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MFA Auditions: 15 tips for actors to be your best and win the day

Actors looking to join MFA programs can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. I loved having Carly Zien join my on the podcast in episode 26 to share not only her experience getting into Yale, but also here advice and tips she shares with the actors she coaches for their MFA auditions. The episode was so great that I wanted Carly to come back and share a list that anyone can jump into right away to immediately improve their MFA audition process. So I’ll let Carly take it from here.


Listen to Carly’s tips here!


Hi all!  Well, it’s that time of year again, when actors are deciding whether to apply for MFA programs.  It’s a daunting process and it takes a lot of work, so I thought I’d offer you some of my favorite tips and tricks to make this year’s grad school auditions a success.

– Carly

1. Read. Read. Read.

The first thing you’ll need to do when applying for MFA programs is pick your material.  I encourage you to read as many plays as you can, looking for roles and the pieces that stand out to you.  Which ones grab your heart and make you excited?  What are some roles that you’d love to work on but feel scared to try?  Check out classic playwrights like Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, and Beth Henley, and look for some contemporary voices that you love as well.  For a great archive of new plays, visit The Roundabout Theatre and Playwrights’ Horizons websites.

2. Be yourself.

Remember, MFA programs are looking for actors who are authentic and unique.  There’s no mold that you need to fit into, so the best thing to do is show up and be yourself.  Let your personality shine through in your essays, your interviews, your repertoire, your headshot, and the audition itself.  This isn’t about figuring out what a particular school wants, it’s about discovering who you are and bringing the best version of yourself to auditions.

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3. Pick Material that you Love.

You have no idea how many times students have come to me with monologues that they don’t really like!  “Why?!” I ask them.  A lot of times the answer is that they don’t know where to look for better material.  It is so important to choose pieces that you absolutely love, pieces that excite you and light you up inside.  If you’re stumped, ask your friends for play suggestions, go to the library and read some new stuff, and give yourself the gift of the best writers and the best plays.  Looking for something obscure may not be helpful: you’ll be better off doing an oft-performed piece and making it your own.

4. Read the play!

Y’all, read the play.  I’ve had many clients who show up with the same old monologue that they’ve been doing since their acting teacher in high school recommended it to them, and they haven’t read the corresponding play since then either.  If you have a piece that you love, make sure that you refresh your memory and reread the script.  You’ll be presenting a three-minute section of the play, so you have to familiarize yourself with the character’s entire arc for your work to be most effective.

5. Get a second opinion.

Don’t rehearse in a vacuum!  Whether you hire a coach or not, you want to be sure to perform your pieces for a few trusted advisors.  Pick a few people whose opinions you value and perform your pieces for them.  This could be a fellow actor, a director, or a professor from college or high school.  It’s so important to get constructive feedback on your pieces.  Just be sure not to perform them too often lest they get stale before the big day.

6. Space out your appointments.

This is very important, especially if you’re auditioning for many programs.  Give yourself some recovery time in between auditions.  In my opinion, it is not a good idea to audition for more than one school in the same weekend.  The process is very draining, and the days are long.  You will need time to recuperate in between.  If you can, try to space out your auditions so that you have one to two a week, instead of four or five on the same weekend.

7. Ask for a little help from your friends.

You know that guy you went to college with who now goes to Juilliard?  Shoot him a Facebook message and ask if you can buy him a coffee.  Get in touch with your friends who have gone to the programs you’re interested in and schedule a time to have a conversation with them.  Ask them for guidance and see if they can show you around the program’s facilities before the big day.  If your friend hasn’t graduated yet, see if they can be present on the day of the audition.  The day will be much easier if you have a friendly face to look out for you.

8. Tour the facility or go to welcome weekend.

If you can’t get a friend to show you around, see if the program hosts an informational weekend or a welcome seminar, and attend if you can swing it.  This is a great opportunity to meet others who are applying for the program, ask any questions that you have, and meet current students and professors.  Remember, you are auditioning them as much as they are auditioning you.  It’s important to get a good feel for the program to see if it’s the right fit for you.

9. Be on time.

Seriously.  Give yourself ample travel time.  If your audition is in, say, New Haven, see if you can stay overnight the night before.  Work on punctuality as part of your process.  It will serve you well in the professional world to be in the habit of showing up prepared and on time.

10. Be kind to everyone.

Tensions run high in the waiting room for these auditions, so be sure that you have ways to de-stress and be sure to be kind to everyone.  This means your fellow auditionees, the program staff, and the audition monitors who are likely students in the program (who may even remember you and root for you when they talk to their professors).  Your behavior is being watched from the moment you walk in the building, so make sure that you’re getting noticed for the right reasons.

11. Dress appropriately.

This is a tricky one because it’s tough to get the outfit right when you’re ostensibly performing two to four different characters.  Don’t worry about dressing as the character; focus instead on something that expresses YOU.  My recommendation is to dress the way you would for a first date.  Wear something nice that you feel good in.  Something that shows who you are without being too over-the-top or underdressed.  A nice top, some jeans, and a snazzy shoe are my go-to’s.

12. Bring snacks and a change of clothes.

As I mentioned before, these audition days are long and exhausting, and there’s often not enough time to grab a snack or coffee, especially if you’re getting callbacks.  It’s so important to eat well during this process.  Bring a backpack with good snacks, a water bottle, and a change of clothes to warm up in.  I suggest wearing your comfy clothes for travel and warming up and changing into your audition outfit once you’re getting close to your time slot.

13. Shall we dance?

A fellow actor who made it big on TV once told me that there are three types of people who audition:  the “save me” people, the “screw you” people, and the “shall we dance” people.  In other words, your audition is not a chance to plead desperately for validation, or an opportunity to vent your frustration about the industry. It is a moment to dance with your collaborators and move forward with grace.

14. Have fun and give your gift.

OMG the big moment has arrived and you’re stepping into the audition room, raring to go!  This is where you can trust your preparation and your homework and surrender to the moment.  Let go, have fun, and remember that you’re not there to get anything, you’re there to give a gift to the moderators: four excerpts from four wonderful plays.

15. Practice self-care afterwards.

Regardless of the result of your auditions, it is essential to take good care of yourself afterwards.  Practice good self-care after each session, and after the whole process is over. Be sure to get plenty of rest, drink water, sleep, get a massage, go out with friends, see movies and plays, and fill your cup in whatever way feels right to you.  Congratulations!  This process is a doozy, so celebrate your hard work!

Listen to Carly give even more insight and advice in her episode.