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How important are auditions for getting on to performing arts courses?

Auditions are central to most performing arts course applications, but you don’t want to get any shocks once you’re centre stage. Read on to make sure it’s a pitch-perfect performance.

Nearly all performing arts practice-based courses such as dance or drama will audition every candidate who has made it through the first cut (that’s your application, personal statement and supporting evidence where required). A few programmes see just a select number of people or spare you the ordeal entirely.

Preparing your audition piece

You’ll usually have to choose and prepare your own audition pieces in advance, to perform on the day. Colleges will offer some pointers on how to choose your audition piece and will detail what specifically they’re looking for – make sure you follow their requirements – otherwise they’ll be looking for thoughtfully selected and executed performances.

Often you’ll be expected to perform two contrasting pieces – in drama, that could be a soliloquy from Shakespeare, or one of his contemporaries, plus a speech from a modern play.

The audition itself is typically short and sharp – perhaps 2-3 minutes for some drama or dance courses and unlikely to be more than 10 minutes for music. It means you’ve got very little time to make a big impact.

Some extra hoops to jump…

All sorts of other tasks can be factored into the mix. Musicians might have to do sight reading; dancers and actors a class or group workshop. In a workshop, you’ll be assessed on both your own performance and how well you interact with the rest of the group. Sometimes you may do this instead of an individual audition.

You’ll be told what the format will be when you’re invited to the audition – but be prepared to get stuck into any little surprises along the way.

At some colleges, an interview might be tagged on to the end of an audition or carried out by phone later. With others, you could be sent on your way straight after your audition.

Who’s watching?

This can be variable. A panel may consist of just two people, or ten, or many, many more. You could be watched by an audience of tutors, current students and your immediate competitors. Intimidating or exhilarating..? Being well prepared will help you lean towards the latter.

What happens next?

Some colleges operate a recall programme, which might be done on the day or several weeks later.

One method is to run an initial individual or group audition in the morning. The successful candidates are asked to remain for a second audition; while, for the unlucky ones, it’s ‘thanks, but no thanks’.

A second system involves recalls a few weeks after the first audition. Multiple recalls do happen for very competitive courses, with students being sifted out over a matter of months.

Note: the bigger institutions sometimes run sessions in several different locations - UK and abroad – to accommodate auditionees. If you genuinely can’t make it to a physical audition, it’s likely you’ll be asked to provide a virtual one - possibly on video, perhaps in real-time.

Top tips…

  •  Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re unsure of something – be that before or during the audition. Better to seek clarification than jeopardise your chances.
  • Get to the audition well in time. Most of them give you about 15 minutes warm-up time and it’s not enough, so arrive early. Allow for a trip to the bathroom too! To be really prepared have a pre-warm-up warm up before you leave home or the hotel.” Rosie, music student at Brunel University
  • Clichés are out. So much so that some colleges actually veto particularly hackneyed pieces at auditions. The quality of mercy is in short supply for Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice, for instance. If you must use something that’s well-worn, put a fresh spin on it.
  • Don’t shy away from courses with auditions They act as a filter, so that you know you’ll be working with people of the same standard. If they take all comers, you could find yourself way ahead or struggling at the back of the class.” Rosie, music student at Brunel University
  • Be true to yourself. You might get a chance to see a rival in action. Check out the competition, but don’t alter your performance based on what you see or hear.
  • Make the most of the day. “If the audition doesn’t involve a tour or the visit on offer is not very extensive, phone ahead and book one for the same day – just make sure it’s AFTER you’ve performed! It will really help you get the feel of the place and come to a decision.” Rosie, music student at Brunel University


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