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Stand out from the crowd: preparing for the college audition

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Competition for drama school places is intense, so perfect preparation is paramount if you want any chance of success. Casting director Richard Evans offers his essential tips for choosing the right college and attending those all-important auditions

If, like me, you’ve sat in theatres watching performers singing and dancing in stage musicals and thought, “I could do that”, here are some things to keep in mind. It’s no fluke that those performers are up there. They have the talent to make it through a rigorous audition process and the skill to make whatever they do look absolutely effortless. These ‘lucky’ people will probably have developed those skills by going through years of training.

While some have a natural aptitude for singing, dancing and acting, the competition in musical theatre is immense, so it’s essential to ensure you are equipped with the required skills and techniques to keep working and sustain your performance over a long run.

Training is an expensive business, with course fees usually at least £10,000 a year – and that’s without living expenses. You’ll also be charged an audition fee by each school, which could be as much as £50, and may need to budget travel and accommodation costs, which will double if you’re recalled, so think carefully whether this profession is really for you.

If it is, then research which might be the best colleges for you, by looking at their websites and consulting your teachers and friends, before applying for auditions at as many as you can afford.

When thinking about where to train, look at yourself and your current skills, and ask yourself what you need to learn, improve and finally achieve during training. Would a college that majors in dance over singing be for you, or vice versa? These days, many working performers are ‘triple threats’ – being equally strong in singing, dancing and acting – and some are even quadruple threats, with the added ability of playing several musical instruments to performance standard. Think seriously about your strengths and which areas need work.

A great way of deciding if a full-time course is for you is to enrol on a summer school at that college. It will not only give you a greater insight into your skill levels, the college’s training methods and what it has to offer, but could also give you an advantage when auditioning for a place on a course, as you will have worked with some of the tutors and they’ll have got to know you, too.

When audition dates come through, spend time preparing everything the college requires thoroughly, ensuring you choose songs that you know well, are right for your voice, age and personality and will show off your ‘wow factor’.

Competition for college places is as fierce as it is for professional jobs. Think about realistic answers to questions you may be asked, which might include: “Why do you want to… be a performer/work in musical theatre/study here?”, “What… are your strengths and weaknesses/part were you born to play?”, “Where would you like to be in five or ten years’ time?” and “How would you pay your course fees and live if you weren’t offered funding or a scholarship?” Showing the panel that you’ve thought seriously about these and other things will improve your chances of being offered a place.

Much of the work and preparation used when auditioning for a college place will also apply when you start auditioning for professional shows. It’s really never too early to start thinking about becoming a working performer, especially as you might be taught relatively little about the business side of the industry while studying. Remember that many of today’s long-running musicals will probably still be playing when you graduate, either in the West End or elsewhere, so it’s well worth seeing these shows – even if you’ve seen them before – this time paying special attention to where you would fit in, both when you finish college and in the future.

While you should keep an eye on the leading roles in each show, as it’s always good to aim high, it’s more likely that you’ll start off your career in the ensemble – perhaps playing a smaller role and covering a lead. So be sure to also study the ‘tracks’ – what various ensemble members do within the show – that you could fill. Watch carefully what each person does and think about whether your own skills would fit the brief if an opportunity came up to take over from them. You’ll get a better idea of which ensemble members to look out for by studying the artists’ photos and biographies in the programme, where you’ll also find details of the production’s creative team, including the casting director. Knowledge is power, so if you’re sure you could fit into the show when it’s recasting, contact the casting directors and their assistants when inviting people to see your college showcase and shows – especially if you’re playing a part that shows your talents off well.

* Richard Evans’ book Auditions: A Practical Guide covers what to expect when auditioning for theatre schools and professional productions. Quote special code STAGE11 when ordering from www.auditionsapracticalguide.com to save £2 on the RRP of £16.99

* This feature is part of The Stage’s Musical Theatre Training Supplement, published this week as part of our May 26 issue. For more details, see thestage.co.uk/inthepaper

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