New York City is the theater mecca of the world. Dreams of all sizes start and end within the buzzing grid of its eclectic boroughs. It follows logically that the pinnacle of commercial theater would be home to some of the country’s best high school theater programs. Thousands of hopeful applicants audition yearly for schools such as Fiorello H LaGuardia High School, PPAS, and Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School. This process can prove anxiety-ridden, intimidating, and downright overwhelming to many parents and children.
Over the years, I have worked hard to make this process transparent, calm, and enjoyable for my clients. Along the way, my students have been accepted to all of the major performing arts programs in the city.
Here are nine steps to make your audition experience enjoyable and more successful.
It’s easier to do what you want when you know what you’re doing.
The surest route to a smooth high school audition process is building a strong foundation in acting and/or singing. Find a teacher you trust who makes each technique’s “what, how, and why” clear for you. Once you learn foundational techniques, the audition process becomes much simpler – find great material and make strong choices.
2.) Find material that brings out who you are
This step is what most people mess up. Schools aren’t looking for how high a note you can sing or how deep a monologue you brought in; they are looking for you. That’s right; you are what they are looking for. Ask yourself – what do I bring into the room? Whatever that essence is, find the material that brings it out. When walking into an audition, the most important thing you can do is find material that brings your authentic self into the room.
3. Make a spreadsheet
Putting all audition requirements and deadlines in one organized place is a necessity, not a luxury. This tool will benefit you by limiting surprises, keeping you prepared, and giving you a clear timeline for audition deliverables.
4. Pick the smartest repertoire, not the cleverest
No one was ever accepted or rejected by a program because they picked rare or overdone material. Every song/monologue has a price tag – if a piece is iconic or overdone, then the price tag is high. If you crush the piece and it brings out who you are, you have the budget to perform it. On the other hand, if it doesn’t fulfill those requirements, perform something else. Don’t be clever, be smart.
5. Vet the programs – pick which school suits your needs most.
The most successful candidates I have seen interview the schools they apply to. Each of these programs has a personality. You can get to know these personalities during open houses, audition days, and by speaking with current students. Think of this period as dating the programs. Find out what speaks to you as a learner and as an artist. Find out what turns you off as a learner and artist. Often, ranking a school that meets your needs leads to an acceptance faster than ranking a school based on reputation.
6. Consider having an alternate piece to meet different schools’ preferences (i.e. Laguirdia verse Sinatra)
This pointer pertains particularly to when auditions are in person. Some schools prefer a more classical repertoire (I’m looking at you, Laguardia), while others are more flexible and enjoy something contemporary (hey, Frank Sinatra). Use the spreadsheet you made to sort out school requirements and deadlines. Then make a time-sensitive plan that meets each school’s preferences with as few choices as possible. I recommend picking one classical or MT song and one either pop or contemporary MT choice. It will be worth the extra time. Trust me.
7. Have the appropriate self-tape material (lighting, camera, mics, secondary devices
During the pandemic, auditions wound up online. When you are auditioning in this medium, the importance of being heard and seen is undeniable. Being seen and heard can make or break your audition. You must secure proper lighting (think at minimum ring lights and hopefully box lights), a tripod, and a proper background (think blue screen or an uninterrupted solid-colored wall.) For audio use, at minimum, an iPhone in a space with little white noise. If you play a track, play it from a secondary device.
8. Practice makes progress
You got a teacher, picked great material highlighting who you are, and planned your timeline on an organized spreadsheet. Way to go!
Now is the part even some of the most prepared students fail at – practice. I liken this to personal training – if you have a personal trainer and workout only once a week, you will make progress, but you won’t leap forward. Take what your teacher gives you home and work mindfully. Mindful practice means no technology or distractions. Set an intention and clear goal for your practice. Also, practice how you will perform (a capella, standing, etc.), make a manageable schedule, and practice technique AND repertoire.
9. Start ahead
If you start on time, you’re behind. If you start late, you’re finished. Every step on this list is doable, but the one ingredient they share is time.
There you go, there are a lot of steps, but steps are better than questions. You can do this. So many applicants have before. Take a deep breath, take the steps above, and take a leap!
You are enough.
Contributed by Danny Greenberg, director of The Danny Greenberg Studio.
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The Danny Greenberg Studio is a professional performing arts studio for children aged 5 to 18 in New York (Brooklyn and Manhattan!) and online, focusing on vocal and acting training.
Our students star annually in numerous Broadway shows, national tours, and feature films. Our studio welcomes students of all levels between 6 and 18 to foster their love of performing. Once they’re ready, we also help connect students to top agents and casting directors.
Since our debut, we have focused on three values: children, crafts, and community. Our students develop professional techniques and valuable skills they use inside and outside the studio. We help prepare our students for professional success and make personal impacts through charity cabarets and fundraisers.
We provide private lessons in-person and online in singing, acting, audition coaching, industry professional workshops, showcases, musical theater classes, and admissions prep with curriculums tailored to each child’s needs so they can build their self-confidence. Each year, we coach students for DOE High School auditions, and they consistently get into Laguirdia, Frank Sinatra, and PPAS. We teach acting, singing, and dancing lessons in midtown Manhattan, Greenpoint, and Park Slope Brooklyn. Zoom lessons are also available. Contact us for more information on the admissions process.