When applying for a musical theater program amid a pandemic…

Kaiya Shivers shares her experiences with performing arts applications


Photo provided by the author

Kaiya Shivers prepares an audition video. Without leaving home, Shivers auditioned for college musical theatre programs from coast to coast.

My story

I discovered the musical theatre college audition process as a freshman. By then I was sure I wanted to do theatre for the rest of my life, and the BFA auditions sounded like the most exciting thing ever. At 15 I dreamed of living in New York, going to college, and performing in shows — basically having the life of Rachel Berry from Glee.  It was all I could think about.

Now having barely gone through the beginning stages of these auditions, I know they’re enough to make a person go crazy!

There is truly nothing as grueling as applying to a BFA program, and I say this as a senior who has had a 12-month break from all school activities. I can’t believe the amount of time, energy, resources, and teamwork that have gone into my application process.  I’m tremendously thankful for my instructors, parents, and teachers because it truly takes a village.

Like all college apps, the musical theater applications start with the usual common application, but that’s just the beginning. Round one of the auditions starts with the prescreen, and if you pass, then congrats! You’re now invited to actually be seen by the school.

Normally these invitations would entail traveling to New York, Chicago or LA, for Unified auditions with hundreds of other theatre applicants, along with some crazy parents, fighting for a spot in a school program. However, amid the COVID crisis, I will have the luxury of performing my callback from the comfort of my garage on Zoom.

 What is a prescreen you may ask? The gist is that it’s a compilation of each of your performance pieces to showcase your talent. Most schools require two contrasting monologues from a golden age and contemporary play, two songs, one ballad, one up-tempo, and two dance selections.

These are all filmed separately in various shots depending on the individual schools requirements and each of the videos must stay within 60-90 seconds. I have finally finished the dreaded prescreen round, having DIY’d my recordings because of COVID, and I’m now patiently waiting to be called back or denied from my list of schools. 

I have just gotten a callback from one of my top schools so huzzah! My first callback is December 5th, but most of the zoom callbacks will occur in January and February with acceptances being dealt out up until April. So in January, I’ll be in front of a zoom camera for several days auditioning, interviewing, and praying my internet doesn’t crash. 

There have been a lot of surprises that have come up through learning how to apply for a BFA in musical theater and I’m sure getting rejected will hurt. Though, I think a lot of my pain will stem from how much time I spent on said school’s list of questions and essays because wow, I feel like I’ve been writing essays all summer!

College applications with a regular amount of essays are extensive enough but for BFA applicants, on top of each application, there were up to 4 additional 650-word questions, or whole essays added to apply for the school’s Theatre program! Thank goodness I started writing last March. Not only were these essays an unexpected burden but the fees were so expensive. For example, one of the schools I applied to demanded over $200 just to send in my application.

Although the past few months have been incredibly stressful and exhausting, my experience is incomparable to my graduated friends who have in the past undertook all of their regular school activities, completed their SATS, and continued their involvement with their usual extracurriculars while going through this obstacle course of an application.

I am truly lucky, although it’s been a weird adjustment to continue my training and preparation online through Zoom. This is the first time in history Unified auditions have been online so cheers to making history class of 2021!

I truly hope things will go back to normal and we will have classes in person next year in college because I’m so excited to start training in Musical Theater and performing wherever I end up!