Audition culture at NU news for ‘star’

Francesca Jarosz

Freshmen Ellie Nave and Lauren MacArthur sat on the hard floorin Patten Gym’s entryway, stretching forward with their legsextended to each side. Both were clad in black workout pants withnumbers — 17 for Nave, 15 for MacArthur — pinned to the front oftheir tank tops.

Spread out across the floor, about 30 other students were doingthe same. Some chatted, while others seemed to be contemplatingtheir stretches.

The preparation — both mental and physical — was for thestudents’ only chance this year to land spots in Northwestern’sFusion Dance Company. If the two women seemed nervous at all, itwould be understandable. Earlier this month, they tried out forGraffiti Dancers, which accepted no freshmen this year.

“Obviously, we take (auditioning) seriously,” said MacArthur, aCommunication freshman. “But it’s not a matter of life ordeath.”

That mentality comes as a welcome relief to NU’s theatrefaculty, who discourage freshman from diving into the auditionprocess upon arriving on campus.

More than 100 freshmen audition every year to perform in one ofthe myriad a cappella groups, dance shows, musicals, plays andcomedy groups on the Evanston Campus.

The process is a competitive one at NU, according to theatrestudents.

“I could sense the competition,” said Jeff Lynch, aCommunication freshman who auditioned for multiple plays, acappella groups, a musical and two dance shows. “There are tons ofpeople trying out for each play. That was kind ofoverwhelming.”

Freshman auditionees face slimmer chances of getting cast thanupperclassmen, said Lynn Kelso, a theatre lecturer and adviser.

About 140 students auditioned this year for 22 parts in theDolphin Show’s production, “How to Succeed in Business WithoutReally Trying.” Two of about 60 freshmen who auditioned werecast.

“Sure, there’s a competitiveness,” Kelso said. “But much of itis self-imposed. We work hard to get a different form ofthinking.”

The theatre program at NU is designed to give students anoverview of theater before they begin acting classes, Kelso said.Theatre faculty members do not provide freshmen with auditioningworkshops or monologue coaching in their first year, encouragingthem to become acclimated to college life before auditioning forshows.

But that doesn’t stop students who were stars all throughouthigh school from trying. Students said that being in performancesis how freshmen practice their art.

“When you love something so much, you just want to do it,” Kelsosaid. “It’s in their blood to want to do it.”

If freshmen do audition, then theatre department faculty membersencourage them to approach the process as a learning experience,Kelso said.

One student who followed this mindset is Adil Mansoor, anEducation freshman, who auditioned for five shows and was cast inthe Sit and Spin Productions’ show “Cloud 9.”

“I had planned to come to school and audition for shows — thatwas part of the plan,” Mansoor said. “I just assumed I wouldn’t geta part.”

Mansoor said he put less pressure on himself to make showsbecause he does not plan to pursuing acting professionally. When hewas cast in a show, it was a pleasant surprise, he said.

But going into the audition process with a healthy perspectivedoesn’t make rejection painless.

“It’s putting yourself out there,” said Communication freshmanAllison Sanchez. “It’s hard to get rejected, even though you mighthave seen it coming.”

Lynch said some fellow freshmen experienced “a mixture ofdepression and ‘why didn’t I get into this show?'” after not beingcast.

For many freshmen theatre majors, those who were accustomed toperforming as leads in hometown productions saw not making a showas an entirely new sensation.

“Every freshman comes here with the notion that they’re atNorthwestern, they’re theatre majors, they’re going to make theirmark,” said Jamie Poslosky, a Communication sophomore who becamefrustrated last fall when she didn’t receive callbacks for shows.”They’re used to being cast in everything. They don’t like tobelieve it when they’re told they’re not going to get cast ineverything.”

Kelso said it’s important for freshmen to learn that being inshows is not crucial. Students can study theatre without being castin the main shows at college and still graduate as skilledperformers.

That’s something Poslosky said she now realizes after a year ofauditioning.

“If you let being in a show determine whether you’re going to dotheater, you’re in the wrong business,” Poslosky said. “Being in ashow is part of it, but it shouldn’t be the reason you’rehere.”

Reach Francesca Jarosz at [email protected]