While most students have just finished sweating over online registration, waiting for the moment when someone finally dropped that 10-person seminar, theater students have something else to stress about—auditions.
Auditions for Barnard and Columbia theater classes, which take place at the beginning of each semester, are a way for professors and department members to sort actors into levels. Despite the daunting descriptions on the Columbia course catalog, the required audition for most acting classes is generally not meant to exclude inexperienced students from participating, although the courses remain exclusive to some degree.
“We have auditions at the beginning of the semester to place all our classes and productions for that semester, and to receive course credit for being in productions,” Jessica Brater, administrator of the Barnard theater department, said. “We try to place as many students as we possibly can. In the past couple of years, we’ve increased the number of acting classes we offer.”
While there are many classes, not everyone can join one of them due to the large number of interested students. It is recommended that students begin taking theater classes as early as possible to gain experience and contacts. The department even takes special measures to provide classes for first-years.
“In the first semester we offer it [Acting Workshop] for first-year students only because we have so many interested students. We offer two sections for first-year students in the fall,” Brater said.
Marjorie Shrimpton, BC ’14, is currently taking Acting Workshop, which required an audition. “Auditioning for classes was a little nerve-wracking, because you perform your monologue in front of the entire audition pool,” she said in an email.
Although getting into acting classes can sometimes be a challenge, it’s often easier than auditioning for shows. It can be surprisingly difficult for beginners to get cast in departmental and student-run theater groups’ productions.
“I think the productions are somewhat competitive,” Brater said, “although we do try to keep an eye on having large cast sizes for at least some shows during the semester, so that we can cast as many students as possible. There are more places in acting classes than there are in the show.”
Elizabeth Mangigian, BC ’11 and a theater major, has experienced the processes of auditioning for both acting courses and productions. “I’ve only once not gotten into the class I wanted, and I’ve taken several courses,” she said. “I’d say it’s different with shows, though. You don’t see a ton of new faces in the department shows. I’ve been turned down for a couple roles, and I’m a major, but you just can’t take it personally or stop auditioning. Most people who keep showing up eventually get something.”
Despite the occasional difficulties involved in auditioning, Brater offered this piece of advice for students: “Just come and audition, because each director is looking for something different.”