By: Evan Todd, First Year Drama Student
Looking back at the auditions in Chicago I realize how surreal the whole experience was: a thousand anxious teenagers frantically running around a hotel trying to make their 43 auditions in time, stage moms quizzing their sons on their monologues, and girls secretly competing with one another as they belted out the highest note they could reach in the bathroom (as if they didn’t realize their voices ricocheted beyond the bathroom stalls into the hallway connected to the Carnegie Mellon audition room).
But nothing could come close to the atmosphere that surrounded the waiting room at the Juilliard audition. It was as if you passed through a barrier of sound; no one really spoke. Parents, teachers, and students not auditioning hovered around the area only long enough to give a supportive thumbs-up or to remind the person auditioning to breathe. I know I had stopped by the room once the day before, once the morning of, and once just before my audition – you know, because obviously the probability of Juilliard playing “musical rooms” with the other colleges last minute just to shake things up a bit was really high, and I was going to be prepared for everything.
The first thing I remember when I approached “the room” was an attractive redheaded woman signing people in. She was extremely kind and explained everything. Her warm smile and soothing voice put everyone at ease. Obviously she was a decoy, and I was onto their game: she was there to soften you up before they tore you apart in the real audition. My interaction with this “Kathy” woman was short, and suddenly I was in the waiting room re-evaluating everything I had said to make sure I had made a good impression.
Two things happen in the waiting room, other then waiting: you see how you respond to nerves and you see how you respond to other people responding to nerves. Finally Kathy told me that I would be next. She continued calm my nerves with conversation – even though I knew she was the decoy for what would soon by the most intense audition of my life. I was up. Suddenly I remembered some words of wisdom a teacher gave me. “You’re going to spend your entire life auditioning. You can either get nervous about it, or you can look at it as an opportunity to share something you love with someone else in the room. Most of the time, it will be your only chance to perform.” That became my mission. I was not going to “audition” for the school; I was going to share something I was passionate about with whoever was behind those doors.
I entered the room with confidence and did my best to share my work with the bald man with the deep voice and the silent man with the white hair. I sang “Almost Like Being in Love” and then they asked me to do it again – this time as though it had been choreographed by the world’s worst choreographer. I was not a dancer by any means but I whipped out as many leaps and sashays that I could as I belted out my love song. It was fun and I felt good. If I didn’t get to the callbacks than at least I knew I had done the best work I was capable of.
We waited a few minutes for the last person to exit the room and then Kathy came out with “the list”: a piece of paper with two or three (or sometimes just one) names on it of those who had made it to the callback. There were a lot of heavy sighs, but no real commotion. Nobody wants to be the pompous ass that gloats at the Juilliard audition so when I saw my name on the list I turned to my teacher, gave a tiny nod, tried not to smile, and quickly walked down the hall out of sight before the rest of the students could figure out who the people were that had moved forward in the process.
The group that had been called back for that day was fairly small – 8 at the most. As before, we went back into the room one by one. The bald man with the deep voice and the quiet man with the fluffy white hair were now accompanied by Kathy. At this point I realized that my inability to remember names while under pressure was something I desperately needed to overcome. The man with white hair (whose name I learned was Richard) asked me to do my Prince Hal monologue again and had a few suggestions. The bald man with the deep voice (whose name ended up being Ralph) invited me to pull up a chair for an interview. I had no way of gauging how I was doing, so I just relaxed and took this as a chance for them to get to know me better. We ended up spending most of the time talking about the “Film and Literature” class I was taking and why I liked Pedro Almadovar’s directorial style. Before I knew it the interview was over, they thanked me, I thanked them, and I was back into the all-too-familiar waiting room.
The next portion of our callback consisted of a warm-up and a series of group exercises. At one point we were exploring an imaginary pin in as many ways imaginable. Ralph then had each of us recite a tongue twister, take corrections on pronunciation, and repeat it back – everyone desperately hoped they would only have to repeat it once. I had no idea what I was doing in the callback; all I could do was go with the experience as fully as possible.
When we left the room, Kathy congratulated us again for progressing this far in the audition, and explained that in a few weeks we would be receiving an email informing us if we would be continuing on to the final round of callbacks in
The audition was finally over and I was actually able to absorb what I had just been through. I realized that I had allowed myself to be so swept away by the myth of what “The Juilliard Audition” would be like, that it had manifested itself in my mind as a monumental impossibility. Any anxiety I had was self-generated and had absolutely nothing to do with my actual experience with the school. Kathy had not been a decoy designed to allay the students before they were ripped apart by the cold-hearted Juilliard faculty. When you find your way to the end of the long maze of audition rooms, squeeze through the crowd of anxious young actors, survive the endless waiting room, and those heavy wooden doors finally open for your audition, you will find something you never expected: people who want nothing more than to help you do as well as you can.