Musical Theatre College Audition Prep with Katie Johannigman

audition songs auditioning broadway industry college Jan 16, 2023

Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia, Featuring Katie Johannigman

For many families, the process of applying to college musical theater programs is equally parts thrilling and terrifying.

Navigating prescreens, choosing which schools to apply to, finding audition songs and monologues, and sorting out potentially dozens of different application requirements can feel entirely overwhelming - we get it. 

In this post, we are joined by our friend Katie Johannigman, a multi-talented director, choreographer, coach, and performer. Katie has spent the last five years on faculty in the musical theater department at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, where she previously graduated with a BFA in musical theater.

Last year she joined us at BVC as our primary coach for BVC Aspire, our college prep program for high school students, and this year, she has recently started a new job as the associate artistic director at the Marriott Theater in Chicago.

We are excited to dive into the commonly asked questions by students pursuing musical theatre- so let's get started!

Q: When should students and families start preparing their materials & choosing their schools?

A: The college audition process is so different than applying to a liberal arts school or any big university because there are so many components that go along with it. We have singing, dancing, acting, the resume, the headshots. So the more organized you can be in your junior year, the less stressful your senior year will be when you're busy with school and senior shows.

This is why you should start researching in your sophomore year (or maybe even in your freshman year), just to get a school on your radar. Start following schools on Instagram and seeing where the people that you admire in the business went to school, and start to get a feel for the lay of the land and what's out there.

By your junior year, begin your more intense research. If possible, begin taking dance classes (or at least get on YouTube), and start to read plays in your spare time.

What we've really found at BVC in Aspire is that if you are picking your material over the summer for your college auditions, that gives you plenty of time to try out different stuff. You don't have to nail down what you're going be singing in the summer, but beginning to zero in on what you want to prepare, makes for a much less stressful fall.

Q: What is the ideal prescreen timeline?

A: Usually pre-screens tend to be open for submissions somewhere around the very end of August, to the very beginning of September, and then it's usually open for a couple of months.

Try to get those pre-screens in early. First of all, the faculty will all have super fresh eyes and ears, as they're excited to see all of the pre-screens roll in. Second, for the student and family's sake, it's nice to have those out of the way. If you plan to be in your school musical in the fall, if you need a part-time job, or if you have friends/family that you like to hang out with - those are all going to be things that you'll be able to do instead of stressing over these college auditions.

Q: How many schools should students be applying to?

A. Before you even put a number on it, spend time with yourself and a parent or someone who you can have an open conversation with, to help you to think about what it is that you're looking for in a college experience, both on a theatrical level, (how many students are in each class? Do they have a senior showcase? How many shows do you get to do? What's on the curriculum?) but also what do you want out of your college experience in a bigger way (Do you want to go to football games on Saturday? Do you want to be in a city or a small town? Do you want to have snow or sunshine?). 

You're going to school for theater, but you only get to go to college once, and having the experience that you want to have should be a part of where you're going. It's important to remember that you're not only auditioning FOR THE schools, but you are auditioning the SCHOOL.

Understanding those criteria for yourself will help you decide how many schools you apply to.

But to put a number on it, we suggest between 10-15, and make sure that you have a healthy balance of different programs so that at the end of the day you are really excited about the place that you're attending.

 Q: What are the different categories of schools and how might that play into a student's chosen school?

A: In the BVC Aspire program, we talk about extreme reach schools, target schools, and safety schools.

Extreme Reach Schools: The schools that accept only 2% of their applicants. For these schools, it's important to remember that if you don't get accepted, it's not a reflection of your talent, it is simply a numbers game

Target Schools: They accept maybe 30% or 40% of their applicants.

Safety Schools: These tend to be schools that either don't require an audition or simply have a much higher percentage of acceptance.

It's important not to think of the tiers as to whether a program is necessarily better or worse than another, and that's why the research is really helpful. Take a look at that faculty, talk to current students, and see what the graduates have done. There are plenty of ways to figure out if a program will work for you. There really is a right school for everyone and you have to feel like it's a good fit for you, as there's no prescribed path for what we do.

Q:  What can students be doing in high school, before the application process, to put them at an advantage when it comes to the college audition season?

A: The reality is, a lot of what we do is very expensive and can be cost-prohibitive, but I think in this age of lots of technology and things virtually - there's plenty of access to so much great training. (Hello BVC)

But in general, it's great to be in the shows at your high school to learn what it means to be in an ensemble, to learn all of the terminologies, and to understand what it takes to make a great show.

And of course, money is really well spent when getting proper training with voice lessons, if possible. Learning about your instrument, letting it grow over your high school years. If you can start reading plays and maybe participate in acting or dance classes, whether it be online or in person once a week.

If you have to choose between the shows or the training, we find that training really pays off, especially when it comes to preparing for college auditions.

Oftentimes, students and parents think that you have to pack your resume for a good shot at college auditions. But at the end of the day, programs will focus on your prescreen and seeing where you're at now versus the fact that you played Shrek when you were nine years old.

So if you love being in productions, great! But don't feel pressured to keep doing more productions to pack your resume, because in the end it just won't matter.

If you take away anything it should be this - it's never too late to apply. If you feel like you're behind the game, but this is something you're passionate about and you can receive training during your junior and senior years, to get you on a level where you feel confident applying to schools - then GO FOR IT.

There's no set requirement of what you have to have experienced by any point in time in order to be qualified to go to school for this career path. 

If you're interested in diving deeper into this topic or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation! 

And if you’re ready to get expert mentorship and ongoing training as you prepare for college auditions, then you’re invited to join the waitlist for our BVC Aspire program! Book a free consult with us - we can’t wait to hear your story and help you take the next step in your career. 

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