“Hi, my name is Ella Witt and I’ll be singing Fly Into the Future from Vanities and performing Rose from Street Scene”. I stood and felt the weight of the stuffy theatre faculty’s eyes on every inch of my body. The song I’d been practicing for the past year sat frozen in my throat. The monologue I had beat to death for months on end felt like I was speaking Arabic. This was weekend number four of college auditions, I think. I remember having a panic attack after number three, so yes, this must be four.
I’ve attended a performing arts school since I was six years old. Annually I’d watch the older girls–girls I’d idolized for the better part of my childhood–ascend into college, someplace I knew I’d have to get to someday but didn’t know how. I thought all it took was a song and a smile to land yourself a spot. I opened www.commonapp.org about one year ago, not knowing where it would take me.
I attended a program for teen artists in Kentucky the summer before my senior year called “Governor’s School for The Arts”. I heard everyone talk about revising their admissions essays when I hadn’t even started mine yet, calling up their audition coaches when the only person I thought I needed was my voice teacher, and filling out a million and one scholarship applications when I still had trouble figuring out how to withdraw cash from my bank account. So I started researching colleges. I watched the accepted students of [Insert Unrealistic College Name Here] belt high E flats like it was nothing. I admire their talent (and it may just be the fact that I’m a stereotypically vain Leo), but every triple pirouette, switch leap, and quadruple time-step I saw stabbed me in the heart just a little bit. I compared everything from vocal range to waist size with these girls who had no clue I even existed. I scoured the sketchiest of websites to find monologues and songs that I thought the faculty of the colleges I was auditioning for would like. It didn’t matter if I connected to the character or not, if it showed off my strengths or not, or if I even liked the material. Now that I had everything I “needed”, I was ready for auditions.
Colleges love to require these insane things called “pre-screens”. They’re bite-sized videos of you standing nervously in your voice teacher’s basement, doing your audition packet in front of an iPhone 5 mounted to a tripod. They’re incredibly stale–in my opinion it’s physically impossible to determine if a student would be a good fit for your school from these one minute clips. I’m so glad my prescreens are buried in the internet void somewhere forever, never to be witnessed by anyone ever again. Thankfully I only did two of these, and was rejected from both the programs I submitted them to.
I’ve realized where my real problems lay during this process: I was setting myself up for failure because I figured giving half effort and failing was better than giving everything you’ve got and still failing. I waited until the last minute to submit my applications. I told myself it’s because I had to proofread everything, but in reality I was just scared to get a rejection letter in the mail two weeks from that moment. I did one unified audition through the summer program I mentioned before, and that’s where I found Stephens. I was a nervous looking girl in pink tights and a leotard, walking around the college booths, sipping my Throat Coat tea when Rusty Elder (a music professor who was representing Stephens at the college fair) approached me. He gave me a pamphlet and told me everything there is to know about Stephens and all the great opportunities they have for musical theatre majors. Later that evening, I nervously shuffled into a stuffy room full of middle aged theatre faculty and sang my little heart out. I awaited the callback list for hours, making awkward small talk with other equally-nervous girls to pass the time. As soon as I saw the rows of lists hanging on the cinder block wall, I scanned every paper for my name and jotted down the nine schools that called me back in the same journal that held the tale of my anxious freakout from the night before. I talked to Rusty again during the callback session, and took every pamphlet I could get my hands on. I left feeling like I had more options, and options that I actually liked. That feeling was a good feeling, but it didn’t last long.
In the months to follow, my mom and I would drive hundreds of miles, from audition to audition. There was an opportunity to knock all of them out in one weekend at an event in Chicago called Unifieds, but Ella decided in that moment that she didn’t belong and everyone else there would be so much better than her, so she stayed away. I auditioned for Ball State, Wright State, Centre College, Austin Peay, Long Island, and Northern Kentucky University. I got into some, and some I didn’t. My Point Park audition got snowed out, so I took that as a sign from the universe that I wouldn’t have gotten in anyways (yes, that was how messed up my thought process was by this point). I got to know the layout of the quintessential Midwestern Holiday Inn very, very well. I bought whatever dress I thought would make me look the skinniest, damaged my hair to the point of no return by trying to fry it out of the frizzy state that I hated, and pounded makeup into every pore, ignoring the stress pimples that were erupting all over my face. I was a naive little girl and I took every rejection straight to the heart. It never occured to me that it could have been because of my hair color, height, weight, skin color, how forgettable my dress was, my age (I was sixteen at the time), or how late in the season my audition slot was. Or it could have just been that I was the hundredth girl to sing “Fly Into The Future” that day and the adjudicators wanted to bash their head into a wall everytime they heard it.
After all of this, I would love the be able to tell you that I slept everything off for about a month. But that would be a lie. I got cast as Sandy in Grease and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These shows could not have come at a more perfect time. The stress of rejection had vanished. I learned that it didn’t matter if someone in the audience hated my performance, or if I paled in comparison to the girl next to me; all that’s important is that I know I did the best I could. I came across a quote that said, “Nothing to prove, everything to share”. I realized I needed to stop thinking about being “good enough”–I just needed to give everything I had. I don’t mind the necessary evil of auditions anymore– they’re much more bearable when you think about creating art for other people to watch, not people sitting in front of you and judging you. My mindset was, and still is, completely different now.
I visited Stephens with my mom a few months after my last audition. I had a meeting with Rob (a member of the acting faculty) and everything he said made sense to me. I went to the Day of Dance and Darren (a visiting guest dance artist) absolutely killed me, but in a good, motivational way. A little over a year later and dozens of pages of paperwork later, I’m writing this essay in my bed in Pillsbury Hall. I’m here. I have coursework that stimulates me, friends that I love, and faculty that I know genuinely cares about me and my education. Somehow, I figured it out–I couldn’t be more grateful.