In my previous blog, I discussed getting in the right mind-set for Pre-Screening, which is the first set of hoops that Musical Theatre students have to jump through in order to get ready for college. Looking around at other students who chose a different path from performing, there is the gamut of SAT or ACT testing, getting letters of recommendation, completing either online or Common Application paperwork, and writing essays. If you are interested in a degree in music, theatre or dance, then you have more balls to juggle.
Choosing a college to apply to is the first part of the Pre-Screening process. The trend with the performing arts majors is to accept a very tiny group of incoming freshmen, called a cohort, and this may be less than 30, less than 25, even less than 20 for the year- boys and girls combined. Therefore, although it is tempting to choose a single school or even a small set of schools, in reality you must think about the odds of getting in, examine the offerings at each school and what they will prepare you to do in the ‘real’ world of auditions and shows, and decide your next steps.
Not all colleges with Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA) or Bachelor’s of Music (BM) or Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) require Pre-Screening, but many do. And to complicate this, most of those colleges have a dizzying array of demands with early calendar due dates. Some are as early as October, although most seem to point to November. The outliers have December 1 dates, but those are few and far between. Thus, the initial task of the student is to put together the Pre-Screen Video, the pre-requisite for being invited to audition. The schools will have a place on their website to upload your pre-screens or they will use a site such as GetAcceptd.com, where you can create an account and manage your uploads and documents. Others have links to off-campus collection sites, specific to them. Here is where making careful notes is critical and managing multiple colleges gets tricky. Finally, I’ve noticed quite a few pre-screen portals where the student must have already applied to the college and received a student id number which must be entered into the Pre-Screen form before the videos can be uploaded.
On the Pre-Screen forms you might find requests for test scores, GPA, MORE letters of recommendation, MORE essay questions, and even MORE videos personalized for the school, such as an interview or a request for a personality piece. But the focus is on getting you to upload your headshot, resume, and prescribed songs, dance pieces and monologues.
Take care to record these pieces, label them correctly, and upload the right piece to the right college. Although they understand that you are submitting to more than one college, most likely, it is still a sign of an ordered mind to keep things straight. College reps and admissions counselors will review your prescreen video before inviting you to audition for a spot in their program. They may be the very people you meet if you are asked to audition, so this is the time to make that very important First Impression.
Texas State’s BFA for Musical Theatre application is noteworthy in giving the students a task to complete and noting that they are looking for the ability to follow directions, to get the right details uploaded, and that this will be considered in their willingness to invite the student to audition.
Most colleges do not need you to have special equipment to record your videos, but there are a few things to know. You must make sure the camera is on a stable surface, and thus you can use books as stabilizers, but a tripod or Gorilla-type device holder is a good investment. You want to make sure that you have the right direction- vertical or horizontal, depending on the school’s stipulations. One school that my students apply to requires the up-tempo piece to be vertical but the ballad to be shot horizontally!
Think about what the shot is going to look like and film against a cloth, a nice background, or a clean space. The audience should not be distracted by what is behind you, or having some piece of art or object seeming to come out of your hair, etc.
Shine a Light
There is no need to bring in artificial light, but if you record at night, then you might require a few things. Your choice, and here is where you might want to reach out for help from your teachers who might have done this a few times already!! You can avoid this by shooting during the day in natural light, if you want to avoid the hassle.
Can You Hear Me, Now?
Make sure that your microphone captures you and not just your piano track. Of course an external mic is a good idea, but again, colleges do not need you to invest in equipment, just to make smart choices. Avoid ambient noises like air-conditioning, telephones, television, dishwashers, barking dogs, etc. Record and listen back for specifically these things before you try to get your working tape. Have someone there to listen for you, so that you can focus on the being awesome as you perform. As a dancer, you will also want someone who can control your music and make sure you have the camera placed in the right positions.
Own The Moment
When all is said and done, you have to be happy with your pieces. Do not let anyone rush you or tell you that the piece is right if you feel in your heart that you need one more take. However, we tend to be our worst critics, and sometimes you just have to examine your pieces, breathe, and know that this is a PIECE of you in time. It is going to show what you can do. If you are already perfect, then what does the college have to teach you? Own your beauty and accept your beast. The rough edges are the diamond, right? Record until YOU are happy with the result.
Perform for the camera, directly and make sure that your body fits in the space the way the school has requested. If there is no request from the school, then waist up is the default. Dance pre-screens will need to see the entire body, and also want you to show your body as you move, so dress in dancer’s attire. For monologues, dress can be more casual As far as singing numbers, use your best evaluation. You do not have to have a series of outfits that fit your character, but you should look on the nicer side, rather than casual.
Perform a slate before each number. If you can splice using a computer app, then you might want to slate once, and add it to the takes. If this stresses you out, then slate at the beginning of each take. Smile during your slate and show your personality to the reviewers. Adjust your performance for camera in gestures and blocking, if you use them. You generally want a less choreographed, more natural performance for the pre-screen. Set aside a few hours to get this done, and shoot as many takes as you can so that you have a collection to pick from.
Follow the Numbers
Remember that you may need different lengths of takes, different music, different styles. I won’t try to list them all here because you truly need to check with the school. However, the trend is toward songs that are in 16-bar and 32-bar cuts, or full length. Monologues that are 60-sec, 90-sec or 2-minutes in length. Dance cuts that show specific moves, specific styles, and are 1-minute to 2-minutes in length. Take careful notes and make a checklist. The time you invest now in preparing FOR the pre-screen will make the actual videoing easier for everyone.