Musical Theatre College Auditions : Practical Advice

Musical Theatre College Auditions : Practical Advice

Pay attention to audition requirements for each school where you are applying!

Most MT program auditions require 2 contrasting song cuts and 1-2 short monologues, but be sure to keep track of each school’s specific audition material requests. The requirements can vary greatly from program to program, so you want to prepare the fewest pieces possible that fit all of your schools’ criteria. For example, one school on your list may ask for 16-bar song cuts, while another school wants 32-bar cuts. Also, how schools want you to audition can vary greatly from program to program. Some schools provide an accompanist, so you need to bring clearly marked sheet music and know how to communicate your tempo and cuts to the pianist.  Some schools want you to bring an MP3 or CD of your accompaniment, so you need to make that in advance and make sure the sound level is high enough. Most of these schools provide a playback device, but it is a good idea to bring your own just in case; portable Bluetooth speakers will do the trick. Other schools require a pre-screening video audition to determine whether or not you will be invited to attend a live audition.

Follow the audition requirements of each school to the letter! If the school provides a “do not sing” list of songs to avoid, do not perform any pieces on that list, even if you think you knock that song out of the park. You should also assume that every song on that list is overdone, so avoid using those songs at other schools, too, even if those particular colleges don’t have a “do not sing” list.

Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that many musical theatre programs would be participating in a new program called the Musical Theatre Common Pre Screen. The schools listed in the link below have agreed to standardize the audition video process so that there are not so many different requirements from school to school. You can find the information here:

Many schools not on this list may also follow suit, as this is a great idea! 

Don’t overschedule yourself when it comes to college auditions!

Applying to college musical theatre programs is a stressful business! Individual applicants seem to be applying to more and more MT programs every year, and sometimes audition fatigue sets in. This can be particularly problematic at Unified Auditions ( where some students are auditioning for as many as 25 schools in just a few days! One year I saw a kid had lost his voice because he had done 11 auditions the day before he came to sing for me, and he had 9 more planned for the following day! That is way too many auditions for anyone in such a short period. While that is perhaps an extreme situation, what I saw more often were applicants who were mentally and physically exhausted from doing too many auditions in a matter of days, and as a result, they were not as personable or engaging as they might usually be. Unified Auditions are an amazing opportunity to be seen by a wide variety of schools in a short period of time, but try to space your auditions out so that you don’t over-schedule yourself. Also, what if you get sick the week of Unifieds? It happens! You don’t want all of your college admission decisions to rest on one week or weekend of your life. Try to plan for a variety of audition scenarios: pre-screens, on campus auditions, and Unified Auditions. 

Be your genuine self in the audition room!

I cannot speak for all musical theatre programs, but I know that at the BFA program where I teach, we aren’t looking for perfection; we are looking for potential! We want to see your passion and your personality, as well as your talent. I’m a voice teacher, so I do thorough vocal assessments of all of our applicants. The students who stand out to me have healthy, colorful, and unique voices, with warm and inquisitive personalities to match. At seventeen or eighteen, most voices are not fully formed, seamless throughout the range, equally at home in mix, belt, and legit, etc…this is not what we are expecting. You have things to learn, and we have things to teach you. That’s what college is for! Don’t try to sound like the cast album or be someone you’re not. For me, the most appealing applicants can speak to their strengths as singers, actors, and dancers, but they also know what they still need to learn, and they are hungry for that knowledge. It still shocks me, but many students come into the audition room with an air of arrogance or indifference, and that is a major turnoff, no matter how talented that performer is. If we don’t want to spend five minutes with you, we don’t want to spend four years with you! We are looking for strong individual talent, but we also want people who will be kind and supportive colleagues. Theatre is all about ensemble and community, and this is especially important in an intense conservatory environment. You will probably be asked why you are applying to this specific program, and you should have a thoughtful and personal answer to that question. If you can’t answer that question, maybe you’re not really interested in the school. Of course some programs will be your “safety schools”, but don’t telegraph that during your audition; you never know which schools are going to accept you, so you can’t afford to alienate anyone.

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Be nice to everyone you meet at the audition or school visit!

That may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised by how many applicants are actually quite rude to people at their auditions! I think it often stems from nerves, but coming off cold and aloof is not a good first impression. From the minute you sign in at the check-in desk, you are auditioning! The students who are taking you around to various audition rooms are valuable sources of information and can be your allies, so please do not be standoffish with them or feel like you have to rattle off your resumé to impress them. Just be friendly and enthusiastic. How you do at the actual audition matters, but how you handle yourself on campus and with your potential colleagues counts, as well. Student helpers report back to the department heads about good and bad behavior, and their impressions can make a difference. This applies to the parents, too! Show that you would be a good member of the college community by being polite and friendly to everybody. These same rules apply for school visits, class observations, or coming to see school productions. Do not critique productions or other students’ work! Be positive, inquisitive, and pleasant. If you have criticisms of the program during your visit, keep them to yourself until you are off campus and can discuss them privately with your family. 

The audition process goes both ways!

You are auditioning these schools as much as they are auditioning you, so listen to your gut, and take notice of how you feel about the faculty, the audition process, the students, the campus, and the program. If you get a bad vibe during any part of the process, even if it is for one of your top choice schools, you should take that experience into account. No program is right for everyone. Do your research about each school you’re applying to so that you can ask specific questions about the program and explain why you want to attend. Do you know people who went to those schools? Hit them up for pointers, and ask them detailed questions about the program and their experience there. Once the acceptance emails go out and you are making your final decisions, you really should spend at least a day at each school you are considering. If possible, see a show, sit in on some classes, maybe even spend the night in a dorm. You might even be able to schedule a voice lesson or sit in on one. This brief immersion into the program and campus life is invaluable! Do you see yourself hanging out with the current students? Do you like the area? Did you find yourself engaged by the faculty and classes? Can you handle to climate? Listen to your gut instincts over institutional prestige and reputation. Even if a school is ranked as one of the best, it might not be the right place for you. Money matters, too, so definitely take scholarship offers into account. If a school offers you a good scholarship, they really want you there. Ultimately, if you can truly see yourself being happy at a particular school, that matters more than anything!

Best of luck during this crazy time. With some good research, preparation, and planning, you will get through this process, represent yourself in the best possible light, and find your way to the right program for you! 

Nadine Gomes

Nadine Gomes has spent her career exploring the genres of musical theatre, jazz, and opera as a singer and voice teacher. She is a full-time Lecturer in Voice in the Theatre Conservatory in the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where she has been on faculty since 2004. Nadine received an M.M. in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from the Music Conservatory in CCPA at Roosevelt University, she earned a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, and she was a Vocal Jazz Performance Major at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her students sing on Broadway, in national tours, in regional theatres, and throughout Chicago.