So you want to be a performer, right? You eat, sleep and breathe it, right?
Let me ask you a question. How many of the following statements could you apply to yourself?
I mean c’mon… at least a couple of those apply to you, right? Let’s be real- in high school this is
so many of us. We get bitten by the theater bug and it infects us with this incredible sensation
that we have never felt before.
So what do we do? Like Alice on her way to Wonderland, we fall deep down the rabbit hole. We
become OBSESSED. And that obsession is partly what makes us good at this. Our passion
drives us and fulfills us in a way that nothing ever has before. It is why we choose this career
But being obsessed with all things theatre/film/musical theater can only take us so far. Sure, it
gives us the ground work to be solid actors, singers and dancers. We learn from, and try to
emulate our heroes and it in turn makes us better. But it doesn’t take us to that next step.
So, what does get us to that next step? What helps us add that extra layer to our work that
makes people want to watch us on stage? Being interested in EVERYTHING. Science,
directing, history, stage design, math, art, arts management, politics… you name it!
Now I know you are probably scratching your head at this one. “How the heck does an interest
in any of those things make me a better performer?” Think for a second- if our job is to honestly portray a person in imaginary circumstances, it helps if we can put ourselves in their shoes. How do we do that? By being INTERESTED. By being curious in the classroom and in the rehearsal hall.
IN THE CLASSROOM
I know what some of you are thinking. “Joe- I got into theater so I could get out of the
classroom.” Believe me, I hear you. But stay with me. While you may not go on to be a
physicist or lawyer or writer, what you learn in class influences your art. Treat it all like
dramaturgy, like research for a play you haven’t been cast in yet. Because it will come in handy
some day. Tony Award Winning director Tommy Kail was an American History major. Think that helped him when he was working on “Hamilton”? Natalie Portman was a psychology major, giving her huge amounts of insight into how and why people act the way they do. TV’s Mayim Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience which proved to be useful when she landed on “The Big Bang Theory.” Edward Norton was a history major, John Krasinski was an English major… and the list goes on.
Now I am not saying you shouldn’t pursue an Acting or MT degree. What I am saying is be open to learning about as many different things as possible. That Art Appreciation class you are forced to take will bring new understanding to works like “Red” or “Sunday In The Park With George.” Your math class can bring new depths to your portrayal of Claire in “Proof.” The possibilities are endless.
Every person you learn about in school is another character in their own play. There are insights about who they are, how they operate, and why they created/discovered/did the things they did. I guarantee you that they will inspire your work in the future.
IN THE REHEARSAL HALL
“Collaboration is the biggest word in the theatre. It is the most important element in theatrical
success… if any man could write and produce and direct and act and play the music, shift the
scenery, design the costumes and in short, do everything that could be done on stage and come
up with what was literally a one-man show, he would still need one more thing: an audience.
You cannot get away from collaboration.”- Oscar Hammerstein II
Sometimes, the easiest trap that actors can fall into is just focusing on themselves. Which is, to
a degree, understandable. There is a lot to think about. You have lines to learn, choreography to master, songs to practice. It is A LOT. However we must always remember- the performer is
only 1% of a production. There are directors, stage managers, designers, crew members,
administrators, marketing members, and so many others that make a production successful.
You are only one piece of the puzzle. So learn about the other pieces.
Instead of sitting and chatting with your friends when you aren’t being used in a scene, sit and
watch how the director is putting the show together. Why are they staging something in such a
specific way? What themes or messages are they bringing across in these scenes? What
questions are they asking your fellow actors to think about? Or go talk to a designer. Learn how
and why the lighting was laid out, how the sound and light boards work, how a costume
influences an audience’s feelings about a character- learn all of it!
When you are interested in each language of the stage, and have even a basic level of
understanding of how and why each is working the way it does, your ability to collaborate will
grow exponentially. Which in turn, will cause your performance to deepen and reach audiences
in new ways.
So be interested in EVERYTHING. Take that super hyper nerd focus that we all share and
spread it out over more topics! The more interested you are in the world around you, the more
interesting your work becomes!
