During my initial consultation with a family, after we’ve assembled a college list, talked through the arduous journey that is the college audition process and I’ve revealed the realities of how difficult it is to get into the majority of these programs – I’m almost always met with some variation of the question: “So what is it? What do these programs want?”
Well, obviously, you need to be talented. That’s a given, sure. Some schools are looking for a raw talent that’s hard to quantify and some are looking for a pretty polished, well-trained performer that is ready to hit the ground running. The needs of a program and the personal preferences of a program head are, unsurprisingly, varied in terms of what they are looking for in a performer.
So what is it? To me, there is talent and there is this mysterious it. The “it” factor has little to do with how many years you’ve taken dance or your vocal range or who you know. Before I even see a student perform in a consultation, it’s pretty obvious to me if they have “it.”
It is an undeniable brightness. A warmth, a positivity and an openness. A silliness and the ability to not take themselves so seriously.
It is having the ability to reveal something – about themselves and about their world view. Having something to say. Something you need to share with the world.
It is someone who is kind and empathetic. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is quite literally what theatre is all about, after all. Someone with it isn’t just kind to strangers or people they are trying to impress in an audition room – they are kind to their “competition”, their daily peers, their parents. I learn a lot about a student watching them talk to their parents.
It is someone who shows respect. Respect to people that have taught and influenced them to get to the point at which they are today. If you grow out of a relationship with someone (a vocal coach, for instance), it doesn’t diminish the work and journey you shared together. They helped get you to this point. Someone with it knows this.
It is someone who is hungry, eager and willing to learn. It’s not desirable to work with someone who already knows it all. Asking and wanting help and direction is a sign of strength, not weakness.
It is someone who respects people’s time. They keep promises, deadlines and are committed to doing what they say they will do. They understand that a lack of preparation on their part does not constitute an emergency on someone else’s part.
It is someone who does the work. The kids I see who are the most successful in this process (time and time and time again) are the ones who are putting themselves in the driver’s seat. They are the Captain and their parents and coaches and mentors are there to help them sail smoothly, not steer the ship.
It is someone who is process focused, not product focused. Someone who knows that this life and this career are a journey – and it takes work, dedication and growth to get to any destination.
Finally, it is someone I want to hang out with. Someone who is not only interesting but also interested in others. Someone who doesn’t think they are better, or wiser, or at a higher playing field.
To me, that’s “it.”
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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