By Kendell Shaffer
Gwen and I have been friends forever. Our daughters were born two weeks apart. I’ve watched her daughter, Anne, grow into a talented singer, dancer and actress. Witnessing Gwen navigate through the college application and audition process with Anne is overwhelming. I’ve asked her to share her story.
Hi Gwen, I was blown away by your recent trip to Chicago with Anne for her Performing Arts college auditions recently. How many auditions did Anne have and how many days did that span? You then went on to Los Angeles for several more, is that right?
National Unified Auditions take place in NYC, Chicago and LA. It’s a way for colleges to see everyone at the same time rather than students making ten plus separate trips to each college. As we live in the UK, this was the only way we could do it. Anne had ten auditions in Chicago over eight days. Then there were two more auditions in Los Angles over four days. And let’s not forget about the twenty-two hour trip to Pittsburgh for the on-campus Carnegie Mellon audition!
How many students auditioned that week in Chicago?
The hotel where most of the auditions took place was like a zoo. The security guard told me there were about 2,000 kids there. The corridors of the audition rooms were littered with students. It was very overwhelming. Then there were also several other locations that you had to get to in the freezing Chicago weather.
Can you tell us about the cut process. Were the kids expected to extend their stay in Chicago if they were called back, or did the callbacks fall within the same week?
Only a few places had cuts at the time of the auditions. Mainly they were same day cuts, or they didn’t ask you to attend the dance portion of the audition (normally later in the day or the next day).
Anne only had one cut in the second round of four rounds. There were fifty kids at this session (there were many sessions) and of the fifty only two were called for the afternoon session.
What was the competition like for Anne? Were there a handful of uber talented kids or were all 2,000 kids super talented?!
They don’t normally audition them together. They are only together in the dance portion, so you don’t see the other kids sing or do their monologues. They all seemed pretty amazing. Most schools pre-cut before you’re asked to a live audition. For the dance there was a lot of intimidating stretching going on. Anne said in general only a handful really had ‘it’. There were many technically good dancers, but you need to be good to look at too.
How many girls vs. boys auditioned?
WAY more girls. If you are a talented boy, you have a much greater chance of getting into your school of choice.
What was the logistical process for Anne? I imagine it was 1.) Send in Common App with audition tape and resume. 2.) Anne was invited to audition in person 3.) Anne was cut or called back 4.) Anne was offered a position during audition or will wait with all the other applicants to hear in March/April.
Basically yes. As we live in the UK, she has also applied to UK schools. I’m not sure they all took Common App, but she did have to do that. A lot you apply directly to the school via their portal.
The applications were all slightly different. It was complex and time consuming. I was out of town for the process and we would spend hours on Skype over the weekends just going through them together and cross checking. So, she and my husband really had their work cut out for them, not just prepping and applying, but finding somewhere to record the required materials.
As well as the recorded audition (two monologues, two songs and a self-choreographed dance example) you’ll need a headshot and resume to take with you to the auditions. We had a friend take the shot, but the printing was around $150.
So now you’ve done your application then you wait to see if you get offered a live audition and if you do, you have to book one. We had a complex excel sheet going with dates and times. One school didn’t have any dates left and so she couldn’t audition (that was puzzling in so many ways).
Then the live audition. In general, they tell you nothing. We know about a couple of places where she’s short listed, but that’s rare to hear. Some places are super nice, but several didn’t even talk to her during the audition.
Once she got back to London, she started the whole process again in the UK. She will not know until end of March for US and she won’t know about the UK ones until May. It’s really stressful and the feeling that you won’t be offered a place is very great and quite real, considering the acceptance rate is around 2% at most of these schools.
Can you walk us through the audition tape process? How many songs/monologues did she prepare? Did she use the same audition tape for every school or did each of the schools require a different tape? (Is “tape” even the right word anymore? LOL. Please correct me!)
