How to Get a Degree in Musical Theatre

How to Get a Degree in Musical Theatre

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H ello there! My name is Tiffany Hyatt, and I’m here to give you some information and inspiration for pursuing a musical theatre degree in college. Below you’ll find information on college auditions, choosing the college (and degree program) that’s right for you, and what kind of curriculum you can expect from different schools including mine–The University of Texas Arlington!

A Little About Tiffany

I have a somewhat unique background in theatre- I grew up in a tiny North Texas town (population 700) and went to a very small public high school (24 seniors in my graduating class!). Due to the small size of our school and community, I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in theatre until high school. Even then, we only participated in One Act Play (which I ADORE).

So by the time I was looking at colleges and trying to choose a major, I had only performed in four One-Act Play competitions. This begs the question, “How on earth did you end up pursuing a degree in Musical Theatre??”

I had been involved in music since age 4 when I started taking piano lessons and voice lessons. I dropped piano pretty quick (RIP), but I LOVED singing and found that I had a knack for it. I was so blessed to have parents who loved to travel, and so I was fortunate enough to see my first Broadway show around age 14.

I got to pick the show, and with no real knowledge of what musicals were at the time, I chose the show the Internet suggested- Wicked! It was a great introduction to the world I would soon come to love.

Once I had the opportunity to act in high school, I knew I wanted to be in musicals so I could sing as well. I sang in a few different competitions during high school and won some cool awards, but considering I only had a handful of 40-minute shows on my resume, I realize now how amazing it was that I was accepted into a BFA program. I will forever be thankful for the opportunities that came my way and the teachers, professors, and colleagues that helped me along the way.

What Even Happens at Musical Theatre College Auditions?

I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have much first-hand experience with auditioning for theatre programs. I only auditioned/applied to one school–The University of Texas at Arlington. I initially chose this school because some of my best friends from my hometown were already attending it in a variety of other
majors, plus I was eligible for some pretty sizable academic scholarships there. It was only about an hour and a half from home, making it close enough to visit on weekends but far enough to feel like I had actually moved away.

When I was choosing my major, I was considering education, but when I told my advisor that I was really interested in double majoring or minoring in theatre, she told me about the new musical theatre major that was starting in the fall. I then met with another advisor for the Theatre Arts department to find out about auditions, curriculum, and tour the facilities, and the choice to audition there seemed obvious to me.

I could give you decent advice now about what kind of material to choose for a college audition, but I knew NOTHING at the time of my audition.

They only said to bring in a musical theatre song with sheet music or a track, so I brought the only MT song I knew: Don’t Rain On My Parade (thanks Glee) on a CD.

I sang my little heart out, answered a bunch of questions from the panel of professors watching me, and left feeling like I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Thankfully, the MT program was just starting up and they saw something they could work within me, and so I was accepted into the new BFA Musical Theatre program! We started with less than 15 majors, but it quickly grew into a thriving program with 40+ majors and endless opportunities!

I say all of this to show you that anyone with any amount of theatre background can definitely find a school and a program that’s a good fit. That being said, I now know that it can be really competitive now to get into several schools and programs. You can audition for most schools in person at individual auditions, but that takes time and can cost lots of money in travel expenses. There’s already enough on your plate when you’re a senior, so you can cut down the time and money by going to what are called Unified auditions.

An Overview of Unified Auditions

There are a few different types of Unified auditions. Some are basically just big conventions where representatives from various schools come to watch students audition. Others require students to sign up to audition for specific schools and programs throughout the day. The sign up process and what to expect at the audition really depends on which conferences you choose to attend.

Generally, a student would expect to give their audition package (more on that later) in a room full of these representatives. Later, they may receive callbacks to meet with schools that are interested in learning more about them. During these callbacks, students could be asked to perform another piece, have an informal
interview, be invited to another audition, etc. There is also usually an optional dance call held during the conference.

Like I said, I’m not an expert in this area since I didn’t personally attend Unifieds for college, so your best bet for detailed info would be to find someone who has done them! There is so much information that is individual to each conference, so I have included a website link here that’s full of useful information for each of the Unified college auditions. It also has great tips for choosing which schools you want to audition for at each conference as well as a list of the schools that regularly attend them!

Audition Prep and Audition Packages

Auditioning for colleges can be overwhelming and stressful, but please know that there are tons of resources for you to help ease the stress! Finding help assembling your audition pieces and packages can be as simple as reaching out to someone you know who has done it or someone who has seen you perform several times and has an idea of what pieces best suit you.

