Acting, Acting Programs, Auditions, Theatre
I wrote this list of best acting tips primarily to help actors who are looking to get into the best acting schools in the world. However, I truly feel these acting tips are applicable to any actor at any stage of their career. Whether you want to go go to one of the best acting schools, or have no desire to attend one… whether you want become an actor and are simply starting out, or if you have already graduated from one of the best acting schools… I hope this article will be a good source of helpful reminders and guidelines for you. Enjoy reading!

The Best Acting Schools

At the American Conservatory Theater, one of the best acting schools in the world, I had made a breakthrough! You can read about it in my last article: The Callback for American Conservatory Theater. I had made it to an end of day callback. I had yet to know what was to come (countless other auditions in NYC, traveling to Chicago, URTA auditions, getting more callbacks, etc.). This one small success was a sign: something I was doing was working. And all I had to do was build on it. I took my newfound confidence with me for every school I auditioned for after The American Conservatory Theater. And here are the acting tips that I learned:

Rejection from Acting Schools

1. Use Rejection to Fuel You. Sometimes, the rejection from school auditions, or any professional audition, can seem overwhelming. By staying focused, persistent and aware, an actor can learn what tends to work for them, and what doesn’t. Build on what works, but remember to also strengthen your weaknesses. By doing so, you can shorten the amount of time it will take to improve your acting craft. Attributing one’s focus to their weakest links will ultimately strengthen performance as they progress. Realize that if you put in the work, believe in yourself, and trust your good instincts, you can turn your dreams into reality.

Talent vs Work Ethic

2. Talent Takes Time. Everyday, I like to remind myself what Bradley Cooper says in A Star is Born, “Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it to have people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.” And Jackson Maine is right. Talent is nothing without craft; without skill. And skill, and therefore, talent, must be developed. Every failure you will ever experience will be an opportunity to learn. It is your choice to take that opportunity. So if you walk away from an audition and have learned nothing, then that is on you.

Auditioning for Acting Schools

3. Perspective in Rejection. You may get into grad school on your first try. You may not. The truth is: it doesn’t matter. Just the endeavor of auditioning is the success. No matter how established or famous an actor may be, they will all tell you the same thing: “You will be rejected way more than you are accepted.” And while that may seem like a bad thing, it is not. It takes time to grow as an actor. It takes time to become proficient in anything. And it takes time to find the right school for you, and for a school to find who is right for them. That last part is important, so I am going to repeat it. It takes time for a school to find who is right for them. The same goes for the best acting schools. The same goes for the professional entertainment industry. 4. It is not your job to get the job. Casting directors, directors, producers, agents, managers, and yes, even the best acting schools, are all looking for someone who will solve their problem; someone who “fits” their creative, artistic vision. Sometimes, those people are spot on. Sometimes, they fail and misjudge. Whether you succeed or fail, it is not your problem to wonder why. It is only your job to do the best you can, to learn from what doesn’t work for you, to experiment and, when you do fail, it is your responsibility to get up and do it again. Now, having looked back on my time auditioning for dozens and dozens of MFA programs, and several of the top 25, I can tell you that: 5. Nobody knows what they are looking for, they only think they know. This includes you and the audition judge.

Trust the Work

6. Trust Yourself. If you receive a callback, it means that the person on the other side of the table saw something they think they may want. Allow any doubts to pass from your         mind and trust the work you are doing. It is what got you the callback in the first place. They didn’t call you back by mistake. They may not have any clue what they want. So                   show them what they want. You are in control. Allow your choices to be full and free.

7. Take Direction: Many times when an actor is called back, whether it is for one of the best acting schools in the world, or if its for a production of some kind, that actor may unknowingly impressed the person behind the table so much that they have virtually secured the part. The actor has proven that they have enough mastery of the craft and acting skill to do the role. However, the creative team or school judges want to see if the actor can take direction. In other words, they want to see if an actor is collaborative and good to work with. This doesn’t just happen in a callback audition. It happens in every audition.

