Mentoring for your college auditions | The MT Project

There’s just something about being on stage that I can’t really describe. It’s almost like being transported to this magical place where nothing else in the whole world matters. You know when you see something or hear something, and it just feels like perfection? It’s like that.

All I know is that I want to do this for the rest of my life.

There’s just something about being on stage that I can’t really describe. It’s almost like being transported to this magical place where nothing else in the whole world matters. You know when you see something or hear something, and it just feels like perfection? It’s like that.

All I know is that I want to do this for the rest of my life.

There’s just something about being on stage that I can’t really describe. It’s almost like being transported to this magical place where nothing else in the whole world matters. You know when you see something or hear something, and it just feels like perfection? It’s like that.

All I know is that I want to do this for the rest of my life.

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Indiana University – Bloomington

Your name: Nick Pappas

School you attend: Indiana University at Bloomington(Go Hoosiers!)

Major and degree type: BFA in Musical Theatre

Expected graduation date: May 2016

What initially drew you to your school? What made it your final choice?: It was actually the last school I decided to apply to. My mom kept telling me to look into it, but I already had upwards of 10 schools on my application list, and I was a little bit burned out. But then at my audition at a different school, I met a couple other people who were auditioning for Indiana and who raved about it, so I gave it a look. The application for the school is short and simple, so I thought “Why not?” I fell in love with the campus incredibly easily when I auditioned oncampus. My final decision came between IU and Illinois Wesleyan (which is, hilariously enough, in Bloomington, Illinois) which is another awesome, awesome school. It really boiled down to the opportunities available to me as a freshman. I did over 20 plays and musicals during high school, and I didn’t want to slow down even if I was starting as a freshman. I see there is a question about opportunities further down, so I’ll expand on that there.

What was your audition experience like with this school? Was it different than other schools you auditioned for?: The audition experience is great here, and it was my last one too, which was great. They keep the process basically the same every year, so here’s how it goes: You arrive at around 9 in the morning to check in and then you start with dance at 10. For me, as a non-dancer, this was nerve-wracking, but I was completely comfortable in this audition, and they really are looking for potential and personality as opposed to the best group of dancers (even though everyone in my class is, of course, incredible in dance). After dance, you go straight to an acting class. This isn’t a class you sit in on, but an acting class you actually take part in. It basically consists of an open scene you are given to work on with a random partner in your audition group, as well as a fun and challenging surprising that George Pinney (the head of our MT department) throws at you when you think you’re done. (Both my acting partner and I were accepted at IU, but she ended up going elsewhere. Even so, I’m still in touch with her.) And after that, you just have to prepare and get ready for your individual audition. Since I had time, I went with the two other people who were in my dance group to get pizza at Mother Bear’s, a beautiful, wonderful, delicious local restaurant. (Also here, even though neither of them ended up at IU, I still keep in touch with them.) I auditioned around 2:30 and was done. At that time you’re free to go, but I stayed around and ended up getting to hang out with some of the MT students for the rest of the day basically. We went and saw a show at the Bloomington Playwrights Project (I’ll also get to this later), and I was able to get a feel for the type of shows put on and around the campus. I actually couldn’t have asked for a better day.

What do you feel your program’s strengths are?: One of the greatest things about our program is its size. At the time I’m writing this, we have 38 students across the four classes in our MT program. Throughout our four years here, each of easily get hours of individual attention from our faculty and a really focused training that is harder to achieve when you have 30 people in each class. While most of your classes are taken with your individual class, every week we have master class which every MT student takes every single semester. In this class, you have to perform a song at least once a semester, and afterward, faculty you don’t get to usually work with and your peers give you feedback on your performance. Additionally, because of this small size, we all know each other and we’re all friends. Really, we are family. It’s great to be in a program that is large enough to put on varied and incredible productions, and small enough that you can have a personal relationship with every person in it.

Outside of just the people, the shows Indiana puts on its mainstage are incredible. We have two main stages, the Ruth N. Halls (a regular proscenium stage) and the Wells-Metz (a 200 something seat blackbox that has 14 different configurations). So far this year, just in the technical aspect, I’ve seen actual rain on stage, two turntables built for specific sets, four different configurations of the Wells-Metz, and I am currently working on Sunday in the Park with George where we are using a giant screen with animations for a backdrop. Performance wise, we have the MT program, as well as a huge BA program and a phenomenal MFA program. Seeing Graduate level performances from the MFA students is so, so, so awesome, and the size of the BA program makes the auditions for the mainstage shows incredibly competitive, while still working to have those in the program have as many opportunities as possible. It’s just awesome.