Grace’s blog is full of wonderful posts to help you explore songs for your age and voice type as well as how to prepare your binder, so make sure to check those out!

My advice would be to know what type of characters you are usually cast as, but also what types of characters you want to be cast as. Just because you are often seen as a certain type doesn’t mean you can’t show directors how great you’d be in a different type, so keep that in mind.

General College Audition Requirements

College audition package requirements are usually outlined in the audition notice or the convention’s website in the case of Unifieds. If you are auditioning for Acting programs, you will most likely be asked to prepare two contrasting monologues.

A good rule of thumb is to pick one classical and one contemporary, and also make sure one is comedic and one is dramatic. Most people suggest Shakespeare for classic pieces, but don’t rule out other playwrights like Moliere! All of Shakespeare’s works are available for free online for you to peruse, and your best bet for finding contemporary pieces you enjoy is just reading any and all plays you can get your hands on. Visit your local library and find the play section or ask to borrow scripts and monologues from friends. It can be tiresome, but well worth the effort.

It’s always a good idea to have at least one or two more monologues prepared as well as a song you are comfortable singing, just in case a school asks to see anything extra.

Musical Theatre College Audition Requirements

If you are auditioning for Musical Theatre programs, you will probably be asked to sing two contrasting pieces. They may ask for 16 bars or 32 bars, so be aware of what they have listed. When choosing contrasting pieces, I always pick one up-tempo piece and one ballad. Make sure that at least one of these pieces shows your vocal range- i.e. if you’re a belter, include a belt piece; if you’re a classical soprano, include something high and lyrical; if you’ve got a knack for jazz singing, include a piece that really showcases that area of your voice.

For a college audition, I would also suggest choosing one piece that in from the Golden Age (1943-1959) and a more recent, contemporary piece since you probably won’t know what types of shows these schools are planning for their next season.

This just shows that you can sing and act in different styles! Also be aware that when I say contemporary, I don’t mean the most popular songs on Broadway in the last five years.

Of course, this isn’t true for everyone, but I would say that most directors and program heads aren’t that interested in hearing familiar songs like “Waving Through A Window” and “She Used To Be Mine” 200 times a day. I’m not telling you not to use a popular song- if you can really knock it out of the park and connect with it or put a unique spin on it, go for it! Just know that they may be tired of hearing it or comparing it to the other 199 people that sang it that day as well.

Listen to lots of songs and cast albums.

Explore songs conventionally sung by the opposite gender or roles that aren’t leads.

Find pieces that you connect with, that sound and feel comfortable in your voice, and have fun!!

Just like with the Acting auditions, it’s a good idea to prepare a monologue or two and bring your book of songs with you in case a school asks to see more.

Choosing Your College

Once you start getting accepted into programs, you need to decide where you want to attend school. A great way to make this decision easier is by doing your
research on any and all schools that you are interested in BEFORE you audition. This way, you can start to make a list of the programs you are most interested in.

From there, you can start to narrow this list down as you tour campuses and speak with faculty from your favorite programs. Hopefully, by the time auditions have all wrapped up, you will have a pretty good idea of what your top schools are. Make sure that you actually apply to those colleges (the faculty members you speak to will often help you through this process), and be sure to explore all of the scholarships available to you on the University’s website.

APPLY, APPLY, APPLY for every scholarship you are eligible for!

If you are ever torn between different schools, receiving scholarships from a school can certainly be beneficial in making a final decision.

Still feeling torn? Make pros and cons lists, ask family and friends for advice, reach out to alumni or current students to hear about their experience. Altogether, it’s really going to come down to where you are accepted and where you feel is going to be the best fit for you. Trust that there isn’t just one perfect school and know that you will have an amazing experience wherever you land.

What To Expect In Your College Musical Theatre Degree Program

There are literally hundreds of different theatre programs and different majors out there. From BA to BFA, Lighting Design to Musical Theatre, the options are endless. For each of the specific programs, you’ll get a very specific curriculum. Of course you have your core classes that are required by the state the school resides in, but even some core class requirements can be affected by the type of program you choose.

For example, since my major was a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) rather than a BA (Bachelor of Arts), I did not have to take a foreign language course. I personally
think this is because we had to take two levels of Music Theory since it might as well be a foreign language, but in reality, I’m not sure why. Depending on your major and program, you will have different levels of certain classes you’ll need to take.