Learn from Mistakes

For instance, The Yale School of Drama has its applicants stand behind a Yellow Line. I auditioned for Yale at 19 years old, and was illegitimately auditioning, without knowing it. (I had not yet received my bachelors degree and was too young to qualify to audition. Somehow, I slipped through the application process and got an audition) I was naive and green, having little experience in audition etiquette, and lacked awareness for what the purpose of an audition truly was. Ron Van Lieu, the Head of Acting at the time, and Walton Wilson, the Professor in the Practice of Acting and Chair, instructed applicants prior to our initial auditions. The instructions were to breathe and…

“Do not step over the yellow line…”

Well. I stepped over the yellow line. Needless to say I did not get admitted to The Yale School of Drama after that audition. And my failure to take direction certainly didn’t help me.

So, one year later when I auditioned for The American Conservatory Theater, I had still not learned my lesson. I allowed myself to be blinded by this momentary success that I lost focused. When Domenique Lozano conducted a series of theater games with us, and gave us instructions, my excitement overcame my composure.

During one particular game, I recall Domenique saying to focus on listening to our partners during. I realized I was doing a poor job and had not been truly listening for the previous several minutes. By the time I reminded myself that she was evaluating us as a group to see who could take direction, it may have been too late. I had not been focused. It may have cost me the audition. I may never truly know, but Domenique could have evaluated me as being someone not worth calling back again. After all, if I couldn’t take a theater game seriously, how on Earth would I be able to perform in a show or in class at A.C.T?

I performed my pieces well. And everyone laughed a lot. But I was not asked to The American Conservatory Theater’s Callback Weekend. If I had been more focused, maybe the outcome would have been different. However, I quickly moved on, learned from it and, to the best of my ability, was never unfocused for an audition again. As a result, I was called back to many of the best acting schools in the world.

Acting is a Process

Which brings me to my last three tips: 8. Let it Go So you didn’t get the part? You “deserved” it? The truth is, it was never yours. What is meant to be yours, will be yours. All you can do is keep working hard, and keep working smart. And work begets work. 9. Auditioning Never Ends. Everything is an audition. You work hard, you work smart and do the research, you prepare… and still don’t get the part? That is okay. If you truly did everything you could, then those people behind the table will remember it. The next time you get in front of them, you will already have their confidence on your side. Everything is an audition from the moment you get off the subway or out of the car, to the moment you leave not only the audition room, but the building.

Create Your Path

10. Do What You Want to Do. As Philip Rosenthal says, “Do The Show You Want To DO.” After all, that is what he, the creator of the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond did. Because “at the end of the day, they’re gonna cancel you anyway.” Take the risk and do what you believe is what you have the most fun doing. Find the pieces that fulfill your artistic soul, stimulate your imagination, are concerning topics you care about, and do pieces that stretch the range of your instrument. The body, voice and imagination make up the actor’s instrument. Develop yours and choose pieces that showcase your versatility best. And if you do all of this, eventually, you will succeed.

Acting Programs

American Conservatory Theater‘s MFA callback audition is something I’ll never forget. I get into the room. Domenique Lozano and another woman representing The American Conservatory Theater were conducting the callback. Nothing had changed from my first audition in front of the two audition judges.

It was the same room. The same people behind the table. The same opportunity ahead of me. Only now I was one step closer in the audition process to seizing that opportunity. One step closer to obtaining an MFA acting degree. And from one of the best acting schools in the world: The American Conservatory Theater, also known as, A.C.T.

Types of Auditions at American Conservatory Theater

Every single one of the best acting schools is different based on a few key factors. One of these factors is location. One great program, like N.Y.U., is located in New York City while one other great program, like American Conservatory Theater, is located in San Francisco. Attending The American Conservatory Theater is financially more affordable than attending N.Y.U.’s graduate MFA acting program. However, should one be accepted by both programs, NYC’s market may be a better fit. That actor may decide to attend N.Y.U. Every school has their own advantages that make them more appealing for different types of actors. Take the Yale School of Drama for instance. It’s the only Master of Fine Arts program to offer a Masters degree in every theatrical discipline. Going to Yale would mean that you not only learn how to act. You leave fully prepared to work in the professional industry. Another excellent program, UCSD, however, offers their graduates a Master of Fine Arts Degree, an Equity card, and free tuition. Both are highly respected programs. Both have some differences with how they each conduct their auditions. Fundamentally, however, the audition process is somewhat the same.