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I was coaching a child today on a scene for a popular musical. We were working on elevating her enthusiasm and energy level and making bolder choices. After a few minutes, I realized my advice to her was something she’d been told by several people over and over again: Have fun. But she didn’t look like she was having fun. How could I get her to have fun?
You’ve heard this one, right? "Oh, you’re going in for an audition? Just have fun! Don’t worry about it it. If you’re having a good time, they’re having a good time." Today, for the first time, it hit me that telling a child to have fun in a strict audition environment is the equivalent of telling a non-photogenic person to act natural in front of a photographer or, even worse, telling a friend they just need to calm down when they’re having a panic attack. It’s obvious, but it doesn’t work. And why doesn’t it work? It isn't a direction!
Having been a college audition coach for about seven years, I’m sure I’ve told my fair share of students to have fun either in a scene or before an audition. The sentiment is right, but the practicality is not. So, today, I gave a more specific direction to this kiddo for her scene. I said, “Don’t think about having fun while spinning around in a circle. The goal is to spin around in a circle as fast as you can to make yourself dizzy.” My hope was that the act of making herself dizzy would allow her to feel silly, loosen her up, and result in a bit of fun when she attempted to recover from the dizziness for her next line. It seemed to strike a chord!
This isn’t a new idea at all. We all know some basics about finding your objective in a scene and using various tactics to achieve your goal. But sometimes these little moments within a scene or a monologue can feel clunky or fake. Let’s take an example where you are supposed to cry in a scene. I know a few directors who would take umbrage with the fact that a script necessitated crying at all. But let’s assume this is the case with your monologue. What can you do? Think of something sad? Pull a nose hair to induce crying? Begin breathing heavily and squinting your eyes together? I’ve used all of these. There is some truth to doing something physical to induce something emotional when you’re just not feeling it. But I know that the most powerful thing I can do as an actor is to try to be present and to fight for my objective. Maybe my character ends up crying in the scene because I’m trying so hard to get what I want and no matter how hard I try, new obstacles keep stopping me. Crying, then, is not the goal, but the reaction to my frustration at not being able to achieve the goal.
Remember that whomever you are playing in a scene is based in some sense of reality. And what happens if you get what you want in the scene? Have you ever personally had an experience where you said, “Great. I just got cast in my favorite show. I’ve done it all. I’ll be satisfied with less from now on.” NO! You get what you want and then the goal post gets moved further away. The same is true for a scene or song. You just got the guy in the first verse of the song? Great! Oh, no. Now there’s trouble in paradise. He’s not what you expected. Should you stay or leave? You know it will be hard to leave, so you fight with yourself. Eventually, you leave because you know it’s the right decision. Great! Oh, no. Now you want him back. You’ve made a terrible mistake. You go find him, but he’s hurt and doesn’t want you back yet. You have to fight for him again… and so on. We are complicated creatures. There is always something new to discover!
When you are studying a scene or a song, take each piece of your text and ask yourself questions:
Why would the character (you) say that line?
How do you say it in a way that your ‘other’ in the scene would not?
What are you fighting for?
There are many other questions you can ask yourself to get closer to your truth. I ask my students to put away youtube after a certain point in the learning of their songs. To watch someone else makes it too easy to mimic them and, while they may give you some inspiration, your audience isn’t likely to see truth from you.
So, why would I ask this child to run around and get herself dizzy? Because it was fun! We both laughed and played. We asked why the character was having fun, then played an action that informed that quality rather than playing a quality to inform an action.
Whether you are working with an audition coach or not, remember, no one has all the answers. We coaches try our best to get you to reveal your truth through these scenes and songs. But if you’re feeling that you’re having trouble finding it even with a coach, start by asking yourself, “What do you want?"
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Full disclosure: college audition coaching costs money. With the increasing costs of applications, pre-screen fees, auditions fees and more – I fully understand and sympathize with the outrageous costs of simply getting into college, much less paying for it.
