Maybe it’s the popularity of Glee, American Idol, Smash, The Voice, Duets, So You Think You Can Dance, or our fascination with celebrity. There is a massive title wave of jazz hands and belt-your-face-off mania rolling through the U.S. Whatever the cause, a phenomenon is occurring that has resulted in record numbers of performing arts colleges applicants to college theatre programs. And you young artists have passion!
Some universities recently reported a 20 percent increase in theatre program applicants in a single year. This means more degreed graduates than ever before are pursuing careers at performing arts colleges. Just look at a Broadway playbill and you will see the college training credited in actors’ bios.
Performing Arts Colleges
Being able to pursue conservatory style performance training in a liberal arts setting is a relatively new concept. Back when I went to college, I had to leave my 4-year liberal arts education as a theatre program major at Trinity University (www.trinity.edu) in favor of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, in order to get the intense actor training I was craving. But the good news is that there are now over 100 audition-based performing arts colleges with degree programs for acting and/or musical theatre in the U.S. So, you can get both your academic education and your performing arts training simultaneously. Pretty cool!
But the life of an actor isn’t as glamorous as it might seem. It’s a tough business. Because actors enter a profession with a very high unemployment rate, most parents are apprehensive about paying for a college education at a performing arts college. Making a living in the theatre is a challenge, to say the least. There are many more actors looking for work than there are jobs available. And every new job opportunity requires a new audition, so you never have job security.
How can you increase your chances for success in this highly competitive profession and calm your parents’ fears? Excellent training can prepare you to be the most competitive when you graduate, as well as teach you what it means to be “audition ready.” Passion and talent aren’t enough; you need the skills to be able to sustain a career. It is a craft that must be learned.
Receiving excellent training during college requires you to study at one of the many fine arts university theatre programs available today. Most of these selective programs require an audition for admission and it is a very competitive process. Some of the most competitive college programs accept only 1 - 4 percent of those who audition. Some of the slightly less selective accept 15 percent of those who audition.
To give you an idea of the numbers at a highly selective school, Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and Music Theatre (www.cmu.edu) auditioned over 1,200 students last year and accepted only 7 boys and 5 girls for musical theatre.
In an audition-based college theatre program, the audition itself counts for as much as 80 percent in the admission process. This means that you can have the highest test scores and grades, but if the auditors are not impressed by your audition, you will not get an offer for admission into the program. Being completely prepared to present yourself at your best will give you an edge over the competition.
Most students are now using a private college audition coach to help do just that. A coach will help select appropriate audition material, advise you on your audition package, help you compile a list of performing arts colleges that will meet your goals, oversee your applications and auditions to schools (often 10 or more), and guide you and your family through the complex audition process.
If you are in the market for a coach, look for one with a good track record of successful students, plus five or more years of coaching (specifically for college auditions). Be sure to get references from their previous students and families, and expect to spend $75 to $200 per hour for private coaching services.
If you do decide to pursue a college degree in theatre, you will discover exciting avenues for employment beyond just performing. For example, from my training I learned skills that have allowed me to make a living as a talent agent, casting director and acting coach in addition to my career as an actress. Many of my former students work as choreographers, piano accompanists, theatre educators, film editors, directors, costume designers, theatre managers, producers, television writers and recording artists. But one thing they all have in common is that they received excellent preparation for their auditions for these highly competitive college theatre training programs. And that’s where an experienced college audition coach can benefit you.
So, if you think you can be on Broadway, go ahead and pursue your dream, but have realistic expectations. Be thoroughly prepared for your college auditions and enjoy the journey. You are following your passion, and for that, I applaud you! Now get out there and “break a leg!”
Mary Anna Denard is an audition coach (collegeauditioincoach.com), author of “I GOT IN! The Ultimate College Audition Guide For Acting And Musical Theatre”