The Audition Process

Some of the best acting schools have no callbacks. Others only have one callback. And several have multiple types of callback auditions. Here are the typical callback scenarios that an applicant may encounter, and what they all mean:

End of Hour Callback

After the initial audition, if a school is interested in an applicant, they would callback that individual. At this audition, an applicant would most likely work one-on-one with an audition judge. Many times its the same person who saw their preliminary audition moments prior. Sometimes, it may be a new person or multiple people. They may also be asked to present another piece of material, most likely a monologue. If the school conducts this type of callback, it means that they probably see more applicants than most other schools. This is their solution to best organize their audition process. The Yale School of Drama and U.C.S.D., due to what I know from personal experience, conduct end of hour callbacks. This is mainly because the number of applicants to these schools is so high.

The End of Day Callback 

The American Conservatory Theater did not conduct an end of hour callback. Like Yale and UCSD, the American Conservatory Theater conducted an initial audition. I always learn so much from every audition. You can read about what I’ve learned in my article: Acting Tips for Beginners. Or you can read about my experience at the Mason Gross School of The Arts at Rutgers. Or about my audition for The Yale School of Drama.

If an applicant was successful, A.C.T. would invite them to what is referred to as an “End of Day Callback”.

The end of day callback occurs after all of the applicants have been seen that day. The school will then decide to callback the few they are still interested in. The audition can be a group audition, or possibly another set of individual auditions. From my experience, the best acting schools do this for two reasons: To narrow down their applicant pool. And for the opportunity to observe the group as a whole. By doing so, audition judges can see how actors work together and collaborate; something that could not be evaluated in the preliminary auditions.

The Callback Weekend

If an applicant got to this stage of the process, they would be contacted by A.C.T.. This call would let them know that they had been invited to a three-day “Callback Weekend” at the school itself. They would then have to travel to San Francisco, California, in order to participate in the multi-day audition. Many MFA programs have begun hosting a final callback weekend for their incoming hopefuls. Although, there are a few schools that do not hold such auditions.

There is a purpose of the callback weekend. The applicants can get a taste for the atmosphere of a particular MFA program. Each person will be introduced to faculty, current students, facilities and theater spaces. The program also gets to learn about the actors walking through their door. A hopeful applicant would likely audition for most, if not all, of the faculty, and maybe current students. After all, they would be learning with them for the subsequent three years. The particulars surrounding the callback weekend do vary depending on which program you choose. Of the several callback weekends I was fortunate enough to attend, the details pertaining to each school’s process was similar.

“End of Day” Callback at American Conservatory Theater

How the American Conservatory Theater structures their audition process. The best acting schools, like American Conservatory Theater, hold auditions in three or more major U.S. cities each year. They do this in order to audition more applicants. My audition was in N.Y.C. and The American Conservatory Theater was using N.Y.U.’s graduate acting building to conduct their auditions.

The day of my audition was separated into three parts. A morning audition. Then afternoon audition. Followed by an end of day callback. The morning session began at around 9AM until the judges broke for lunch around 12PM. Lunch was then followed by an afternoon session that went until about 2 or 3 PM. I was one of the final people to audition for the afternoon session. My audition slot was at 3:20 PM. You can read about my experience in my last post: Audition Tips: How to audition.

I leave the hallway after my audition to call my dad. Confident I did a great job, I tell him a I love him. “I won’t get my hopes up,” I say. But there is this feeling I experience after I do something I am proud of. And I can’t describe it. But I try my best to remain calm; To not get my hopes up. So I go back into the hallway and there is now a crowd of people standing in a group. They are all looking at something on the wall. It is the callback list. The crowd clears. And only myself and a few others are still standing there.

