Students audition to get into musical theater major

Elizabeth Myers

Two-day, three-part process tests singing, acting and dancing abilities

A small group of students walk into a dimly lit theater and file into the second row; the door closes behind them. The first prospect steps forward in front of a panel of judges who hold her future in their hands. She begins to sing.

Despite the dramatic description, the atmosphere surrounding the musical theater major auditions Friday afternoon was quite relaxed. Parents and auditioning students sat in the lobby of Wright-Curtis Theatre watching DVDs of past Kent State productions, while inside the theater, the panel of judges talked and laughed between groups of auditions.

The School of Theatre and Dance auditions all students who plan to major in musical theater or dance.

“We’re looking to see if they can make some sort of connection,” said Terri Kent, the coordinator of the musical theater program. “We look at who has the potential to succeed.”

The students must go through a three-part audition process over two days to be accepted into the musical theater major. The first two parts, voice and acting, are combined in the first day. Groups of four to five students enter Wright-Curtis Theatre where they perform two songs and a monologue in front of eight judges, consisting of both theater and music faculty.

After each round of auditions, the panel discussed each student and decided whether he or she could make it in the program. Kent affirmed that most of the time the panel voted unanimously on each candidate. Split decisions usually occur over promising actors who may not have a strong singing voice.

“I’m dying inside right now,” Brittany Eckstrom, Cloverleaf high school senior, said after her audition. However, she attributed the feeling more to illness than her performance.

“I love the atmosphere here, and it’s close to home,” Eckstrom said of her choice to audition at Kent State. Currently she has a “50-50” split preference between Kent State and Ohio University, where she had already auditioned. Her final decision will depend on scholarship money.

Before this year, Kent State didn’t have the resources to offer talent-based scholarships through the program. The only scholarship available was through the honors college.

Kent said that of the average 50 applicants each semester, the program will accept between 12 and 18. However, due to competition with schools such as Baldwin-Wallace, Penn State and even New York University, the program ends up with between eight and 12 new students.

“They decide to come here because of their experience at the audition,” Kent said.

As evening fell, one mother stepped close to the door and pressed her ear against it in an attempt to hear her daughter’s performance. She didn’t really need to because her daughter’s belted version of “Part of Your World” soared into the lobby.

“Wow,” Diana Rickard mouthed as she turned away from the door. Her daughter Samantha was the last audition of the day and faced the judges all by herself.

“I think the parents are more nervous than the kids,” Rickard said. “They just want their kids to do well.”

Saturday morning brought parents and prospectives back to Wright-Curtis Theatre for a meet-and-greet followed by a question-and-answer session with faculty and current students.

After this session, the prospectives went on to the third part of the audition process: dance. Students with less than two years of dance experience made their way to the Gym Annex early in the day to participate in a beginner’s dance tryout. Kent, Eric van Baars, acting and movement professor, and associate dance professor Kim Karpanty evaluated the group. Both van Baars and Karpanty led the group through a series of warm-ups then taught a short dance routine, which the students had to perform in groups of five, while the rest of the students clapped and cheered from the side of the room.

Those with more extensive dance training joined the dance major audition later in the day. Each dancer was given a number and letter abbreviation describing what they were auditioning for: “prf” for a dance performance major; “mn” for a dance minor; “mt” for musical theater. Twelve musical theater prospectives joined eight dance majors and six dance minors in an audition that spanned ballet, modern, improvisational and jazz dance.

Solon High School senior Gabrielle Pallay, prf 6, has been dancing for six years and chose Kent State as her only option.

“It’s close to home,” Pallay said. “It was perfect.”

As a specialist in modern dance, she was drawn to Kent State’s strong modern dance program.

Dancers auditioning for the performance major also had to perform a two-minute solo in the style of their choice.

“I try not to be nervous,” Pallay said. “Nervous is a negative thing. I’m just really excited.”

The dance and theater departments confer about each candidate and compare auditions. Once final decisions are made, letters will be mailed, and students will have their results within two weeks.

Contact performing arts reporter Elizabeth Myers at [email protected].