Musical theater college auditions: to persevere or not to persevere?

Thousands of high school student around the nation are preparing for the musical theater college audition process, all of them hoping for success, and all of them preparing for failure.


Regan Molatore

Author Claudia Molatore sings in front of a panel of judges for the CS Music Competition in Chicago. Although, this was not an actual college audition, this is what the experience will look like for many students.

A 17 year old girl stands in front of a panel of judges. They hold the fate of her life in their hands. She steps forward to present two songs and two monologues that display only a fraction of what she is capable of doing. In those allotted five minutes, passion, fear, and hope pour out of her as she attempts the best performance of her life. The girl finishes and, without missing a beat, the judges give their obligatory “thank you,” look at their watches and greet the next person who enters as she exits. 

This is the scenario facing seniors taking on the musical theater college audition process. Most of them have been preparing for this moment for what feels like their whole lives. Sadly, the majority of students will not make it into the nation’s top colleges. 

Musical theater students are encouraged to apply to 20 or more colleges in the hope that they will be a good fit for at least one. Musical theater programs receive thousands of applications for an average incoming class of 15-30 students.  It is an application process filled with high hopes and repeated rejection.

Many young performers have failed in an audition or faced a performance challenge they couldn’t overcome in the moment. What special abilities or knowledge do these young performers have that allow them to continue along this path? Even when they know failing is part of the process.

Kelly Goenaga, a teenager from Florida who wants to pursue musical theater professionally, shared the internal dialogue that can occur when a teenager is faced with rejection and failure.

 After not being cast as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, a role which she desperately wanted, Goenaga said, “I was devastated. I was also frustrated. I kept thinking how it could be that I didn’t get the part over her, and putting myself down for not being good enough to get it. I was only Mrs. Bucket. I was just in the ensemble.”

Although this experience was internalized as soul crushing, Goenaga took this moment of frustration as an opportunity to improve and grow her skills.  Several years later she was cast as Willy Wonka in a different production. 

Isabella Hildebrand, a future college theater student from California, also shared a moment in which failure was inescapable.

She said, “I was angry, because I knew I had been thrown off, [during the audition] and I could tell that I was barely acting because I was focusing on just getting through it.”

Both these young performers took moments of disappointment and found a way to persevere. So of course it would stand to reason that these past, tough experiences will provide the skills they need to succeed in the college audition process. 

Lola Cate Bradley, another future broadway star from Arkansas, said “I love musical theater, if I could do anything else for a living and be happy I would, but I don’t see myself anywhere else.”

So why do these musical theater students keep going when failure is always present and repeated?  There is no other option for these musical theater students. They must persevere and accept setbacks as part of the process. The musical theater industry requires them to adapt to and embrace heartache as they strive for success. For them, and many other aspiring musical theater students around the nation, this is the only path, for the only job, that will fulfill their needs and make them happy. 

The work ethic and love required to make musical theater magical is what fills seats. As William Shakespeare once said when asked about the college audition process, to persevere or not persevere, that is the question.