choosing a school

Observations on the SETC Professional Auditions (or Why the Quality of Undergraduate Training REALLY Matters)

While I was at SETC last weekend, I had the opportunity to observe the professional auditions. The auditions I watched were for graduating university seniors and recently graduated students who were available to work year round. I was very disappointed. Seventy-five percent of the auditionees were making the exact same types of choices and mistakes that the high school students were making on Thursday. Some may question how I determine what is good and what is not. My criteria are based off of personal experience, countless workshops by Broadway level casting directors, agents, performers, and directors, and numerous books written on the subject. They all agree on the following:

  • Just be yourself
  • NO extreme emotional content
  • Do NOT flail around on the ground, wander around stage, or flail your arms.
  • Do NOT present songs that show off your weaknesses
  • If you CANNOT belt and/or mix belt, do NOT sing a belt or a mix belt song
  • DO talk to one person, know what you want, and do something to make that person give you what you want.
  • Dress in a way that flatters your body, and show your authentic self with your material.

These guidelines are not difficult. Yet I saw 75% of the auditionees break at least one if not all of these rules. Why? There are basically two reasons I can think of – students are ignoring everything they are being taught or they are receiving poor training. The later really concerns me.

There is a HUGE student loan crisis in this country and we all know that actors are not usually positioned to make large sums of money immediately upon graduation. I occasionally read actor forums online and it is not unusual to hear people complaining about unfair casting, no one giving them a chance, etc. Many also like to point out that they spent $100,000+ on a college education. If you went to a school that taught you to break every rule above, then you have a good reason to be angry. If you ignored everything you were taught and make the mistakes I mention above, then you can only be mad at yourself.

Will some of the students I saw in the auditions get cast? Sure. But they are not going to be booking Broadway level jobs. A lot of them will land jobs at renaissance fairs, theme parks, resorts, and smaller regional theatres that present slap stick comedy. Is there anything wrong with those jobs? Not at all. However, I imagine many of those performers aspire to be on Broadway. If that is the case, they need training that focuses on giving them those skills.  

Your training REALLY matters. If you are only accepted to schools that are breaking all of the rules above and you are focused on a Broadway career, I would suggest that you choose another option. Instead of spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a college education that teaches you unusable techniques, go to a major city, major in business (or another subject you are in love with) and find a professional acting studio outside of school. If you are a musical theatre performer, find a professional and successful musical theatre teacher and dance studio outside of school. There is nothing wrong with that path. If you could afford to pursue this alternative path in NYC, it would be nearly impossible to end up worse off than going to a low quality theatre program.

Whatever you choose, take the time to do your homework. This is a tough business and you want to make sure you get the best training possible.