The Singer’s Library: Auditioning for College Musical Theatre Programs 

The Singer’s Library column in the November/December issue of Classical Singer highlighted the book College Prep for Musicians, which offers information about applying to college music programs. But what about students interested in auditioning for musical theatre? Is the process the same? 

According to a new book by Amy Rogers Schwartzreich of Pace University, some elements are the same and others are quite different. In The Ultimate Musical Theater College Audition Guide: Advice from the People Who Make the Decisions, students are encouraged to research different programs, make college visits, and get to know the faculty, just as they are encouraged to do in College Prep for Musicians. Students will also have to go through the application process, explore financial aid options, and prepare to audition for the programs. The audition, however, is where the big differences emerge in applying for music programs versus musical theatre programs. 

As addressed by Schwartzreich and a cadre of guest contributors, musical theatre auditions often require monologues, attendance at a dance call, and songs from the musical theatre canon that will be performed as cuts rather than in their entirety. In addition, musical theatre programs may ask for prescreen videos, applicants may be expected to have a professional-quality headshot and, instead of travelling to numerous campuses for auditions, students may attend the National Unified Auditions in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago, where they can audition for multiple programs in a single weekend. 

In the following interview with Schwartzreich, she discusses her book, how to approach the application/audition process, and the importance of finding the right “place.” 

 

Your book provides a thorough outline of the entire application and audition process for college musical theatre programs. Do you feel like the process has gotten overly complicated and detailed? Is that why you chose to write this book? 

I wrote the book for a few reasons. Due to the influx of BFA programs, all [of] which have slightly different requirements, the process has indeed become overly complicated. I wanted to help provide a centralized place where best practices information would be [found]. Also, I wanted the book to help provide access to information for those who can’t easily get it. With the surge of the college coaching industry, and all the summer programs that do college audition prep, it was crucial for everyone to know that you don’t have to pay heavy-handedly for this information that all of us represented in the book want them to have. 


Advertisement (article continues below):

 

You encourage high school students to recruit a “team” to help them, which may include parents, relatives, teachers, and mentors. Why is it important for students to involve others in the process rather than going through it themselves? 

What is being asked of you as a senior in high school is overwhelming enough. Put one of the most time—and money—intensive application processes on top of that and it can almost be too much to handle. Most seniors are doing their high school musicals, taking dance and voice and acting classes, not to mention [devoting time to the] SAT and all their academics. Having a team is imperative to their emotional and, quite often, physical health. 

As the director and founder of the BFA Musical Theater program at Pace University in New York City, you write that you have sat in on more than 15,000 hours of college auditions (Note to readers: that’s not 15,000 auditions, that’s 15,000 hours of auditions!). How do you stay focused during all those hours to make sure every student is getting a fair shot, especially knowing that you often have so little time with them in the audition room? 

To be frank, it’s my job and I love it and I am really good at it. I stay focused (though sometimes we may not look like it) because it is my great hope that the person about to walk in the room will be the one and that person has put a tremendous amount of money, time, and care into this moment. 

As for the second part of your question, I am not sure how to quantify it, but to say everything the auditioner does teaches us about them. What they sing, what they wear, how they talk to the accompanist, how they talk to us, how they behave in the hall, etc., gives me a glimmer. Match that with their skill and talent and energy, and it narrows the field down quite a bit. 

Throughout the book, you emphasize that students must listen to their own instincts and ultimately make the decisions that are right for themselves. In this sense, the “best school” may not necessarily be the one that makes all the top 10 lists but is the one that offers students the most of what they are looking for. How did you come to this conclusion? 

There are so many choices out there. Fit has so much to do with student success. Being a big fish in a small pond has tremendous benefits. 

 

Brian Manternach

Tenor Brian Manternach teaches voice at the University of Utah in the Musical Theatre Program. He holds degrees in vocal performance from Saint John’s University in Minnesota (BA), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MM), and the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (DM). He can be reached at bmantern@gmail.com.