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BLOG: Annemarie Lewis Thomas… The Audition Problem

Annemarie LewisLast week saw the last audition day in our 2014 ‘season’. I say season because it’s increasingly feeling like something akin to a football season. There are definitely a premiere league of colleges (or conservatoires as they call themselves…so good that they give themselves a French name!), then there are a number of colleges in the high first division, well established colleges that hopeful wannabes apply to in their thousands.

Then there’s the second division – the colleges that will basically take anybody that can pay. Nobody ever really ‘reveals’ themselves to be in this league, but they sit around waiting for promotion not realising that unless they get selective with their selection process they will forever stay in the lower league. Playing alongside this you now also have the UCAS lottery with all of its little quirks and idiosyncrasies, which to be perfectly honest I didn’t understand when I was using it back in the day, so I wouldn’t stand a chance with it these days I’m sure.

Then…come the end of the season it’s make your mind up time. Every college sets a deadline when people have to commit (or pay a large financial penalty). See this as the transfer window for those people following the football analogy. I don’t really know why I’ve made this into a football analogy though as I don’t understand the first thing about it. Anyway – I’ll crack on – This is the time that some colleges remarkably discover that they can offer you a scholarship in order that you will stay with them.

I’m increasingly seeing colleges fall into two categories the Walmart or the Harrods. The Walmart colleges pack in the students and indeed pack in the courses (how many courses are some colleges offering these days??) ensuring that if nothing else their profit margins are good and buoyant – after all it’s a business the drama school game. Then there’s the Harrods colleges, who run fewer courses, keep their numbers low and just tick over in that vein.

The audition process that each college offers varies so much too. Unlike other courses, to audition at a drama college there’s a fee involved, anything between £35 – £75 depending on the college. For your money you could get a 10 minute audition with one member of staff right through to a full day with lots of staff. The variation is staggering. Some colleges do recalls, some do cuts throughout the day, hell some colleges will even come to you to do their auditions (to save you money).

Our audition day has always been the same – a full day (no cuts) with the entire senior faculty, with an informal chat with our current students, possibly some ambassadors (aka our graduates) thrown in during the lunch time, and at the end every single person gets written feedback. How some colleges audition in large batches is beyond my comprehension. We will only ever audition a maximum of 22 in a day (to correspond with how many people would be in your class should you be accepted). We don’t over offer audition days, so once 22 people have told us that they’re coming on that day we move on to fill our next audition day. So here’s my biggest pet hate and the thing that I’m currently really grappling with for next year. We have yet to have an audition day with 22 people in it – we always have a minimum of 4 no shows plus around 2 people that were suddenly taken ill that morning. So as an ethical college I ensure that we only have 22 people in the room but we are scuppered every time by other people’s lack of common decency. Had they called/emailed us the moment they realised that they had changed their minds we could have easily filled their place with the next people on our list… instead we effectively have empty slots on the day, which at the end of the ‘season’ means that some people have missed out on being seen by us, as we cap our auditions.

I commented on a recent blog about this subject and a helpful commentator told me that it was easy that I should just over offer my places – but then what of that utopian day when they all turn up? I would have suddenly become a Walmart college. One of the first division colleges made the news last year because it over subscribed its offers to go on it’s Musical Theatre course, only to end up with a year a third bigger than it should have been when all the students took up their places. While the college went on record to say this had been their error – it’s slim consolation to the year group that had paid £27,000 to be 1 of too many = less opportunities = less students getting work at the end of the course (not…god forbid that the college would announce that…they would focus on the few that had been successful not the third that they had effectively failed by bad management)

So what’s the answer? Do we increase our audition fee to ensure that the only people that apply are the people that are serious about coming to the college? Then of course I have everyone shouting about the extortionate price of auditions and how we’re making The MTA an elitist institution, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been kicking around the idea of charging more but you get half of it back if you actually turn up? Or we could knock the difference off your fees? Of course then the people that were unsuccessful would be penalised and that doesn’t seem fair. It’s a real dilemma and one that myself and the Board have already started to look at – what do you think is the answer?

You see the fact is that when you don’t turn up for a Walmart college audition nobody even notices that you’re not there – but we do! More than that, you have prevented somebody else taking that place…just because you couldn’t be bothered to notify us. I appreciate that they’ve paid so we’re not out of pocket (although I should say that we run our auditions at a loss, as it’s all about finding the next year group as opposed to creating a revenue stream. Unlike one first division college who slipped up on line and revealed that they made £105,000/year on audition fees alone!)

This is not just an issue for us though. I know that casting directors are getting cross about people not turning up for their auditions, so the problem is endemic, and we’re just on the thin end of it. Finally I never said what league I thought The MTA was in – very clearly we’re trying to be in a league of our own ;-)

You can follow Annemarie and The MTA on Twitter @theMTAonline

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The Reviews Hub - Features
Our Features team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The team is responsible for sourcing interviews, articles, competitions from across the country. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.