How to Prepare for Your College Showcase

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For some students in theater training programs across the country, the most dreaded word in their education is: Showcase.

Showcase is the opportunity for graduating students (graduate and undergraduate) to officially present themselves to the professional entertainment industry: agents, managers, and casting directors. Depending on the size of the program, each student will get somewhere between 90 seconds to two minutes of performance time. Can you think about that for a moment? Three to four years of training boiled down to two minutes of performance. This is why I say “dreaded.” So many students ask: how can I show the industry everything I can do in two minutes? The answer is: you can’t. It’s impossible. You’ve been trained to do so many things. What you can do is celebrate the best of you and your training in that time. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the celebrated day.

1. Choose material you love.
Your selection process might be easy, or you might find you have your back up against a wall two weeks before showtime. Everyone is going to have an opinion: your classmates, your parents, your director, your heads of program. You should listen to these people. They know you and they’ve seen and done this before. But, most importantly, listen to yourself.

  1. Do you love performing the material?
  2. Do you perform it joyfully?
  3. Can you perform it repeatedly and stay invested?
  4. Can you breathe while performing it?
  5. Do your eyes light up when you do it?
  6. Is your material contrasting?

2. Break the box.
If you put yourself in a box, you’re stuck. Let the agents, managers, and casting directors help you define what your place in the industry can be. If you lead with what you love to do, you’ll help them immensely. If you lead with what you think they want you to do or be, you’re stuck. You can’t read their minds and you can’t be everything to everyone. Stay true to yourself.

3. Dress like yourself (on a first date.)
This isn’t a wedding. Choose clothing that really reflects who you are as a person and a performer. Don’t present yourself as a blank slate. The industry thrives on individuality. Before you even open your mouth to sing or act or dance, the industry will be assessing you and how you appear and present yourself. First impressions are everything.

4. Rehearse your work.
Showcase is product-based. There’s no way around it. So you want to be prepared. Have you rehearsed properly? Do you have an objective? Do you know who you’re singing the song to? Have you done your substitutions? Are your lines and lyrics actioned? Are you actually listening to your scene partner? The more specific you are, the more relaxed you’ll be andthe more yourself you’ll be.

READ: An Actor’s Guide to Life After Graduation

5. Send out invites.
You want as many industry professionals as possible there. Email blasts are the quickest and easiest ways to get the information out into the world. I suggest a “save the date” blast a month or two before the showcase date, followed by the actual invite at least two weeks before. The invite should be simple and easy to read with all of the information included. Don’t make them hunt for the times, location, etc. Remember, you’re representing yourself and the school so they should look as professional as possible. Having trouble reaching out to industry? A strong alumni community with contacts should be able to help with this process, providing email addresses for casting directors, agents, and managers. The industry wants to find you so they don’t mind an invite, just keep contact concise and minimal. 

6. Practice empathy.
If you set up the showcase as the beginning or end of the world, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. It’s just another step. Some of you are going to get a lot of responses. Some of you are going to get less. Some of you might get no response. Don’t be the person who complains they have too many meetings. Don’t be the person who beats themselves up because they have none. 

7. Don’t change for multiple showcases.
Most schools showcase twice in the same day. DO NOT try and change your package in between shows on the day of. Commit to your material on that day. However, if you find that you’re showcasing in different cities or even on another day and you learned you need to adjust, you should. Switching out a song or a scene to better show yourself off is allowed and encouraged. Sometimes you don’t know how the material will play until you’ve performed it in front of strangers. I’ve seen it happen where something works perfectly in the rehearsal room and doesn’t in the performance. So, we make adjustments. Theater isn’t a perfect art form and most shows have preview periods to work out the kinks.

8. Don’t forget to celebrate!
Use showcase as a time to celebrate your classmates, your talent, and your accomplishments.

9. After your showcase…
Your website should be up and running by showcase. Along with your pictures and résumé, you should have a reel of your work, a link to anything on YouTube or Vimeo, etc. Agents, managers, and casting directors should be able to go on your site and find out as much information about you as possible, including performances. If you’re not technically savvy, invest in a good website designer and then learn how to update the site yourself. It should always be current.

Showcase is not the defining moment of your career. Agent or no agent, you have to hustle. You have to go to open calls. You have to go to EPAs. You have to self-submit. An agent isn’t a magic button. Hopefully, you’ve built relationships with your faculty, your classmates, your alumni, and any guest artists that will help you past graduation.

You can take control of your showcase or you can let it control you. If you make it the focal point of your last year, you’ll miss out on so many opportunities and so much pleasure. Turn it into a celebration and approach it with joy!

Ready to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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JV Mercanti
JV Mercanti most recently directed the critically acclaimed premiere of Songbird at 59E59 Theaters. He is currently the head of acting for the musical theater program at Pace School of Performing Arts. He served as the casting and associate director on the recent Broadway revival of “Romeo and Juliet” with Orlando Bloom. He also cast the Kevin Kline-starring revival of “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Jennifer Garner.
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