Got a Callback at American Conservatory Theater

I look at the callback list. My name is on it. I remember feeling such joy! There was only about an hour or so before my “End of Day Callback” audition. I chose not to grab any dinner and prepare my monologues. I ask the moderator outside the room if this is the callback sheet. He tells me yes. I freakout. I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I had received a callback. My first ever end of day callback! So I am especially nervous.

The same warmth I felt during the initial audition was present in the room for the callback. However, something was considerably different. As I mentioned earlier, some of the best acting school hold group auditions at the end of the day. At this end of day callback, American Conservatory Theater also required the entire applicant pool to audition as a group. Auditioning in a group setting is way different from auditioning while you are alone in the room. The psychology in the room changes as the environment changes. For the initial audition, it can be intimidating to audition in front of two strangers. Imagine what it is like to audition for 10 or more strangers who are also your competition.

Acting for Auditions

At my callback for The American Conservatory Theater, Domenique Lozano ran the end of day callback. First, we were all given a short greeting. Domenique and another audition judge spoke to all of us about American Conservatory Theater’s MFA acting program. Then, we participated in various acting exercises led by Domenique. After, we each presented two pieces of our choosing to perform. But this time, we performed in front of the entire group. Some applicants chose to perform the two pieces they initially auditioned with during the preliminary round hours prior. Other applicants chose to do two totally different pieces than what they had already shown. I decided to do one of my original pieces, a contemporary dramatic monologue, and a new piece. The new piece was a funny Irish folk song that I love to sing. By presenting a piece they had already seen, I could prove my ability to remain consistent with my performance. However, instead of the comedic monologue I had done earlier that day, I wanted to sing a comedic song instead. I wanted to showcase my ability to sing. In addition to showcasing singing range and voice type, the song showed my ability to perform musical comedy and improvisation.

Actor Success at American Conservatory Theater

I made a breakthrough! My first end of day callback. I had yet to know what was to come. The countless other auditions in NYC, traveling to Chicago, URTA auditions, getting more callbacks… I was at the very beginning of my journey. The successes came. And the mistakes happened. But without the mistakes, I would have never learned what I am writing about now. This one small success was a sign: something I was doing was working. And all I had to do was build on it. I took my newfound confidence with me for every school I auditioned for after The American Conservatory Theater.

Acting Tips for Acting Auditions

I learned a lot when on my callback audition for The American Conservatory Theater. Read about the acting tips I learned on my callback in my next post: The Best Acting Schools: Acting Tips & Audition Tips.

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   Instagram: @danpavacic Facebook Page: @danpavacic Twitter: @danpavacic Email: [email protected]

Before I begin, I’d like to take some time to thank a special mentor and friend to me since I started acting: Professor Steven Lantz-Gefroh.  A quick correction on that, he is actually more than a mentor or friend.  He’s family.  I would not be where I am today, or on the path I am, without his guidance.  During my time in undergrad, Gef pushed me to develop my skills and improve my work ethic in order to be prepared for the arduous life of an actor.  This guidance essentially began on one particular night, after I had performed poorly in a scene.  I remember sitting outside in the theater department hallway, reading the script over and over.  I was overly tired and stressed about other events in my life, and I remember feeling absolutely lost with no direction.  Gef came out and spoke to me.  He asked me if I was going to be okay.  And all I could say was “I just don’t know which path to choose.”  Not many people, let alone a mentor whose job is to push you by any means, feel obligated to genuinely care for their students.  And I didn’t know if I should get an MFA or not.  I had begun to doubt myself and the choices I had made.  Then something miraculous happened.  Truly out of the ordinary.  He sat with me, and he just listened.  After hours conversing, Gef had comforted my fears, telling me to be afraid and “admit the fear” to myself whenever I get on stage; To welcome fear with open arms.  I knew that we are only afraid of what we don’t know and understand.  So I came to the conclusion that I needed to develop my plan.  I realized I needed to trust the process.  In probably the kindest act, or gift, a teacher can give to their student, it’s what Steven Lantz-Gefroh did for me.  He listened to me to understand.  He was not afraid to help and guide.  He welcomed the challenge and does so every day for his students.  I have never witnessed a professor that will go to such lengths to help a student achieve their potential.  He just is a man who never, ever quits on anyone.  He tries his best for his students.  And that’s more than most ever do.  So it was Gef who encouraged me to trust myself and pursue an MFA degree in acting.  Without that talk, I might be working behind a desk at a job I hate instead of writing this.  I have him to thank for why I am acting today.  He gave me something extremely special: belief in myself.  For that, I just want to say thank you, Gef.  And I love you.

