The first full week of the semester can mean many things. Getting slapped in the face with far too much homework. Adding and dropping classes like a maniac. Promising to get meals with people that will never actually happen. But for those of us who are involved with the performing arts on campus, the first full week back can mean only one thing: Audition Week.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the monster that is Audition Week, allow me to enlighten you. Right after the involvement fair, every performing arts group is auditioning. And I mean every performing arts group. Student theater, a capella, improv, sketch comedy, dance and band. And if that’s not enough, the music department and the theater department are usually also holding auditions at the same time.
Audition week is, in a word, exhausting. This semester marked my fourth Audition Week. My first was spent auditioning for things, and in the last three, I’ve been a director and watching (re: judging) other people audition for my show. As an Audition Week veteran, I’m here to share my observations and survival tips for Audition Week.
To start off with, it’s important to remember that everyone is stressed. People auditioning are understandably stressed. They want to get a part in a play, a spot in an a capella group or a place in a dance company. And people who are watching all the auditions are equally stressed. Every student play wants a great cast, every a capella group wants good newbies, and the longevity of every small performing arts group depends on a steady stream of talented newcomers every semester. If someone seems a little frazzled during Audition Week, give them some grace. We’re all in the same boat, and it sucks no matter what side of the table you’re on.
If you are auditioning for things, keep in mind that the people you’re auditioning for are probably just as tired and stressed as you. And if you’re watching someone audition, remember that you are probably not the only show/group that that person is auditioning for. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and think that your experience, your show, your group and your priorities are the most important thing happening over the course of Audition Week. But that’s probably not true for everyone. Take a step back and get some perspective. It’s college performing arts. You’ll be fine.
Next (and this is key), remember to eat and sleep. The number of people who somehow forgot to schedule time to eat a full meal or get at least six consecutive hours of sleep during Audition Week is frankly astounding. Don’t do it. You’ll hate yourself. A good portion of Audition Week is dealing with the puzzle that is logistics, and that is much better conducted on a full stomach and a good night’s sleep.
Audition Week usually begins with general auditions. If you’re auditioning for a student play, this involves reading a monologue to all the directors, in a process known as common auditions (or common auds). You might sing a bit for an a capella group, or take an audition class for a dance company. Sometimes, this is all you need to do, and final decisions will be released based on the one audition alone. For other groups, general auditions are followed up by callbacks. The field of auditioners is narrowed, and you call back (hence the name “callbacks”) certain people to see again. Scheduling callbacks is a minefield, and you need to have your wits about you.
On that note, logistics! From the outside looking in, Audition Week looks like chaos, with an a capella group taking over a lounge here and theater kids crowding a hallway there. But from the inside, Audition Week has to be carefully scheduled. Yes, it’s still chaotic, but you need to be on top of all the comings and goings, no matter which side of the table you’re on. The very worst groups during Audition Week are the groups that don’t respect people’s time. I once had an actor come into a rehearsal late, exhausted and seemingly dead inside after having been held at a different audition for four hours without any warning. Another time, a friend of mine missed an a capella callback because they were held two hours late at a different a capella callback. If you’re trying to cast your show or add to your performing arts group, a word of advice: don’t do that. Be up front about timings and scheduling, and don’t force the poor freshman to sit around until midnight. If you want them to respect your time, you need to respect theirs.
After callbacks are over, it’s time for final decisions. For everyone who auditioned, this means a very anxious wait. For people who are running shows or groups, it’s probably one of the most stressful parts of Audiiton Week. Even if you do let someone into your group, there’s no guarantee that they’ll take the spot. A capella groups often overadmit newbies with the assumption that a couple are going to say no. As for student theater, all the directors meet at 11:30 p.m. (send help) and cast our shows from the pool of actors who attended common auds. If multiple shows want the same actor, that actor is given a phone call and they can select which show they want to be in. And yes, that means that people who auditioned at common auds need to be awake and have their ringers on during this meeting, which can sometimes go well past two a.m.
Managing your anxiety during this whole process is key to surviving Audition Week. What I have found most helpful is making sure I do all my homework during the day, to avoid feeling stressed about it during the actual audition period. I also try to stay calm and keep a level of perspective about what I am working on. Because Audition Week is so stressful and unpredictable, I cannot allow it to reach life-or-death levels of stress for me. If I do, I’ll just collapse. And to stay organized and avoid forgetting things, I schedule my Audition Week down to the minute, ensuring I know when I’m going to get dinner, where I’m going at any given moment, as well as the comings-and-goings of any actors I need to see.
After all the anxiety of Audition Week, the next thing to manage is the delight or disappointment you feel at the results. If you got all the newbies you wanted in your group, or you got exactly the cast you wanted, you’ll probably be thrilled. However, there will be other groups and shows that are less thrilled. If you get accepted into the group you wanted or cast in the role you wanted, you’ll also be happy. If you didn’t get into anything, the disappointment can really sting. If you’re disappointed in not getting into anything, remember that there is always next semester, and that performing arts opportunities on campus don’t just come about through auditioning. There are tons of arts organizations on campus you can get involved with, some auditions that happen outside of audition week, plus behind-the-scenes roles. Additionally, there are so many non-performing arts related opportunities on campus! Use the time to explore your other interests. If you’re disappointed because you didn’t get exactly the people you wanted, I can promise that things often work out for the best. It’s all about working with the people you have, rather than the people you wish you could have. If you invest in the newbies and the cast you have, you’ll see great results.
If you just survived your very first Audition Week, congratulations! I promise things get easier from here on out. You’ll still be busy, but at least you’ll have a steady routine and the horrible anxiety will be gone. If you’re thinking about joining the madness of Audition Week next semester, I hope this article provided some helpful advice. If you take one thing away from all of this, Audition Week is insane, but somehow it all comes out right in the end with a bit of clever scheduling, a whole lot of hope and a wildly inconsistent sleep schedule.