I recently spoke with a fellow teacher who wanted feedback on why their student was not accepted for an audition at our university. The teacher mentioned that her student had won awards and received high honors at several competitions. This is hardly the first teacher or parent for that matter to ask why a student did not do well at an audition when they had won so many competitions. Competitions and auditions for university programs are very different. Competitions are usually confined to one discipline. For example voice, acting, or dance. The adjudicators at those competitions are judging the performer on only those talents. When a student is auditioning for a musical theater program, we are evaluating them on at least three criteria: singing, acting, and dance. Many schools are also interviewing the students to get a feel for their personality. When the student is being judged on all three talents at once, there may be weaknesses that surface which are not apparent in a competition.
In general, competitions are a much different animal than college auditions or for that matter the real world. Competitions often have rubrics designed for the judges to assess specific criteria. When a student is auditioning for a show, there is no rubric. The directors are looking at the actor/actress as an individual to see whether or not they fulfill the demands of a specific role. When a college is auditioning an actor, they are essentially doing the same.
It should also be noted that competitions sponsored by some organizations have different values than professional theater companies and universities. For instance, one organization that holds voice contests for high school students in musical theater often has judges who are primarily classical teachers judging those musical theater students. Those teachers will often have a different idea of what is “good” than those who work professionally in the industry. For instance, I saw a girl win first place singing a belt song with an operatic head voice. Unfortunately that young lady would never be cast in that role in the real world. Yet she received praise from a state organization for singing that way. I’ve also noticed that some theater competitions seem to reward actors who choose overly dramatic or over-the-top comedic material. These pieces are usually not acceptable for most professional or college auditions. I can see how a student would be confused as to why their monologue was good enough for a competition but not for a university audition. I’m confused as well. I wish competitions that were designed to be educational in nature would educate these young people in a way that prepared them for the real world. Unfortunately that is not always the case.
Not all competitions are bad. In fact I think they can be great experiences for young performers. But I would suggest that you really evaluate the materials that you choose for your college auditions to determine whether or not they are appropriate for a non-contest setting. Do the materials show the panel who the student is or do they show off how extreme the student can be? At the end of the day, those of us on the other side of the table really want the students to succeed. We are not trying to make it difficult by being picky about the repertoire that they perform. We just need to see specific attributes to know whether or not a student will be successful in a university program and some material shows those attributes better than others.
Best of luck!