I spent this past weekend at the National Unified Auditions (aka “Unifieds”) in New York City. If you are not familiar with the term unified auditions, you are probably not the parent of a musical theatre-loving high school senior (or that high school senior his/herself).
Unifieds are held every year in several cities around the country where multiple colleges, universities, and conservatories hold auditions for their incoming classes over the course of 2-3 days. Most of the schools require students to apply for slots ahead of time or submit pre-screens (a taped audition submitted to secure an in-person audition), but many also allow students to sign up day of for a “walk-in” slot.
Thanks to some very generous colleagues, I got to sit in on some of the schools’ auditions and watch. I also spent some time chatting with parents and their young artists about their experiences. Below are some of my thoughts about the pros and cons about the unified audition process.
Cost & Convenience With upwards of 30 schools in attendance, unified auditions can be a cost efficient and convenient way to audition for a lot of schools in one place at one time. While you may need to travel to the unified location and pay the application and walk-in fees, the cost will still be significantly less than making multiple individual campus visits (which can still be done later).
Discovery Because so many schools attend Unifieds, it can be a great place to discover schools and programs that may not have been on your radar. There was a lot of sharing of information going on (among the parents especially!) and most of the programs allowed you to audition for different majors at one time (i.e., acting and musical theatre). I saw more than one walk-in discussed for serious consideration, so your discoveries may turn into schools you will want to add to your list.
Faculty on Hand All the rooms I visited had current faculty who were eager to talk about their programs and what set their school apart. Several offered information sessions for parents and students. College auditions are not just an opportunity for schools to audition you but for you to try to figure out which school might be right for you. If you come with questions and know what you’re looking for in a program, Unifieds can be a one stop shop where you can get a lot of your questions answered.
Chaotic I won’t lie. Unifieds are a mad house. There are lines, it’s hot, and there are people EVERYWHERE! Parents were huddled in a corner on the floor. Dance clothes were strewn all over the women’s restroom. And you can hear singing through the walls and chatter in the elevators. It is definitely not the kind of environment where all young performers can thrive. But if you’re well organized and a little chaos doesn’t throw you, Unifieds can be an efficient and productive choice.
Not All Schools Want The Same Audition Material There is talk of standardizing college audition material. For now, however, there is still a lot of variation and you will need to check each school’s website individually for their audition requirements and be very organized when preparing. Most musical theatre programs want to hear two contrasting songs, and two contrasting monologues. But some ask for specific time periods or styles. Most schools now have students audition with accompaniment tracks played from their own phones and portable speakers. This means creating an audition playlist and testing equipment as part of your audition prep. And of course, making sure your phone and speaker are well charged (and that you bring your chargers).
You Don’t Get to See the Campus Being in an audition studio with faculty is not the same as being on their school’s campus. You won’t get a feel for the school community or get to see the facilities. But most of the schools I visited had alumni as their monitors. Ask them questions. The monitors often reported back these conversations to the people in the room so it’s a great way to show interest.
All or Nothing The compressed time period of the unified auditions can be a blessing or a curse. By cramming in so many auditions in such a short time period, nerves and illness can easily get the better of a performer and the whole weekend can be a wash out. On the other hand, you can get multiple auditions over and done with in a few days, which can be great. It’s important to make sure you plan for the intensity of the day and pace yourself in order to get the most out of it.
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So, to Unified or not to Unified is a question each student and family will have to answer for themselves. If you do decide to go, spend plenty of time preparing and doing your research and the process will (hopefully) run smoothly and be productive.
Find our book “Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent” on Amazon.
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