You may be wondering about why I mention my mentor.  Well he actually is an alumni of the MFA program I am about to discuss.  He encouraged me to audition for grad school as he did when he was in his 20s.  And as it must have been a tough road for him, I can certainly affirm that it was also an extremely tough road for me.  Only just the beginning of a 2-year journey, here’s all I have to say about my experience auditioning at The Yale School of Drama.

Was I right to go for my MFA degree in acting?  Well, to find out, I had to experience an audition for myself.  A year after my talk with Gef, at 19 years old, I paid the audition fee and booked a slot for the New Haven auditions for YSD.  (Generally, most MFA programs hold auditions in their local city, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles) Some of you might wonder if I had any collegiate degree.  The answer is actually no, I had not graduated community college yet and received even half of a 4-year degree.  But for those of you interested, YSD does have a certificate they award to graduates of their program.  To qualify for a certificate, students who apply to YSD that are without a bachelors degree can do so if they have been out of high school for more than 5 years.  The certificate becomes an MFA if the student ever completes their bachelors degree during or after their time at Yale.  I actually did not realize the necessary requirements one needed to be applicable for a certificate, but applied anyway.  Although I didn’t officially qualify, somehow the application was accepted and I was given an audition date and time.  And I drove up to New Haven, Connecticut with my Dad (Who, by the way, is the the greatest Dad there is.  He’s been there for me my entire life and sacrifices so much to help his kids) the night before, monologues prepared.  To be honest, despite being ineligible for admission, I was no where near prepared enough, having only two solid monologues to audition with (I did have two alternate monologues, but they were not nearly as prepared as my first pair).  But before I elaborate any further, here’s the breakdown of how The Yale School of Drama conducts their audition process.

At YSD, each audition day is broken up into several hourly slots that applicants sign up for when they register for auditions on online.  (Typically, applicants can register up to several months prior to their audition scheduled date). These hourly auditions consist of usually at least 20 actors, who are subsequently split up into two separate groups.   Group A auditions for one of two audition judges.  Group B auditions for the other.  When I auditioned in 2015, the two judges were Walton Wilson, The Chair of the Acting Department, and Ron Van Lieu, The Lloyd Richards Adjunct of Acting at YSD since 2004.  Prior to each hour, both men speak to the group of actors.  (I really enjoyed this part of the process because it calmed my nerves somewhat and made me reaffirm that this is just an audition, and we are all just human beings). Ron and Walton told us the most important thing was to to breathe.  Now, years later, and having received further training, I gladly agree with that statement.  Which brings about my first tip for many of you hopeful MFA applicants reading this:  Breathe and enjoy each breath.  You cannot be connected to anything in life if you don’t breathe.  Forget doing it right.  Forget impressing others.  Forget showing all your emotion in one speech.  That’s not what we do in our daily lives.  Stop thinking about it all.  Just breathe.  Obviously, you can’t live if you stop breathing, so how can you possibly live as another character, if only for a moment, if you tighten up and strain through an entire monologue by holding your breath.  You’ll suffocate the life of the character you are playing!

