Actors, singers face career-defining audition

Silence creeps over the crowded hallway as notes from the Broadway tune “I Could Have Danced All Night” squeeze through the cracked door of the Bergen Room in the Theatre and Interpretation Center. A girl nervously paces across the tile floor. Other students attempt small talk about the shows they saw over the weekend.

But no matter how much they tried to appear relaxed, the Music and Speech students auditioning for Northwestern’s inter-disciplinary Music Theatre certificate program were tense – and it’s not hard to see why.

With one of the nation’s top musical theatre programs, NU has a reputation for cranking out highly trained actors and actresses who go on to perform leading roles on Broadway. That reputation has created intense competition for the 25 available spots in the program.

Most of the 80 audition slots were taken within a day of the slots being posted, and there is a waiting list of about 15 people just to get an audition. Some students scrawled their names and phone numbers in the margins of the list or begged program director Dominic Missimi for a chance to audition.

Missimi, who founded the program and directs the Waa-Mu Show, pulled no punches when speaking about his goal of giving his students an honest – although sometimes harsh – view of the world off professional theatre.

“Because I pick them, because I think they have potential to make it in the professional world, I am honest with them,” said Missimi, a Speech professor. “If I think they should lose weight or go to the gym, I tell them. For example, for New Leagues I would tell them ‘Don’t wear that dress, you look fat in it.’ I work in professional theatre and I think I know what people are looking for.”

New Leagues is an annual trip to New York in which outstanding seniors audition for agents.

Missimi said the program is a good indication of future success.

“If you don’t get in as a freshman, then if you’re told twice as a sophomore, perhaps this is a good indication about your career choice.” he said. “Maybe you should find something else to do. I like to think of myself as doing their parents a favor.”

Although the truth can be brutal, Music Theatre student Matt Amador said this honesty helps to make program members better prepared for the future.

“The classes and the ability to have professionals critique your work are both invaluable,” said Amador, a Speech junior. “I’d like people’s perception of the program to change. I think people view it as a snobbish and elitist club, but the instructors are honest. They can be brutal, but that’s the way it is. You can’t take it personally.”

Although the real-life approach to the program is no secret, more students audition for the program each year. The number of students auditioning has swelled from 40 in its the first year to more than 80. Students audition by performing excerpts from two songs and attending a dance call.

Speech freshman Courtney Abbott said by the time she decided to audition, all the time slots were filled. Abbott said she asked Missimi to put her on the waiting list in case a spot opened.

“For me, the decision to audition was kind of random,” Abbott said. “I know nothing about musical theater, but I’m so excited. I kind of feel guilty because I’m doing this offhand compared to some people who want this a lot.”

The final roster will be posted by Friday, Missimi said.

Speech freshman Liz Clinard said being accepted to the program would be one step closer to reaching her career goal.

“I’ve known I wanted to be in the program since I visited the school as a prospie,” Clinard said. “I was very nervous, but I was trying to focus on what I had to do, not what other people were doing. I’m sure there have been successful people who weren’t in it, but it’s definitely a step toward a long-term goal.”