What Conservatories Look for in Prospective Students

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Last week, I presented some of the things prospective conservatory students should keep in mind during their search for the right school. This week, I’m approaching the same process from the other side: what conservatories look for in their ideal student.

As the president and artistic director at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, I’ve seen thousands of prospective students take the step of pursuing a conservatory education as the next step in pursuing their acting dreams, but I’ve also seen many make easily-avoidable mistakes as well as life-changing decisions. Below are a few things we, the educators, would like to see from you. 

5 questions to ask before committing to an acting conservatory.

Commitment, courage, and curiosity.
Most conservatories work with people who have decided they’re going to be actors no matter what. That commitment—combined with courage and curiosity—underpin an understanding that it takes time and effort to get your skills and confidence up to a professional standard. It also takes guts to open up emotionally and learn to manipulate your own instrument. We want to see these characteristics in prospective students; they are the foundations of successfully pursuing a career in acting. 

We are also looking for caring, kind people. You’re joining a community and we seek students who are not only a good fit but who will help make our schools better and stronger.

Be professional.  
Meet deadlines throughout the application process. That admissions timeline is as much a part of your acceptance as anything else. If people are chasing you for paperwork or you’re forgetting key deliverables, that tells us something about you as a student.

What to expect your first year at a conservatory.

Pick the right monologue.
When you’re looking for an audition monologue, you want to look for something that’s age-appropriate and contemporary. You should identify with the piece or have a strong feeling about it. Not only will that help the auditor see you in the piece but it helps the conversation afterward. If the school also requires a classical piece, still stick with something in your age range. (If you are 17, don’t choose King Lear.)

Also be sure to choose material from a published play or screenplay, not from a monologue website or something you wrote. Your monologue choice tells us a lot about how you see yourself and how well you understand what material is right for you.

And make sure you know the story, so read the source material in full. A big part of the job of being an actor is to understand what story you are telling and why. Make sure you know why the character is saying and doing that exact thing at that moment. Your preparation is evident—if we see you taking this experience seriously, we will take it seriously.

How an acting conservatory can help you achieve emotional resilience.

Take direction.  
At some auditions, the auditor may give you feedback or ask for an adjustment. Do it. It may not make sense to you or it may seem like a crazy suggestion, but try it. Schools want to know that you are open-minded and willing to take direction without being defensive.

Be open and eager.
The audition may include an interview as well. In every audition and application process in our industry—or life for that matter—people are trying to get to know you quickly. You can facilitate this process by being open and eager.  

Best of luck!

Check out Backstage’s Broadway audition listings!

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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Richard Omar
Richard Omar is the president and artistic director at The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.
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