In my MT program, there were five levels of acting courses. We were all required to take three acting courses starting with Acting I and II. Then, we had the option of taking Acting III, IV, V, or all of them if you had room in your schedule! I personally skipped to Acting V because of the professor teaching it and the subject matter for that course (tiny platform theatre and solo show work), but it was completely up to me.

You will always have some credits in your degree plan listed as electives, and those were some of the most fun classes I ever took! You usually don’t have to take theatre courses for your electives, although your program advisor may recommend it. It can be a great time to branch out to other interests you have or even a sports type of class. I almost took scuba diving one semester!

I definitely chose to take certain classes as electives because of who was teaching them. My favorite was my Movement II class where we studied Red Nose Clown with one of my favorite professors. It may sound a bit silly, but it was the most freeing, interesting, and FUN course I have ever taken.

One thing I loved about my program was that I was able and encouraged to take theatre classes about things that weren’t specifically for musical theatre. For example, we got to take classes like Costume Design, Stagecraft, and Directing. We also had the opportunity to take several levels of dance courses, which are SO beneficial for musical theatre.

Another perk of the MT program was that we took private voice lessons with both a faculty professor and a pianist. Anyone who takes voice lessons knows that it can be very expensive for teachers and accompanists, so having that included in our program was incredible!

Studio Class & Practicums (so many Degree Requirements)

These voice lessons prepared us for our Studio Class each week where we would take turns performing the pieces we had been working on for our peers. Studio was both encouraging and fun, making it a great, safe space to test out new audition material and prepare for roles we someday hoped to portray. Most BFA programs end with a showcase of some kind, and this will be different everywhere. Mine was at my campus, but many are in NYC. So if taking a showcase to New York is important to you, be sure to look into that.

One course that almost every theatre program will have regardless of your specific major is Practicum. Practicums are structured differently for every program and school, but the idea behind the course is generally the same- teach all the students skills that may not be specific to their major, but are necessary to keep the theatre alive and well.

At UTA, we had practicum broken down into six sections: Paint and Props, Lighting and Sound, Sets, Costuming, Publicity, and Dramaturgy.

Every BFA major had to participate in practicum every semester they were enrolled, and I’ll be honest- sometimes, it really sucked. We had to attend practicum for four hours once a week. During that time, we would help prepare for the upcoming show in our assigned section for the duration of the semester.

This seems fine if you love building sets or making costumes, but here’s the catch- we could stay in a section for two semesters. So even if you loved painting the set walls and assembling props, you would probably have to learn to hang lights and work the sound booth eventually. We also usually had to do a crew assignment on shows we weren’t performing in, meaning that we worked backstage.

As hard as these Practicums could be, I later realized how important they were to teach students to become well rounded in our working knowledge of theatre and provide valuable skills that we would certainly use as working actors and technicians.

Final Thoughts About Gettin’ That Musical Theatre Degree

One last thing that is SO important to remember if you are pursuing a Performance degree- it is OKAY to not get leads in college shows. It is OKAY to not get cast in some shows! I am speaking from experience. There were plenty of shows that I didn’t get cast in and roles that I really wanted but didn’t get.

You have to remember that your professors are in the process of training every student in the program, and casting decisions often have nothing to do with you being perfect for the role or the show. Educational theatre is quite different from community and regional theatre, and that is okay.

Enjoy the shows and the roles you get, and make the most out of the time you’re not in a show.

Trust me, there will be PLENTY of events happening on campus, shows casting at nearby theaters, and friends to spend time with. Enjoy everything that college has to offer because you will only be there for so long and you don’t want to miss a thing.

I hope this post provides you with helpful tips and information on your college journey! Break a leg, and enjoy every second. 🙂

~Tiffany Hyatt

There is so much awesome information in this post! Thanks so much to Tiffany for writing about her experience auditioning for college and earning her musical theatre degree! Want to know more about Tiffany? Check out her website!

Tiffany Hyatt is a performer and educator with her BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Texas at Arlington. Since graduating, she has been performing and teaching around the DFW area. She has worked with wonderful theatre companies such as Granbury Theatre Company, Plaza Theatre Co, OhLook Performing Arts, Stolen Shakespeare Guild and more. Some of her favorite credits include Kelli Mangrum in Hands On A Hardbody, Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family, and Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She has also enjoyed being part of worship teams along with her guitar-playing husband Kade at their church. She enjoys playing Animal Crossing, Disney World, and spending time with her friends and family, including her perfect fur baby Lincoln (the cutest cat you’ll ever see)! She recently left the great state of Texas to pursue work at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.