What do you like best about the faculty?: Ahhhh! Where to begin? I’ll just talk individually about them.
-George Pinney is the head of the MT program. He is an incredible director and choreography (not to mention Emmy winner and Tony nominee), and on top of that, he’s just unbelievably nice and welcoming. I’ve gotten to work one-on-one with him a lot in Sunday in the Park with George and he is incredibly insightful and helpful in your performance.
-Terry LaBolt is our head music director. He music directed at CCM before coming to IU when the BFA program was started. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of life experiences and musical knowledge this man can give. He’s toured with Carol Channing, Joel Grey and other stars and conducted for countless Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. And he can also play any piece of sheet music you put in front of him. And probably in whatever key if you give him fair warning beforehand. He’s truly a musical genius.
-Liza Gennaro is our head choreographer. Coming into this program, I was a little bit terrified of her because A.) I’m not a dancer and B.) just look up her credits (work on broadway shows, part of the Tony nominating committee). And then I got here and she’s absolutely the coolest person and super nice. But she also knows how to push you artistically. I’ve improved tremendously in dance and I know it couldn’t be without her help.
-Sue Swaney is my voice teacher for this year and part of the MT voice faculty. I LOVE HER SO MUCH. Once again, I came into this program confident basically only in my acting ability, but with Sue I feel like I’ve really found my voice and improved tremendously. And just like everyone else at this school, she is so so so helpful and nice.
-Ray Fellman is another voice teacher and music director we have. Since I haven’t taken voice with him yet (I will in my sophomore and junior years) and I haven’t worked on a show that he has MD’d, I don’t have a ton of experience working with him. That being said, ask anyone who HAS worked with him, and you will hear nothing, but great things. And his connections in New York are awesome.

What is your campus like?:
Absolutely gorgeous. I mean, sometimes the snow is a bit much, I’ll grant you that, but at least when it snows it’s beautiful. When I came to audition, I fell in love with the place. Beautiful trees everywhere and on top of that the architecture is so cool! I highly suggest just looking up some pictures, it’s a beautiful place.

Do you feel your program places any particular emphasis on acting, dancing or singing, or is each area completely equal?: I feel like the balance of the three is really really good. That being said, everything here is based in acting, which is really important to me. I firmly believe that you can sing and you can dance, but if you aren’t a good actor it isn’t going to mean much. So in dance class, Liza is constantly encouraging us to let the steps just happen and to really act the dance. And in master class, most of our feedback is based in finding intention and how to act the song better. I love it.

What types of techniques do you study ? How do these techniques influence your program as a whole?: In Acting II we have focused mainly on Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares. We have also looked at Laban movement. MT students take two semesters of piano in their freshman year (part of music theory course).

What are the performance opportunities at your school?: I know that when I was looking at schools, performance opportunities were such a huge thing for me, and at IU, by the end of this school year, I’ll have done six shows. Big name shows people will recognize, I’ve been in Aida (as Zoser) and Sunday in the Park with George (as Jules). I was also in the lesser-known Schwartz show Working as multiple characters. The other three shows I’ve been a part of were world premieres: Refusing the Flower (An independent project at IU, I had to learn Portuguese for it), Honk Me! (A part of the 10-minute Play Festival The PlayOffs where shows are written and performed in 24 hours), and a musical adaptation of The Truman Show (Written by Broadway performer Alex Gemignani and TV writer Brad Bauner, Directed by Playwrights Horizons head of MT Kent Nicholson). I could not have asked for a better year performance-wise.

Also, I know while I was researching schools, I wanted to know what shows had been done by or around the school, so here goes:

Musicals – Spring Awakening, Sunday in the Park with George, [title of show], Zombie Prom, Aida, Wizard of Oz, Next to Normal, Captain Louie, Working (new musicals: ) The Truman Show, Prodigy, Spun

Plays – When the Rain Stops Falling, Richard III, God of Carnage, The School for Scandal, Intimate Apparel, Machinal, Hamlet, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Almost, Maine, Proof, Cryptogram, Octopus, Hunter Gatherers, To Kill a Mockingbird, The 39 Steps, Reservoir Dogs, (new plays: ) Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea, (a love story), Refusing the Flower, Rx, Ampersand, Lemonade

And this is just what I’m remembering off the top of my head. Any MT student could audition for any of these shows, and at least one MT student was in each of the musicals.

