Part TWO! Musical Theatre College Audition Prep with Katie Johannigman

audition songs auditioning bfa college self-tape Jan 30, 2023

Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia, Featuring Katie Johannigman

Two weeks ago we broke down the timeline for getting started with the college audition process, and the basics of getting started. In this week's post, we're diving deep into audition material, the songs, monologues, and dance requirements that you'll need to prepare to audition successfully for college musical theater programs.

Once again, 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.

So without further ado, let's dissect the most commonly asked questions regarding the fun pieces of the college audition process! 

Q: What material should I choose when it comes to auditioning?

A: This is a big question and one that a lot of people could lose sleep over, but fear not. It doesn't need to be stressful. It should be fun because these pieces are a beautiful live collage of who you are.

Begin by spending time brainstorming about what it is that makes you special - are you funny? Do you have excellent access to your emotions? Are you a beautiful dancer? Do you love to do legit musical theater or are you a Dear Evan Hansen superstar? Spending time really figuring out what makes you really unique is time well spent, and that can serve as your guide when picking your material and creating a window for who the program will spend the next four years with.

 A lot of students fall into the trap of believing they need to fit everything they can possibly do within the 16 bars of their audition or they end up picking material that they might be able to do really well with more training but feels a little out of their reach right at this moment. But there's just no reason to stress yourself out or sell yourself short just for the purpose of attempting to overproduce. Pick something that you feel confident about performing under these somewhat stressful circumstances and something that shows you off well at that moment.

It's important to remember that the people behind the table are professionals when it comes to analyzing auditions and they can always see far past what you bring in. They know how to recognize potential in addition to what you're literally showing them in the room. 

 Q: And what should you prepare when it comes to dance material for your prescreen auditions?

A: This is sometimes the biggest stumper for people, especially if you don't come from a dance background. Sometimes, a dance prescreen will consist of a combination that the school has on their website for you to learn, and you'll film yourself performing it to then upload it with your prescreen. But most schools will ask you to upload a video of your own dance, (which we know - sounds scary) but don't stress.

We suggest you choose music that you love to dance to (It doesn't have to be from a musical) and if you have a dance professional in your life, ask them to help you choreograph a dance. Make sure to include something that has a jump of some kind, a turn, and some story. Most importantly, show your personality.

And know that a dance call is never gonna hurt you. It's only going to add to them knowing more about you. So pick a song that brings you a lot of joy or you connect to, or you can tell a really detailed story that's going to be a great use of your time. (And don't stress about it!)

Q: What overdone audition material should students avoid?

A: Let us preface by saying everyone in musical theater has an opinion and it's very rare that all of our opinions will match. 

However, there are some things we think are worth avoiding, such as monologues or songs that are so explicit and adult that it just becomes hard to watch a 17-year-old perform.

But past that, you shouldn't worry too much about overdone material. Especially with Golden Age material, often people get really caught up in worrying how everybody's going to sing "On The Street Where You Live," or "If I Loved You", but guess what? The reason we use these songs so frequently is that they're so good and they show so much about voice, and communication skills.

So the bottom line is, there just really aren't any songs (or monologues) you need to avoid. If the piece fits you well and you are so comfortable performing it, then it's a great choice! Plus, nobody is going to going to do the song like you. In fact, it might be extremely thrilling to see a song that they have heard a hundred times but done with your spin.

Just make sure that you're not imitating a performance and be conscious of knowing who sings a certain song in a musical. If it's done by a person who is not of your race or your age or any other qualifying features, make sure that you are clearly connecting with that character and making sure that it's appropriate for you to do.

 One of the pitfalls of trying to avoid overdone material is that people will go looking for songs that are so obscure that nobody knows that then those behind the table are sitting there thinking, "What is the song? I've never heard of the song. I wonder if it was just written. I wonder if it's..." and by that time they've run through that train of thought, your audition is over and they've barely paid attention to you.

Q: What sets apart a prescreening video or a live audition?

A: The first thing schools notice is when a student walks into the audition room or starts their video with a ton of energy, is clearly passionate about theater, and has, again, a strong sense of self. That confidence can come from wearing something that makes you feel good about yourself, or preparing material that you love to sing.

They aren't expecting a student to come in ready to win their Tony Award. But rather, they would love a student to come in who is excited about theater, excited about working in a wonderful community of artists, and really wants to show up every day and do the hard work that it takes to earn a BFA in musical theater.

 It can also be really captivating when students dare to show something about themselves through the material. They've chosen certain themes in their music that they personally or emotionally connect to, that exude a unique vulnerability. It's different than trying to show your set of skills and can set you apart from the pack.

The bottom line is it's not about trying to impress or trying to do a certain number of skills or hit a certain number of high notes so that you can get in. It's about finding the match for you, the program, the faculty, the school, and the vibe, that you clearly belong with. When you can show up with as much of yourself as possible and feel free to be that version of yourself in the audition room, you'll have a much higher chance of finding the right fit for you.

Q: Can I go through this process on my own or should I seek professional guidance? 

A: Short answer, yes, you absolutely can. But let us give you a little rundown of the kinds of things you'll need to get organized and completed in order to do so.

  • You'll need to research schools and programs
  • You need to choose the material that suits you. (We'd suggest having a voice teacher or a coach as part of that process, only because of that objective, outside opinion)
  • You'll be writing and editing essays.
  • You'll write, edit, and film a wild card video as part of your pre-screen. 
  • You'll spend weeks, if not months, coaching your material. (Unless you or your parent is also an acting teacher, we would suggest getting some outside coaching on that)
  • When it comes to putting together your prescreen videos, you'll be doing this likely in what we call a self-tape process. So putting together a place in your house, in your garage, or in your yard where you can tape your material.
  • Organizing the logistics around your application (Checklists for material due dates, requirements for each school, going through the application process, getting test scores, collecting letters of recommendation...)

 There are a lot of nuances to the audition process, and it can get to be overwhelming,  which is why we founded our program BVC Aspire program to help students and families through this process in the most streamlined, time, and cost-effective manner.

We designed Aspire to be a four-month program that takes place in the summer and early fall going into your senior year. It's a whole team effort to provide you with the support that you need on every level - emotional, logistical, communication, all of it. And we wrap it all up in the early fall of your senior year so that you can get back to school, and your high school musical rehearsals and focus on enjoying every second of it. Check out our resources below for your next steps toward a successful college audition season! 

Click here if you want more information about BVC Aspire or book a free consult with us!

Click here for your copy of our FREE GUIDE to Starting the College Musical Theater Audition Process

Click here to join our Facebook group for parents and students. We host biweekly Facebook Live Office hours to answer your questions and facilitate great discussions.

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! 


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