I recall walking into the audition room in front of Ron Van Lieu.  And I was terrified.  I had done so much research about the program and put so much pressure on myself prior to my audition that I didn’t value the one opportunity I really was guaranteed.  Was I guaranteed to get admitted into YSD?  No.  No one is.  Was I guaranteed to do my best performance of this pair of monologues?  No.  However, I was guaranteed to get just one audition, an audition approximately 2-4 minutes in front of one other human being whom I had never met.  I was guaranteed one, and only one opportunity: to act.   There actually was a student sitting beside Ron Van Lieu, a young man and MFA actor in the YSD program.  Both men were kind to me and seemed welcoming.  As I walked in I noticed a yellow line on the classroom’s floor, drawn about 30 feet from Ron and the student.  Earlier, Ron and Walton had told us to stand behind that line when doing our pieces.  I was so nervous when I first entered the room and almost blanked about the yellow line.  The reason I was nervous was not because I was unprepared or scared of the man behind the table.  The reason I was nervous was not because I doubted my ability to play the characters in my audition pieces.  The reason I was nervous was because I was worried about impressing the judge in front of me.  I was more worried about my chances of getting into the school, than I was about actually enjoying this opportunity to act. And that’s my next tip:  Pick pieces that you want to do, that you have fun doing and that you love because of your connection to them.  I say this because my first time auditioning for Yale was like a test run, an experiment, and I was more focused on getting it right than I was on having fun.  But I learned so much from failing.  I learned you only have so much time in front of these audition monitors and judges, so enjoy that little bit of time you are lucky to have!  You may have spent money for that time.  Why not HAVE FUN!!!

Also, remember that in any audition, those behind the table are just people who share similar traits and experiences to your own.  We’re all human and breathe the same air.  So ease up a little, take over the space and have confidence in your own self-worth.  You all have something that makes you, you.  Whatever quality that is your strength, reinforce it with the pieces you love!

Obviously, I didn’t know any of this during my first MFA audition.  I actually didn’t apply this relaxed, “what do I have to lose”/have fun mentality until after my Yale School of Drama audition.  That is, after my second time auditioning.

You see, the next year, (I didn’t get in the first time) I tried again, this time prepared with 6 Shakespeare pieces and 6 contemporary.  I had prepared all of these pieces over the course of about 2 years prior to my entire audition tour.  And Yale was once again first on the list.  (It just worked out that way with flight scheduling)  This time around, I tried to breathe, relax, and have fun with my pieces.  (Side note: recently, Yale implemented an audition limit of three attempts per applicant.  To my knowledge, you can still apply to audition, but it is discouraged by the program).  Being my second experience with YSD, I knew what to expect and welcomed the fear as Gef taught me to do so very well.  I had this mentality that it’s not just about me being right for a school; The school has to be right for me.  And that mentality gave me confidence to do the pieces I wanted to do, however I wanted to do them!  I walked into the room and auditioned for Walton Wilson this time.  He was extremely kind and told me to start whenever I was ready.  Unlike Ron, Walton actually looked up and watched me while I performed my two speeches.  I remember seeing him smile and feeling much better about my audition than the year prior.  I even called my Dad to tell him I thought I had a shot at a callback…