Tape, well you and I are old school! You have to upload a QuickTime and it needs to be in a certain format. Each school asks for something slightly different and some want ‘intros’ spoken by the applicant. So, we made about eight different versions, if not more!
Some ask for different styles of songs/monologues – for example, most want one contemporary monologue and one pre-1800s, but some want two contemporary. They need to be age appropriate, which is hard finding something good for a seventeen/eighteen year-old girl that’s got some meat.
The songs for most, are also contemporary and pre-1950s and need to contrast (i.e. one serious and one funny, to show your range of emotion). Anne went for one soprano and one alto as she has a large singing range, but that’s not necessary. Also, you only sing one minute of the song, so you have to edit. I can imagine the non-music and non-tech people struggling as we are a family of musicians and techs and even I had help from my office to get these edited and formatted.
Now here’s the rub: You spend an inordinate amount of time choosing these songs and monologues and recording them — then you get your live auditions (hurrah) where you need a whole NEW set of stuff. That took us by surprise, which was silly on our part because we knew beforehand, but it was a scramble to get those new songs up to snuff. It’s very hard to just choose these things in the first place.
How are Anne’s spirits? This seems very intense for an eighteen year-old. Also very exciting! Wondering how she held up and is holding up.
Oh, it’s a roller coaster. She’s gone from lows to highs and back again within hours. It’s a brutal process and not to be entered into lightly. It’s tough on the parents too. One mum told me it completely ruined her relationship with her daughter. As a parent, I tried to keep things calm and light and make sure she was never late, had everything she needed and was fed and watered. I planned on working during the auditions, but it was very hard to find the time.
Do you mind estimating how much you spent on this audition week? Including airfare hotels, transportation and food? Also, did the schools require a fee separate from the Common App fee?
WAY TOO MUCH! My husband went for the first week and I joined and took over mid-way through as we both work. So, it was about $4,000 in flights (we live in London), but only a few hundred in accommodations as we mainly stayed with kind friends. We spent a lot on food and taxis as we were running around constantly. Each audition costs about $100 to apply on top of the Common App and as you are applying to a higher number of schools than you would normally (because of the very low acceptance rate) you have to pay for more AP, SAT & ACT scores to be sent as well. Plus the Pittsburgh trip — I’d say we spent around $7,000 for travel and applications (I wish I hadn’t added that up!).
Would you do this again, or say, “To hell with it, you’re applying to school as a History major!” What’s your advice to parents thinking about this path for their child?
History!!!! But, that said, if your child is truly passionate about going into theatre and it’s the only thing they’ve ever wanted to do, they’ll embrace this process and so should you. Expect a hard and stressful time, just try to be ready and organized early.
Should you have a backup plan? Unless you have a super talented boy, or a girl that’s already won a ton of awards, yes, you should. Maybe it’s a foundation course, or a college you can audition into the acting program once there. We don’t have a backup plan and although Anne’s super talented, there are thousands of talented girls and only a few places.
Any parting words?
- Start early – we wanted to, but circumstances prevented… I would choose your songs and monologues at the end of 11th grade. Work on them all summer and record just before going back to school. That way, you’re not trying to juggle school, music lessons, the school play, your applications/essays, etc. You’ll also have time to choose your new set of songs and monologues and get them ready before the auditions.
- Apply early. The top schools audition slots fill up and you might find yourself taking more trips or not being able to even audition.
- Be prepared with clothes. Girls will need several dresses for US auditions. Plain colors, not black, not too low or high. Think Comfortable!!! You’ll need the dance stuff too and shoes. Remember the weather, it’s COLD in Chicago and NYC and warmer in LA. Keep in mind that planes may be delayed with weather, we allowed time in case of snow.
- You can do it cheaper — just one parent, book early, etc. I used the trip to take care of some business in LA, so it worked for me. You can also send your kid solo, but I really would advise against that.
Thanks so much, Gwen, for sharing your story with us today!!
You’re welcome and good luck to the parents and kids about to embark on this journey!