MFA Audition Tour: The Mason Gross School of the Arts|Rutgers

The day I auditioned for Rutgers was two days after my audition for the Yale School of Drama.  It was a Saturday, and since I had a day between auditions, I was able to work with my friend Gregg on our scene (we had to do one together because The Actors Studio Drama School, unlike all other MFA programs, prefer applicants do scenes over individual monologues) and get his input on my other monologues for upcoming schools like Rutgers, the American Conservatory Theater and The Juilliard School.  

At Yale, I had chosen to do a very vulgar, hilarious monologue that I absolutely loved.  But once I did it, I realized that it didn’t really “stretch” my audition.  So after that first audition at Yale to kick off the audition season, I never did that particular comedic monologue again (except as a 5th alternate piece at Juilliard) Tip: What I mean by stretching the audition is that when you pick your monologues, you want to choose ones that show different aspects of your personality.  This is why many audition coaches will tell you to do one comedic and one dramatic monologue.  However, most auditions for these MFA programs ask applicants to choose contrasting pieces, and do not necessarily require you to present one dramatic and one comedic monologue.  So it is okay if you have two dramatic pieces as your go-to-pair to perform.  Doing one contemporary and one classical monologue, that consist of little or no comedic elements, (or vise-versa, they are both comedic with little or no dramatic moments) but still show off two totally separate aspects of your personality, is more than okay.  If anything, you may stand out. Maybe one monologue helps you show your sensitivity and the other helps you connect with emotions like your anger or rage.  Nevertheless, you want to pick pieces that “stretch” your audition and show as much of you as possible.  Also, keep in mind that any school may ask for a third, and sometimes a fourth alternate monologue during your initial audition, so the same suggestion applies here: No two pieces should do the same job; Pick monologues you love, but don’t do 4 monologues that show one piece of you.  Each monologue is called a piece for a reason: To show at least one piece of you per monologue performed.  

Back to Rutgers. When I stepped in front of the audition judges, I chose to do two different pieces than I had done at Yale.  At Yale I did a dramatic Shakespeare and, as you read, the comedic piece.  This time around, I chose to do my comedic Shakespeare and a dramatic contemporary monologue.  I auditioned for two people, a woman named Barbara Marchant, the Head of Acting at Mason Gross, and a man named Christopher Cartmill, one of the school’s accomplished Playwriting professors.  The audition took place in NYC at a hotel in Times Square.  About 1000 students were swarming the lobby and upstairs lounges when I entered the hotel.  As it turned out, URTA was also holding their annual auditions in New York, and Rutgers was holding their auditions in the same building.  I knew a little about URTA, but had scheduled my auditions for them a couple weeks later in Chicago.  (For those of you that are unfamiliar with the URTA auditions, they are auditions and interviews held every year in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.  The acronym URTA stands for the University/Resident Theatre Association.  Each year, students present about 2-minutes or less of audition material in front of multiple schools at once.  Think of it like auditioning in bulk.  It’s like Costco.  Yeah, yeah think of Costco.  Great now I’m thinking about Costco. And now I’m hungry…I’ll go shopping later, anyway, you do one audition, an potentially get called-back for as many as 20 programs at a time.  I’ll tell you about my URTA audition experience sometime within the next few chapters of my blog, so stay tuned).  

As I introduced myself to the judges for Rutgers, I remembered something my audition coach, Brian McManamon told me:  He said that “Auditioning for schools is like dating”… both you and the school want to like each other and form a relationship.  This reaffirms what I said in earlier blog posts… When you audition, realize that these schools need to be just the right fit for you as you need to be for them.  If you have that mindset, it will free you to be yourself and do the pieces you love and enjoy doing.  At the end of the day, if you were to get into every school you audition for (which Brian has coached some students who have done just that so check him out if you can at you still have to choose only one and reject all the others.   An extremely kind, knowledgeable and hard working coach that is right by your side for every audition and callback, I’d like to thank Brian McManamon for all his help and for teaching me that auditioning doesn’t need to be a scary process, instead, it was an extremely fun, rewarding experience.

So I did exactly what Brian and I spoke about during our coaching sessions.  During my Rutgers audition, I was myself and presented the pieces that I enjoyed doing the most.  I didn’t worry about getting anything right, I took my time to greet both Barbara and Chris, made the room my own and started my monologues when I was ready.  The comedic Shakespeare piece I chose to do was a fairly famous and regularly done speech, however, I had done over a years work on it to make it as creatively my own as possible.  Despite feeling genuine and real during both monologues, upon finishing the audition I did not get a sense that either judge laughed or was intrigued by my work.  They seemed to study me for a moment and then, to my surprise, asked me to sit down in the chair across from their desk.  I did and we talked about the program.  Both Barbara and Chris were thorough, clear, concise and kind with how they explained the program’s strengths, why they think it’s a great school and why they chose to teach there.  They also asked me many questions, such as why I wanted to go there.  I told them Shakespeare was one of my main interests and that I really fancied the idea of studying at The Globe Theater in London, if accepted to Rutgers of course.  Rutgers is the only program that arranges for its BFA and MFA (both degrees study together at the school, similarly to Juilliard) actors to study their entire 3rd year at Shakespeare’s Globe.  So if you are interested in studying Shakespeare, you may want to consider applying to The Mason Gross School of the Arts.  The program is also heavily Meisner based, so if that is what you wish to study, the rigorous 3.5 year program may be a perfect fit!  If accepted, after the third year, a BFA or an MFA student at Rutgers will return for one more semester mostly dedicated to the BFA/MFA actor showcase and to prepare for the next steps of career building in the professional world.

Once the conversation was coming to a close, Barbara and Chris asked me if I had any questions.  I didn’t really have any but I was nervous and instead of politely saying “no I don’t have any questions” I felt the pressure to ask a question anyway.  And my question was something simple that I already knew the answer to.  The danger of asking something trivial or general is that you may give off the impression that you have not done your research.  If a school gets the sense that you didn’t research their program prior to auditioning, they may conclude that you might not know why you want to go to grad school, let alone have interest in their program.  My tip: if you don’t know what to say, don’t make something up.  These schools want real honesty during the audition and during the interview.  Be you!  

After the interview concluded, I figured there was no way I got in. Despite feeling good about my performance, I figured since neither person laughed, it meant I must not have been very good or interesting.  Maybe the interview was a sign they were interested, but if so, I blew it at the end.  “They probably think I’m an idiot… Why’d I ask a question when I obviously knew the answer.”  I didn’t get asked to stay.  So I left and tried to be positive.

The weeks passed by and I auditioned for several other programs.  I was scared to touch my comedic Shakespeare piece.  Now I had two comedic pieces (one contemporary and one classical) I was scared to do.  What was I going to do now?  I had so many more schools to audition for on my list and had lost confidence in two of my initial four monologues.  How was I going to continue auditioning?  I guess I’ll tell you in the fourth chapter of my Audition Tour series.  Keep on checking out my blog because next up I’m talking about the next stop on my MFA Audition Tour: The American Conservatory Theater.

-Dan Pavacic


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