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8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting BFA College Audition Material

8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting BFA College Audition Material
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As an acting coach who works primarily with students on college auditions, one of my favorite parts of the college audition process is guiding students toward and matching them with audition material that fits them like a glove and reveals something uniquely special. The college audition process is highly selective and BFA classes tend to be small, so faculty members are hand-selecting a class filled with students who are passionate, from diverse backgrounds and looks, intelligent, hard-working, and ready to take on disciplined, intensive training.

So, it’s crucial that you use the monologue and song audition material as an opportunity to leave them with the clearest impression of who you are, what you bring to the table, and how you would make a unique addition to the BFA class they are assembling.

Before “getting married” to a college audition monologue or song, be sure to answer the following eight questions about the material:

1. Does it reveal something unique?
Allow the college audition faculty to get to know who you are through each piece and fall in love with what makes you unique as an artist and person! The audition material you select for a specific musical or play audition should demonstrate your understanding of the style of the show and where you fit type-wise into the casting pool for that particular production. A college audition is not a show audition; when selecting BFA college audition material, it’s important to have an understanding of your “type range,” while selecting material that reveals something truly special about you and your personality. When I’m hand-selecting college audition material for my students, I keep in mind their passions, experiences, and what makes them stand out in the crowd of applicants.

2. Does it follow the college audition and/or pre-screen video requirements?
Every BFA musical theatre or acting program will ask you to present something slightly different. The length of monologue/number of monologues and the length of audition song cut/style/number of songs will vary. If you are asked to submit a pre-screen video before you’re granted a physical audition slot, you must follow the requirements to the letter. You don’t want to risk failing to pass a pre-screen because you didn’t follow directions. Look at it as your first college test!

Let’s use Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama as an example, a school that has, for the first time this year, added itself to the ever-growing list of BFA programs that use a pre-screen. To audition for the BFA acting/MT program, you must record the following as separate video clips:

  • One contemporary monologue and one classical monologue (pre-1900s) from plays, each under 90 seconds
  • Two 32-bar musical theatre songs; one up-tempo and one ballad, sung with recorded or with live accompaniment
  • One song and one monologue should be shot in close-up (head and shoulders), one song and one monologue should be shot showing your full body

Carnegie Mellon wants to see a classical monologue; many BFA musical theatre programs say specifically that they don’t want you to do a classical monologue.  Another college might ask you for one 60-second contemporary monologue, one 16-bar ballad, and one 32-bar up-tempo. You must pay attention to every detail and make sure that you are selecting and preparing audition material that fits each program’s audition requirements.

3. Is the material active?
Avoid monologues that just tell a story and songs that repeat the same lyrics over and over again. You must choose material that requires you to play an objective that is clear, active, and your character has something to gain or lose that’s important to him/her. You should also be able to ask yourself: How is my character trying to achieve his/her objective? What tactics are he/she playing?How does my character change throughout this piece? What new ideas or discoveries are made?

Although the monologue and song time restrictions might feel limiting, when you map out the tactics, you’d be surprised at how many ways a character might achieve an objective in a minute. Characters also can change, grow, and have life-altering moments in 32-bar cuts of songs. The objective, to tell a story, just doesn’t allow you to add in the tactics and acting technique or acting thru song work that will make your audition material and your interpretation come alive.

4. Is it age appropriate?
Because many students tackle mature roles in high school like Mama Rose and Sweeney Todd, they feel like their type is the “old man” or the like. You may very well continue to play those types of roles in college, but check the age ranges of all the characters you portray in monologues and songs. They want to see you, not 50-year-old you (or 8-year-old you). Try to stay within five years of your actual age, either way. Older characters tend to be dealing with circumstances that are outside of your life experience. Have you been married? Do you have children? Do you know what it’s like to lose a child? If the answer is no, search for material from characters whose life experience falls within the realm of possibility and imagination for you. 

Side note: The same idea applies to accents. Just don’t do them. They want to hear you, not British or French or Irish you (unless of course, these are your natural accents). It’s important that don’t cover your voice with a foreign accent.

READ: 5 Ways College Auditions Prepare You for a Professional Acting Career

5. Do my pieces fit together and contrast?
It’s crucial that all your monologues and songs tell a cohesive story of who you are and what you bring to the table. Our college audition coaches spend a lot of time working with students on making sure that all the song and monologue college audition materials both match the student and fit together as a college audition material package. In auditions, you may only have five or 10 minutes (or just a pre-screen video), so don’t waste a minute doing pieces that repeat the same idea. Each piece should reveal a different side of you. Singing two songs about being in love and then doing a monologue as well about being in love will show them that you love being in love, but will reveal to the faculty little else about what you are passionate about or makes you tick. Be careful doing contrast for the sake of contrast, though. Your goal isn’t necessarily to shock the college audition panel with your widest range but simply show a few different sides of you and what you can do.

6. Are there a lot of swear words or inappropriate language?
You may end up swearing up a storm in your college-level acting class or your professors may do so every other sentence. But keep your college auditions somewhat classy. Remember that this is your first impression. Would you drop an F-bomb in a traditional college interview or go into intimate detail about a sexual experience? I highly doubt it. There’s a fine, fine line between being edgy and being inappropriate.

7. Is the material from a show that is already on my resume?
I get this question a lot: “I just finished ‘Almost Maine.’ Can I use one of my monologues for college auditions?” I approach this question in a few ways. First, most high school plays and musicals fall into the overdone songs and monologues category; a lot of students will have thought of this same idea and you’ll end up being one of the many singing “Gimme Gimme” or doing Emily from “Our Town.” Second, it makes you look like you didn’t take the time to thoroughly think about your college audition material and it might, although unintentional, make you come across as lazy.

8. Is my monologue or song choice overdone?
When you are about to marry yourself to a college audition song or monologue choice, do a quick YouTube and/or Google search with the song or monologue title. If you see dozens of videos of “Vanilla Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me” or the Tuna Fish monologue from Christopher Durang’s “Laughing Wild” or it shows up on several “Most Overdone BFA College Audition Monologues and Songs” lists, then it might be time to go back to square one. If you do go with something overdone, ask yourself if it truly is the only option (out of thousands of monologues and songs) that showcases what you best bring to the table.

Have questions about whether your college audition monologues or songs are overdone or want help selecting college audition material that makes you truly shine? Sign up for a free college audition prep consultation or email tom@pypnyc.com.

Tom Morin is a professional actor and NYC-based acting coach and co-founder of Polish Your Passion, an online-based training company for actors, singers, and dancers across the country via Skype/FaceTime and in-person, NYC-based studio lessons. We have a 100% college acceptance success rate with students being accepted into an average of 3-4 audition-based programs. He holds a B.A. in theater and political science from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.F.A. in acting from Ohio University. He has been teaching for the past nine years, advising and coaching students through the college audition preparation process and beyond. His students have been accepted to top BA and BFA programs across the country and have appeared Off Broadway, regionally, and in feature films and national commercials. He has appeared Off Broadway at the Pearl Theatre Company and New York Classical Theatre and regionally at Walnut Street Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Centenary Stage Company, Monomoy Theatre, and Great River Shakespeare Festival. 

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