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The Dos and Don'ts of the Video Pre-Screen

Alexa Doggett shares the secrets of a good video audition.

(courtesy of Microsoft Office Images)
In the world of college theater programs, the audition year is finally in full swing! With the beginning of regional dates around the country, early admission auditions, and even some acceptances out in the world, I thought it would be interesting to cover a new phenomenon to the process: Video Pre-screens. Requiring callbacks before students audition on campus has become fairly standard. But video pre-screens in particular have become especially relevant within the last couple of years, from schools as established as the University of Michigan, to younger programs like my own at Coastal Carolina, are requiring videos before seeing students on their actual audition day.

When I was a senior in high school, the concept of video pre-screens both confused and worried me greatly. What is the point? Why must they add more stress to my plate? But now that I work for the theater department at Coastal Carolina, scheduling auditions for our BFA program as the Student Recruitment Coordinator, I know the purpose serves not only the programs, but the applying students as well. For the department, it saves time, money, and energy. For the applicants, a video pre-screen allows students an opportunity to find out if a school is interested in them right away, which ultimately can save them time and money for a school visit they might not have to make, if the school isn't interested. And, there is nothing more important than going to a program that wants the applicant just as much as the applicant wants the program.

In that spirit, I present, "The Do's and Don'ts of the Video Pre-screen". This advice comes straight from the mouths of some of the lovely faculty at CCU, so thank you, Ken Martin, Monica Bell, and Robin Russell for your contributions!

DO: Get a good camera operator. If the video is constantly zooming in and out or is really shaky, it becomes distracting. Set it up in one place, and don't move.

DON'T: Spend a lot of money on buying or renting professional equipment. Although it's preferable if the quality of the image and the audio is true to what you look/sound like, this is not a big budget film. If what you shot seems to be a good representation of your real life performance, then it's fine for submission.

DO: Try and have a clean background behind you in your shot, preferably a solid wall with a nice, neutral color--not something that you blend into or that is an eyesore. A lot of the time these videos are shot in people's homes, so clutter or a mass of items in the environment can be distracting. The same idea applies to having your accompanist in the shot with you--if you can avoid it, please do.

DON'T: Include a lot of background noise. Although it's sometimes tricky without the professional equipment, try and avoid loud audio static, which makes it difficult to hear your voice. In addition, don't submit takes where there are random sounds (someone sneezing, a car alarm) or perform in a room that has too much echo. Computer speakers are, unfortunately, so unforgiving in this arena.

DO: Dress for the audition. Even though this is on video, that doesn't mean it's not a real audition. Dress as if you were going to a campus for the audition.

DON'T: Show JUST your face. The faculty wants (and sort of needs) to see your whole body in the shot at some point in the audition, at least from the knees up.

DO: Pick pieces that suit you as an individual. To put it in the most eloquent way I can imagine, I will just quote our Head of Acting at Coastal, Monica Bell: "I suppose that this is a rule for all of our auditions, not just video pre-screens, but choose pieces that let us as a faculty get to know YOU. I want to get to know you through your material, to experience your work as an individual."

DON'T: Make your pieces too long. Follow the guidelines that were given to you by the school on their auditions website. Although it's possible for you to sing the entire song in your audition, it's not a good idea. 16-32 bar cuts are used for a reason, and going over doesn't make the viewers watch any more of your singing or monologue, it just makes them fast forward to the end.

Now I'm not going to promise that if someone follows "Alexa's Rules and Guidelines" perfectly they will pass the pre-screen of any program. Sometimes, students are extremely talented and make well put-together, professional videos…and they still aren't invited to audition. There are forces at work outside of everyone's control, and they usually boil down to "Not what we're looking for this year." As much of a bummer as that is, this process gives students a chance to move on to the rest of the eggs in their basket. Time and hard work will lead everyone to the place that is the right fit for them. Sometimes it just takes a few long days with a camera (and quite a few school visits!) in order to find home.


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