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4B Wednesday, February 22, 2012 The Statement
'...the men and women merely players'
How the Department of Musical Theatre makes actors
By Timothy Rabb
Wednsda, Fbruay 212SB
You wake at the crack of dawn, sit up and clear your throat,
which feels oddly scratchy. Did you catch a cold, or just a
bit of phlegm? For your sake, you hope it's the latter. You
rifle frantically through your carry-on bag to find your elusive
accoutrements of CD, resumes and headshots. As you fall in line
with a crowd of jetlagged cohorts on your way into the lobby of
Chicago's Palmer House Hilton, you finally understand why your
favorite self-help forum referred to this proceeding as a "cattle
Though such a scene is not unfamiliar to many a nervy Broad-
way hopeful, these particular auditionees are only in high school.
They're applying to college. Some of them don't even have driv-
The path toward the bright lights of Broadway is not an easy
one. The first step is earninga spot at the University's prestigious
Department of Musical Theatre.
Anxiety: The Audition
At the start of each year, hundreds of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old
musical theatre hopefuls congregate in Chicago, Las Vegas, Los
Angeles and New York City for the National Unified Auditions,
where they compete for select spots at some of the most presti-
gious performing arts schools in the nation. Though it marks only
the first milestone in many performers' careers, it's also one of
the biggest hurdles they'll have to clear on the dubious path to
"You get there and take a look around, and everyone just
looks so serious, and no one's saying anything," Music, Theatre
& Dance senior Carlye Tamaren said. "There's really no way to
prepare for that."
The tension intimates the possibility of an enormous payoff
Students compete under the watchful eyes of representatives
from the esteemed Cincinnati and Boston Conservatories, the
University of Oklahoma and the University of Michigan, among
others. The acting portion of the process calls for two contrast-
ing monologues with a 90-second time limit. For those who want
to showcase their vocal talent, an extra 30 seconds is added to
accommodate a song of the students' choosing.
After that, it's on to the "dance call," where students are
expected to prove that their choreographic chops transcend the
crude bumping and grinding of your average weekend warrior.
Some students audition as juniors in high school, others as
Only three percent make the cut each year and get into the
Current students, faculty and alum of the Department of Musi-
cal Theatre all concurred that for those who value a formal edu-
cation in the arts, the college auditions are even more intensive
than the real-world auditions for paid roles that follow college
As MT&D alum Mark Ayesh puts it, "I'd rather audition for
50 Broadway shows than go back and re-do one college audi-
Ayesh graduated from the University in 2010 and subse-
quently landed the role of Roger Davis in "RENT," which ran
at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Westchester, NY
from August through September of that year. When applying
to the University, he opted for an in-person audition because
of his positive impressions of department alums, far-reach-
ing enough to touch him in his hometown of Wichita, Kan.
"A lot of alums were working in my hometown during the
summer, and I actually wrote my entry paper on one of those
students," Ayesh said.
Ayesh's initial fondness for the program only raised the
stakes when the time came to try his luck at getting accepted.
"At an audition at a New York theater, your next job may
be based on the one minute you spend in that room," Ayesh
said. "But at a college audition, that one minute determines
the next four years of your life."
The Unified Auditions are often preferred by applicants
who want to save money, since they can kill around two dozen
birds with one stone, but those with the means to fly to audi-
tions at individual schools, like Ayesh did, often choose to do
so for a number of other reasons. on-site auditions not only
prevent a single debacle - like the flu or dancing missteps
- from ruining your admission chances at all your preferred
colleges, but also give prospective students an opportunity to
explore the campus they may eventually call home.
Perks aside, the on-site auditions are just as grueling as
the general ones. While some may see the process as arbi-
trary and more dependent on a certain "look" than anything
else, the "well-roundedness" Ayesh noted in the alums he
met wasn't a coincidence - the judging process is tailored to
immediately recognize the holistic potential of prospective
students, down to the finest details.
According to Brent Wagner, chair of the Department of
Musical Theatre, "When we listen to the song an applicant
chooses, we're looking for it to be pointed enough that we can
pick out the context and see that the words have a specific
meaning to them, and that the music enforces that meaning."
"We even pay attention to the times when the student
breathes during the song," he added. "It can indicate how
much they're actually thinking about what they're saying."
The whole ordeal is almost like a concentrated version of
the Greek life pledge process - withstand the backbreaking
rigors of the audition, and an atmosphere that seemed at first
cutthroat and cruel suddenly becomes a comfortable home.
"The moment you get accepted into this school, everyone
knows," MT&D junior Adrian Baidoo said. "Right after I got
in, I got a Facebook wall post saying 'Welcome to the family,'
and it couldn't have been more correct."
Method: T'he Role
Interview after interview with Musical Theatre majors
confirmed Baidoo's sentiments about the healthy camarade-
rie that follows a successful audition.
If the "teen movie" side of your brain is envisioning class-
wide catfights and fisticuffs over who ends up with the lead-
ing role in a department production, think again. The student
solidarity is a welcome "flip" (Ayesh's words) from the cutthroat