The theatre companies in town are: IU Theatre Department (eight-ten mainstage shows), Cardinal (professional, five mainstage shows), Bloomington Playwrights Project (focusing solely on new works, five mainstage shows), University Players (complete undergrad run, 4-6 mainstage shows), Monroe County Civic Theatre (1-3 mainstage shows), Union Board (student run, 1 mainstage show), and countless other independent projects.

What are your tech requirements as a student?: There are three tech classes we are required to take: production (set design, run crew), costuming (construction, costume crew), and lighting (lighting crew). I haven’t actually taken any of these yet, haha, sorry.

Does your school encourage arts related work outside of your program? If so, do they have someone to help you coordinate this work?: It is totally encouraged. We usually discuss it with Terry, Liza, and George when we are in our master class with everyone every week, and they are super insightful. I didn’t audition for summer stock work this year outside of the Indiana Festival Theatre (which is hosted on IU’s campus), so I don’t know a ton about the process, but a lot of my friends had successful auditions this year.

How many men and how many women are in your class? Is this typical of other current classes in your program?: In my class there are five guys and eight girls. This is they typical balance, though our class has the most people in it out of all of them.

Does your program have a cut system? If so, how does it work?: We do not. We have meetings with the faculty at the end of the year, but that’s simply to discuss progress. Since I haven’t finished my first year, I do not know what all it entails, but it isn’t anything to be worried about. First of all, our classes are so small, a cut system would only serve to cripple our class sizes. Additionally, the faculty here wants us to succeed more than anything and they don’t believe that crushing the spirit or creating  (which I believe are the only purposes of a cut system) is the way to cultivate successful performers.

Are you aware of anyone who has been offered professional work while studying? Were they encouraged to leave or stay? Is their spot in the program held?: I do not know of any students offered professional work during the school year, so I don’t know details about spots being held and whatnot. My classmates have been very successful getting professional work over this summer though. We have students working at MUNY, Wichita, Rocky Mountain theatre, and many others.

Does your program do a senior showcase? What cities do you showcase in? Is every student invited to perform? If not, how are the students chosen?: Yes, we showcase in New York City. I am not super clear on the process, but it is rehearsed and put together in a class in senior year. Every MT student has to audition to be in the showcase, but as of now, no MT student has ever been denied participation in showcase.

How many classes (or credit hours) do you take based in the arts? How many gen eds?: Around 75% of your classes will be major-related. The most gen eds you’ll probably take is two a semester. So far I’ve only taken one each semester. And you also have to fulfill four semesters of a language, but you can test out of these.

Please share your class schedule with descriptions of your classes: This is just the usual MT freshman schedule, but others took some of their production classes this year, or they took Intro first semester and script analysis second. It’s a very flexible schedule.
Fall
-Music Theory (Just basic stuff, lots of sight singing and piano as well)
-Acting I (Study of open scenes, scenes from a play of your choosing, and monologues)
-Script Analysis (A new script every class pretty much, discussions and projects)
-Voice and master class (Individual voice lessons with one of three voice faculty, and master class you sing in front of everyone in the program for feedback from both students and faculty)
-Broadway Cabaret (A performance troupe made up of the freshman and sophomore classes in the MT program. We perform solo and group songs at nursing homes, schools, and other places)
-Musical Theatre Dance Techniques (The lowest level MT dance class, large focus on basic technique with some combo work. This semester we also focused on prop use.)
-A general education class of your choosing (I did Animal Thinking, a study of comparative cognition, in my first semester)
Spring
-Music Theory (Same thing, but more of a focus on certain musicals like Into the Woods, Last Five Years, and Light in the Piazza. Still lots of sight singing and piano as well)
-Acting II (Scene study from well known plays like Angels in America, The Shape of Things, Fences, View from the Bridge, Proof, and so on)
-Intro to Theatre (Basic history and coverage of theatre arts)
-Voice and Master class
-Broadway Cabaret
-MT Dance Techniques (Same as last semester, but combos focus on different styles like Charleston, Lindy, Latin styles, and so on)
-Another gen. ed. (This semester, I’m in Art History.)

Feel free to share anything else about your program that you think is relevant for us to know, or what makes it great!: These questions covered everything I can think of, but thanks so much for letting me talk about my school!

Would students interested in your program be free to contact you? If so, please list your e-mail address: Definitely! I always love talking about my school. nvpappas@umail.iu.edu

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