items With You
With traveling, sometimes the “luxury” of driving isn’t an option (hey, I wouldn’t want to drive from LA to NYC!). When this happens, the magic of flying often swoops in to save the day. You’ll probably end up packing more than you usually would for vacation, and most people check a bag. Keep your rep book, dance shoes and one audition outfit in your carry-on. That way, if your checked bag gets lost or delayed, you’ll still have the stuff you need to audition. Toothpaste is easily replaceable, but your rep book filled with all your sheet music and cuts? Not so much.
8. Plan All Unifieds Auditions With a Large Gap in the Middle of the Day
As I mentioned earlier, I auditioned through many platforms, including New York Unifieds, which is a gathering of different programs conducting auditions under one roof (or two, in the case of New York). Unifieds is a great way to knock out multiple auditions in one weekend. If a college you apply to will be at New York, Chicago or Los Angeles Unifieds, you’ll have the option to audition there. You sign up for each college individually with time slots. You can also do walk-in auditions to schools that have an open slot. However, try to plan all Unifieds auditions with a large gap in the middle of the day so you can rest or eat lunch.
I wear three-inch heels to every audition, show and formal event and don’t ever complain about my feet hurting. But by around 1 p.m., my feet were hurting so badly from literally jumping over people, standing in lines and going from building to building. I actually went to the Duane Reade, got some epsom salt and soaked my feet at every gap I had, which helped a lot. My family also decided to stay four blocks away, which was a lifesaver. I’m not sure I would have been able to get through my dance calls if I hadn’t taken the time to rest. Don’t underestimate the time you’ll spend on your feet, and choose comfy shoes!
9. Get Your Parents’ Help
Now, we’re all restless 17- and 18-year-olds, but don’t be too independent. One big tip I learned during this process was to let your parents be stage parents just one time: when talking to your counselors. You’re probably looking at this with a weird gaze, and I don’t blame you! I’ve always been very independent when it comes to my theatre work. My parents made me do all the legwork for theatre myself, so I find auditions, set them up, set up voice coaches and do everything in between. So, when I was applying to colleges, I naturally took things into my own hands.
I called my counselor (I am completely online-schooled) and tried to get her to send transcripts and forms. She told me she had everything handled, and I went on with my life. Well, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d thought. I received letters from Carnegie Mellon, the first school I applied to, on Dec. 13, saying it hadn’t received my transcript yet. I called my counselor again, and she assured me everything was now fixed. I logged into Wolverine Access for Michigan the day live auditions were supposed to be emailed — no transcript. My prescreens were denied, and I know Michigan does stipulate a certain GPA, so this could have been a reason why my prescreen was denied. Let your parents get involved when you start applying. Parents always outrank students when dealing with schools, unfortunately.
10. Enjoy It!
College auditions are a big milestone in your life, so enjoy it! This is something you’ll likely only do once in your life, and although I find them to be similar to professional auditions, it’s not exactly the same. You meet so many people, see people encourage you left and right and get to learn so much about what you want in a program and a school. You are you, and that’s enough. You’re not auditioning for a role or a part of a show; you’re showing colleges who you are and putting yourself out there. Go be you, because that’s all you can do!
The day before I embarked on 71 percent of my college auditions, I had a coaching session with Rosemary, a coach I’m close with and feel like I can trust wholeheartedly. As we were packing up, she asked me how I felt about all this, and I told her how anxious I was. She smiled, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Don’t worry. If they don’t see the gift, you don’t need to be there.” That moment changed how I felt about college auditions altogether. It’s very true — if a program rejects you, it’s not a reflection of your talent or anything about you. They didn’t see your gift and what you bring to the table, so it’s obviously not the right fit for you. Take a deep breath, smile, go out there and be the best you can be~
Nikki is an incoming Freshman at Elon University studying Drama and Theatre Studies and Marketing. She currently spends her time bouncing from Atlanta to Elon to New York to pursue work as an actress and marketer. During her free time, you can always find her watching a musical or Disney Princess movie and practicing her Disney impressions.