But I still didn’t get a callback.  All that work and nothing to validate it… or so it seemed.  Only one name out of 20 hopeful actors was written on the callback sheet.  It hurt.  All rejection can hurt.  But were dreams crushed?  Eh, not for me.  If it’s your dream school, that’s one thing.  But mine was Actors Studio Drama School and I had yet to audition for it.  Watching Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and being moved by his performance; becoming inspired to pursue acting at ASDS where he had trained was the whole reason I met Gef, and started acting in college.  And Yale wasn’t for nothing.  I’m glad I didn’t get in.  It made me better.  My whole MFA audition tour was course corrected and improved because I learned what monologues didn’t work well together.  It was practice.  It was rehearsal.  And that’s another tip: Treat every audition like it’s a rehearsal.  Of course rejection hurts.  But does it mean I should pack up and switch my major?  No.  All a rejection means is “not this year.  Try again if you would like to”.  And that’s my fourth tip: Let the “no’s” roll off.  Do not worry if you don’t get in anywhere.  I mean it.  The only loss you could ever have is if you were to quit.  By applying to schools and doing your best work, you are forcing yourself to develop your auditioning skills and better your craft!  You’ll become a better actor by trying, rather than not trying at all.  And after getting my first “no” out of the way, it was like something clicked for me: I realized I have nothing to lose.  I got home, worked on my pieces for four or five hours and went to bed.  And then I got up the next day and worked on arranging my pieces in different orders.  And then my song.  And my scene.  Then once a day’s work was done you know what I did?  I filled up the little time remaining in each day by spending time with the people I love and enjoying the things I loved to do!  I read plays for fun and Shakespeare for fun.  I went swimming, hiking, played basketball, and played some Super Smash Brothers with my best friends. I worked on classes for my online college, (I really enjoyed my online college experience at Empire State College.  If you’re interested in knowing more about it, feel free to write me by hitting the ‘Contact’ button on my website’s home page) saw some new and old movies, read other books on my list, played piano (poorly) and I worked on singing.  To be successful at auditioning for these schools, you have to allow yourself to play and be creative in your approach to each monologue.  And I enjoyed playing and learning from each and every school audition, all while completing my degree and assistant directing/understudying a show.  Keeping busy and allowing yourself to play will not only help you achieve more, but it will leave you having fun and staying relaxed in the process.  And by being relaxed and having fun, you won’t obsess if you are right for a school…you’ll be able to take a step back and assess if the school is right for you.  If you surround yourself with things to do that you love and people you love, these auditions will feel like a piece of cake.  They can be so fun as long as you allow them to be!  Think about it: You get to travel.  You get to meet new people.  You get to learn!  I know I did.  So stay tuned, because even though Yale didn’t work out for me, it helped me learn so much for auditions going forward.    I am proud to be on this path.  And I am proud to be an actor.

Next stop?   I’m going to dive into the audition process of The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University: First Round.

-Dan Pavacic

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Back in 2014 I decided I wanted to be a professional, working actor.  I knew it would not be easy, but I did, however, have a plan.  It was Senior year of high school, and I remember thinking that the reason most actors struggle is due to poor finances when they begin their hopeful careers.    I knew I needed to do more than just hope for success, I had to plan and work for it.   So I decided in 2014, at 17 years old, to forgo all the 4-year colleges and universities I was accepted to, and I changed my life forever.  The goal was to be like Bradley Cooper and go to The Actors Studio Drama School for my MFA degree in Acting.  (Watching Silver Linings Playbook inspired me to be an actor.  It’s a long story).  To get to ASDS seemed impossible.  How could I afford 4-years at SUNY Geneseo AND spend 3 years in Graduate School?  The truth is… I couldn’t.  I come from a working class family.  I had no connections at all with the acting industry.  I had no way in.  No mentor.  But I had this plan.  I had to get a 4-year degree as cost efficiently as possible.  So my first decision was to attend community college.  A wise teacher once told me, “most people who transfer out of school say they couldn’t afford the first year of college, but it’s actually that they could not afford the second.” By choosing to go to community college, I was able to take the time to test the waters, take classes and develop my plan without the pressure of ridiculous student loans.  I also knew that the more classes I took, the faster I could finish my undergraduate degree, and the faster I did it meant fewer semesters I had to enroll in, which meant I saved thousands of dollars in the process.  After community college I obtained my  BA online in 2016.  It took me 2 years to get a 4 year degree.  The plan worked.  But then the hard part started.  Auditioning for Grad School.  Over the course of the next few blog posts, I will take you through the auditioning process of each MFA Program I auditioned for in the 2016-2017 year.  Each blog will highlight my experience at each school, and will be released as a series, once per week.  If you are interested in getting into graduate school, I hope that what worked for me, works for you as well. Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for my next post: Auditioning- The Yale School of Drama.   keep reading