On my end, I want to tell you that all of the coaches at MCA are working, professional actors and college audition coaching provides supplemental income for them so they can go out there and focus on being the brave, talented artists they are in their auditions, shows, etc. You (and your parents) hard earned money helps support people who are doing exactly what you hope to do after college. We appreciate you and appreciate you valuing our time.
With that, I want to make sure you are getting the absolute most out of every second you work with MCA or any other private coach so you take full advantage of the time you have paid for. I always want students to walk away from lessons feeling inspired, excited, prepared and most of all, proud.
Over the course of ten years of being a college audition coach, there is an undeniable recipe for success when getting prepped. Below are some of my top tips for making the most of your lessons:
There are no stupid questions in this wildly confusing, daunting process! Nothing makes me happier (I’m being serious!) than at the start of a lesson when a student or parent pulls out their notepad and asks if it is okay to ask me a few questions before the lesson really begins. This is incredible for two reasons:
1. You recognize that sending lots of questions over email is time consuming and less efficient than speaking face to face.
2. You are putting yourself in the driver’s seat! You are utilizing your time with a professional and getting exactly what you want out of a lesson.
Quick tip: carry a little notepad with you at all times or download a great note app on your phone. If a question pops in your head outside a lesson (even if you may think it is silly!) write it down. Keep a list going so you don't forget to ask anything important during your lesson time.
Wondering what goals you can set for yourself in between lessons? Ask your coach! Take advantage of the end of each lesson so you are able to fully capitlize on the next one. Besides some of the obvious goals (like getting off-book) ask your coach if there is anything they would love to see you accomplish before they see you next.
Also, don’t forget to write down any notes given to you by your coach during your lesson! Or maybe recording lessons is a better solution for you? Either option, you'll be thankful to have them when practicing at home.
Plan ahead, y’all.
While we do our best to accommodate last minute lesson requests, this just isn’t always possible. If you find yourself continuously sending emails or texts that begin with: “Is there any possible way you could…” or “Do you have any other time on…” to your coaches, chances are you are waiting to the last minute to book/accomplish something. Remember that as an actor you are your own business. Operate that business in a professional manner and treat those that support and help keep your business running smoothly with respect.
Quick tip: sit down with a calendar with your parents and set concrete “deadlines” for when certain milestones in the college audition process will be accomplished, i.e. pre-screens filmed, auditions scheduled, hotels booked, etc. Once those deadlines are set, take stock in what prep needs to be done to meet each deadline. Then, lock it in! Book your lessons in advance and set up a coaching schedule that allows you to meet your own expectations. I promise you will breathe easier and enter each lesson calmer.
Please, don’t ever hesitate to speak up during a lesson! I can only help you feel less anxious about something if I know what is troubling you. If a song feels strange in one part, let’s talk about it. Terrified of tackling your Shakespeare so you are avoiding it like the plague? Let’s find some tools to make it less intimidating. I am here to teach you, but I need to know what the subject is.
Also, if you are needing some guidance or are feeling worried about something having to do with your process, we want to hear these verbalized by you, not your parents. Self-Advocacy is an important skill to have as you enter college and especially imperative in this specific career.
There’s nothing like entering a lesson with a student who is joyful, excited and ready to hit the ground running! Before entering a lesson, I encourage you to do the following things:
1. Warm up!
2. Take some deep breaths. Relax your body and your brain.
3. Through this breathing, do your best to leave your day (or upcoming day) outside the lesson and force yourself to be present. Don’t let outside stresses invade your productivity.
4. Say something complimentary to yourself about something you are working on in your lessons. Were you so thrilled with your last voice lesson and how nicely one of your songs is coming along? Remind yourself of that feeling.
5. Enter your lesson exuding positivity. Even if it feels (or is) manufactured, you will set the tone for a productive, inspired, happy lesson.
Thank you for letting us be a part of the journey!
Founder/Lead Consultant of My College Audition
Chelsea is a graduate from Emerson College's Acting program and is the
Founder of My College Audition.
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