Future Stars: My Experience at A High School Theatre Conference

Laura Josepher headshot
~Laura Josepher

Last month I presented 3 workshops at the New York State Theatre Education Association (NYSTEA) Student Conference. 800 theatre students from high schools all across New York State came together at the Villa Roma Resort in the Catskills to celebrate all things theatre. They attended workshops on subjects ranging from mask work, to improv, to arial arts. My workshops were on Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions and I was lucky to get to work with some very talented students, as well as get to meet some of their very awesome educators. Here’s what I learned at the conference:

High School Students are Savvy and Well Read

Overall I was very impressed the with the monologue selections of the students I coached. They picked material that was appropriate for their age, sex, and race without any offensive language. Their selections showed me a little of who they are (funny, outgoing, shy, dramatic) and their cuts of the material were logical and smart. Of course, I must credit their teachers as well, as I know many had their hand in their selections and edits. Good work!

The Average High School Student Now Applies to 15-20 Colleges!

When I applied to college (back in 1980s!), most of the people I knew applied to 3-5 colleges. Now it is not uncommon for students to apply to 15-20 schools — quite an increase! This means a lot more research, more application fees and college tours, and the need for a lot of organization. Colleges and universities have not yet unified audition requirements so it also can mean preparing multiple audition songs and monologues. We recommend a nice Excel spreadsheet to keep it all straight.

They are Desperate to Find New Age Appropriate Material

Finding unique audition material is essential to helping students stand out to college admissions boards. These students wanted to know where to look for underperformed songs and monologues. ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com is a great resource for finding age appropriate songs (we have a good amount for youth/teens and are constantly adding more). As for monologues, I recommend good old-fashioned research. Visit a good theatre bookstore or library and start pulling plays off the shelf. Look for teen characters in the breakdown then start reading. Or look up a favorite young performer who is your type. See what else he has done. Maybe that play has a monologue in it for you. Time consuming — yes. But it will ensure you find material not everyone else is performing.

Not Enough Students Got to Attend

I was a bit disappointed with the demographics of the conference. Both the student body and the teachers attending were overwhelmingly White. According the the NYSED statistics for 2016-2017, only 44% of New York State students ages K-12 identify as White. So where were all the students of color? Unfortunately, this conference was not free. And so only a small amount of the high schools in the state had funds for teachers and students to attend. The camaraderie of the students and teachers at this conference was infectious. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to ensure that every high school student with a love of theatre could find their way to a great event like this?

They Want to Learn

These high school students were all hungry to learn new skills and were very open to my feedback and they took adjustments well. This is important because as college musical theatre programs are getting more and more competitive the pressure is definitely on. Adjudicators at college auditions often will give adjustments and try to talk to students before or after they perform their prepared material.  Students must be able to tame their nerves enough to be able to listen and respond to what they are asked to do. Colleges want to know if you will be a good fit for their student body. They are making a four-year commitment. The goal is to be as relaxed and prepared as possible.

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I really enjoyed my time at the NYSTEA conference and look forward to presenting again next year. Kudos to the organizers, my fellow presenters, and all the attendees. See you next year!

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Check out our new book “Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent” now available on Amazon.

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