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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I got into my dream school!!! Ahhh!!!!!
I got into my safety school. Meh.
If you find yourself in either scenario, congratulations on your acceptance! No matter where you find yourself, you will probably notice that at some point, your expectations aren’t meeting your reality. I’ve been thinking about expectations in my own career and how it applies to you all who have been working your tails off in your college auditions. Let’s take a moment for some real talk about what each of these acceptance scenarios can mean and how you can prepare for your high or low expectations.
High expectations can push us to achieve dreams we wouldn’t otherwise achieve! They can make us work harder and take bigger risks. They can also let us down when those expectations become unrealistic. Low expectations or no expectations can feel safe. They can ground us in reality. It can also feel great when those expectations are exceeded. No matter what your perspective may be, either of these scenarios comes with challenges.
Let’s imagine you get into your dream school and it’s the perfect fit. At some point in your journey, you’re likely to hit a snag - an argument with your new best friend, a roommate who always eats your leftovers, a campus that makes you feel insignificant, or a teacher who challenges your talent. Don’t let these get you down. You have achieved something amazing by getting this far. In my first year of college, my roommate drama was far more than I had signed up for and it severed friendships. It took me a while to make new friends. I signed myself up for so many credit hours and artistic commitments that I had a few emotional breakdowns. I went through a breakup. And all of that was totally normal.
Expect that no matter how perfect your school may be in your mind, there are moments it will let you down. Expect to be challenged harder than you ever have been. Expect to be frustrated. Expect to be disappointed. Expect to wonder if you made the right choice. If you don’t have those feelings, that’s awesome, but odds are you will experience some of these feelings at some point. Even the dream school can’t promise you four years with no disappointments. And don’t fear - those disappointments are the best preparation for the long road ahead.
Now, let’s imagine you are let down by your school choices. You didn’t get into the dream school; maybe you got into your safety school, or you got into a good school, but not in the program you really wanted. You can expect everything the person in the dream school expected. And you know what else? You may also be completely surprised. Sometimes we don’t end up where we wanted, but where we end up is better than we ever expected.
You may find that you have a knack for something completely different than you ever realized. The person who was on your decision committee might have wanted you more than anyone else and they end up being the mentor you didn’t know you needed. Maybe you wanted to be a BFA, but you got into a BA program and now you are taking outside classes that spark your creativity and imagination in ways you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I had a student a few years ago who got into a great acting program, but was disappointed she didn’t get accepted into the MT program. I introduced her to a friend of mine who taught vocal jazz and an artistic match was made. After being exposed to new techniques and music, she has found a love for a new singing style.
When you’re a high schooler, you’re asked, “What’s your dream school?” When you’re an actor, you’re asked, “What are your dream roles?” My answer: I don’t really have any. The roles that have been my favorite roles or most exciting theatrical experiences have been a complete surprise. Your life will take you to unexpected places. Whether or not you go to your dream school, you are going to have a wild ride. You’ve chosen to be an artist and there’s nothing else like it.
So, what are realistic expectations? That is a debate that has spanned the length of time. Should we live in a sort of fantasy to persevere through a less than exceptional reality or should we accept reality as it is so we can take realistic actions? All of this is really up to you. The best answer I’ve come up with for myself is this… I can only rely on living up to my personal expectations. Here are some expectations I have for myself. And, no, I don’t always meet them.
When faced with challenges, focus on what you can learn.
Encourage art in others.
Lead with love.
Surround yourself with people who make you better.
Find the value in the person/artist you are today.
Acting for the Song Coach - My College Audition
Erica is a NYC based actress and an Acting for the Song Coach for My College Audition. www.ericaspyres.com
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