Let Acting Coach David Ross Tell You How to Nail Your Grad School Audition

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I’ve been coaching actors and helping them get into grad programs for almost 10 years. Each year I see immensely talented young actors overlook some of the most important things in their audition prep. We all know how unpredictable the audition experience can be, but with all the prep you’re already doing, here are four simple things to consider that can help stack the deck in your favor.

1. Know why. If you were dating and you met two potential partners, would you go for the one that you knew genuinely liked you, or the one who told you, “It’s just that time of year when I go on a lot a dates, and I’ll figure out who I want once I hear who’s into me.” Putting aside any “hard to get” allure, if you’re getting into a serious relationship, you typically want to be with someone who you know is crazy about you. Spending three years with you day in and day out is a relationship. You need to be passionate about where you’re applying, and get extremely precise about why. You can’t fake real passion; it’s tangible and schools can feel it. So even if you think you know why you’re applying to schools A, B, and C, get more specific until whenever you talk to anyone about it, you feel it. Talk with alumni, scroll through school websites, get familiar with the curriculum, with teacher bios and backgrounds, with who the alumni are, and what work they’re up to. Everyone likes a talented, grounded, prospective artist, but don’t forget everyone also likes to be wanted.

READ: How to Audition for 4 Top Acting M.F.A. Programs

2. Your essay matters. Really? Yes. And your personal statement is one of the most overlooked parts of the audition process. Think about it this way, you see an actor you’ve never seen before and like their work. Then you read an interview with them where they come off heartfelt, impassioned, vulnerable, and having a distinct perspective. You’re now a fan. It’s the same with your essay. It’s your most valuable piece of PR. We want to know why you’re in this crazy game; we want to know how your personal history has led you here. We basically just want to be a fan, so help us get on board.

3. Get extra eyes. If you don’t have access to a good coach for geographic or financial reasons, find a friend or a teacher you trust. Even better: Find a few other actors auditioning for grad school and coach each other. However, nothing beats having an experienced coach lead you through the process, point out your blind spots, and make sure your unique gifts color every part of your audition package. And even if you have a coach, get a little experience showing your pieces in front of other sets of eyes as well. On the most basic level, every artist I know has benefitted at one point or another from someone they trusted looking them in the eye and reminding them of all the things that are great about themselves. You need that confidence during this process. You want to be able to walk into your MFA auditions not knowing only the ways you want to grow, but also knowing the ways in which you already kick ass. Broke and no coaches in sight in the middle of America? Use your mom; she loves you.

READ: What to Expect in Your First Year of Drama School, According to an Acting Coach

4. Be yourself. There’s a reason this cliché comes up from so many casting directors and as the lesson in so many terrible cheesy movies we all love. It’s because it’s essentially what we’re all striving for. It’s the thing that we admire in other artists, friends, and many public figures. The point of confusion is so obvious we almost miss it. We see someone else’s unique brightness, and in admiring that person’s ability to be themselves, we compare ourselves to their brilliant uniqueness, and logically infer we should be more like them. Your sense of self for this process should be your bedrock. Continually check in that all your choices during prep align with the artist you want to be, not that you think you should be. And day of, laugh at it now, but root yourself in whatever connects you to your individual purpose, cheeseball as it is. Have a playlist with a few jams that stir you up; make a photo album on your phone of people you love; or just close your eyes and imagine the work you want to be doing in three years. Whatever it is, get centered and excited in yourself, not someone else. They seem great, but we’re really not that interested in them.

At the end of the day if you’re auditioning for grad schools, as a coach there are just two basic things I want to see from you. First, I want you to feel so damn good about the artist and person you are, that you feel confident, alive, and spontaneous in your work and self. And second, I want to see the deck stacked in your favor as much as possible, so no matter what cards are drawn day of, no matter the conversations, personalities, or vibe in the waiting area, when you walk in the room they get to see the specific, passionate, and singular artist that you are.

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