Just Breathe – it’s your Juilliard Final Callback Weekend

by Mallory Portnoy, 1st year Actor

Final callback weekend.  For me, it was one of those weekends that is so special it sticks with you for years to come.  Since I now have the incredible opportunity of being part of Group 44, I will always think back on those two days fondly. 

I’m twenty-seven years old.  Received my BFA in Acting from the University of Illinois and had been making my way in New York as an actor ever since.  For many reasons I felt graduate school would be a really positive thing for me, so I started the audition process.  I auditioned a few times for all the top schools and didn’t get in.  I had almost decided to throw in the towel last year, but thought what the hell, I’ll give it one last shot.  Juilliard had never been on my radar, but a professional friend of mine was relentless when encouraging me to give it a shot.  I resisted for a while… Oh it’s four years, I’ll be so old when I get out… Oh I’ll never get in… blah blah blah.  Finally I came around.

The great thing was the fact that I had zero expectations going in.  In fact I had pretty much decided my professional career was picking up and I didn’t really want to go back to school anyways, but after my first day of auditions/callbacks at Juilliard, I was in love.  I remember being so proud of myself for letting go of all hopes and expectations through the initial audition process, which clearly served me well as I was fortunate to be one of forty amazing actors invited to final callbacks.  That’s when my nerves started to creep in… I felt myself becoming more attached to the idea of actually getting in, now that it was becoming a real possibility.  A distant dream was slowly becoming a tangible reality and I felt the pressure was on. 

I had heard what it would be like from friends, and it sounded pretty intense.  I also feared that awful feeling when you walk into an audition room and you see ten people who are exactly like you and you just sort of awkwardly see your competition right in front of you… I was creating all of these little stories and scenarios in my head and once I arrived realized it was nothing like what I had been anticipating.

First of all, if you’ve made it this far, you have experienced first hand that all the rumors about Juilliard are almost entirely false.  I’m mostly referring to the stereotype that Juilliard is incredibly pretentious/elitist.  From the minute you are greeted by the students, Kathy Hood, Jim Houghton, and the rest of the faculty, you feel totally taken care of.  They are so incredibly nice and supportive, but beyond that, they make it very clear how genuinely happy they are to get to know you and your work even better.  They also provide a ton of great free food, and who wouldn’t be jazzed about that, right?

The weekend went a little like this (and please bear in mind this was such a total whirlwind so I am trying to remember the specifics as best I can): We arrived early Saturday morning and were warmly greeted by the students and staff.  This gave us a chance to mingle with the other thirty-nine actors as well.  Then we made our way into the drama theater where Jim Houghton welcomed us and we went around and introduced ourselves.  They had every single person in that theater introduce themselves, which included many family members of young BFA candidates.  My friend joked it was like an AA meeting, but I was so blown away by how invested they were in learning about us.  After that we were divided into groups of ten, two groups went on a little tour of the school and two groups went in one by one to do their monologue and song for the faculty again.  Then we switched.  Classes that weekend consisted of Improvisation with Richard Feldman, Play with Frank Deal, Movement with Moni Yakim, Voice with Kate Wilson, and Singing with Deb Lapidus.  We also took home a short play on Saturday night for a text analysis class the next day and were fortunate enough to go see a fantastic musician play Saturday night, followed by a discussion.

Having the opportunity to learn from the faculty at Juilliard, even for two days, was incredible.  They are truly BRILLIANT.  The best.  Those who weren’t teaching were observing us, but never once did I feel uncomfortable, or judged, or “critiqued”.  On the contrary I felt completely at home and in my element, sharing this experience with this new group of actors and teachers. The best part was that I didn’t feel like I was auditioning, I felt like I had been chosen to be part of this incredibly special weekend workshop, which I really think is a testament to the faculty for making the classroom such an open, free, safe, fun place to let us just work and play and do our thing. 

The other great aspect of callback weekend was how available the current students were to us.  We had several panel discussions with them, one “behind closed doors” so to speak where it was literally just six current students with the forty of us, giving us the opportunity to ask questions we might not have felt comfortable asking in front of faculty etc., but in general they were just around to chat and answer questions and make us feel welcome the entire time.

The weekend is totally intense and busy and you work hard, but you also play hard.  You meet amazing people (the ones I met and loved turned out to be my classmates), and you have the honor of working with some of the best teachers in the world.  I think what sets Juilliard callbacks aside from other programs (at least grad programs) is that they truly take the time to SEE you.  Not just your abilities as an actor, but who you are as a person and who you want to become as a person and an artist.  From the moment you walk into that audition room from day one throughout your time at Juilliard, they take the time and the care to see you and help you grow.  That was very apparent to me at callbacks.  Other programs split the fifty people called back in half so each group only gets one day and doesn’t get to meet all the other actors auditioning.  I just think it’s such a lovely process at Juilliard.  It’s also so refreshing to look around a room of people and see truly unique human beings.  Juilliard isn’t trying to fill some weird acting school class quota with “types”; they are looking for PEOPLE, unique, intriguing, talented people from a wide range of ages and walks of life.

My best advice would be to absorb everything you experience in those two days; be present, live in the moment, be yourself, breathe, have fun, and enjoy what an amazing opportunity it is to be there and don’t lose sight of the fact that you deserve to be there, whatever the final outcome.  You’ll have an amazing time!