Auditions at ArtsKSU Continue Despite Quarantine

 image of percussion instrument
Students seeking a spot in the Fall 2020 KSU Percussion Studio used what they had available at home to demonstrate their musical talent. 

Students and faculty create unique ways to show talent

KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 14, 2020) — Students interested in pursuing a degree in the fine arts at Kennesaw State University (KSU) haven’t let COVID-19 stop them from following their dreams. Certain arts programs, musical ensembles, or theatre productions at KSU’s College of the Arts require an audition. For example, a student wanting to major in Dance would normally audition in front of the faculty in one of the dance studios.  

Virtual Dance Auditions, from your kitchen
To protect students, faculty and staff from COVID-19, KSU moved all classes online as of March 18, so live auditions were not possible. So, how would a dancer audition? McCree O’Kelley, interim chair of the Department of Dance, created a virtual audition for prospective dance majors. Students are directed to watch two dance videos, learn the moves, and then record themselves performing the routines. No ballet barre at home? No problem; kitchen counters are perfectly acceptable substitutes.

“We understand that these are not ideal conditions, and that no studio space is available. However, we wanted to create an audition process that would be accessible to everyone,” said O’Kelley. “It’s important to us that any student who wants to audition for KSU Dance still has that opportunity, even if that means using a kitchen counter for a ballet barre and recording the routine on an iPhone.”

Virtual Music Auditions, using what you have
John Lawless, Director of Percussion Studies in the School of Music (SOM), knew that students seeking a spot in the Fall 2020 KSU Percussion Studio probably did not have access to the instruments necessary for their auditions. He asked students to make a video playing whatever they have at home, leading to some very interesting submissions. “Several people only had sticks and a practice pad, and one only had a wooden stool to play on. I even had one video of a timpani (kettle drums) etude played on a pair of bongos that were propped up by a chair! As silly as all of this this sounds, I was able to see their level of playing and make a judgement of whether or not they would be a good candidate for our program,” said Lawless.

“I also contacted all of their private percussion teachers to fill in the blanks concerning how they play the larger instruments of the percussion family. Between the videos, and the conversations with teachers, I feel as though I have a good idea of their musical abilities. Based on the above, we were able to offer quite a few incoming freshman positions in the KSU Percussion studio,” he said. Sam Skelton, director of SOM Jazz Studies, received a stellar audition video from a student, with an unusual twist: the student recorded himself in the bathroom. Skelton said, “It was a magnificent audition. I know his mom and I asked her why he chose the bathroom and she said, ‘Well, it has the best acoustics in the house!’”

“Normally, the School of Music holds one in-person audition day per month starting in February, with the largest audition day in March,” explains Susan Grant Robinson, SOM Associate Director. “The faculty have been wonderful about reaching out to the students to assist with video preparation and to conduct virtual B.A. and music education interviews.”

Virtual Theatre Auditions, part of the professional's world
The Department of Theatre and Performance Studies (TPS) does not require an audition for admission into the program, but auditions are required for all of their productions. Karen Robinson, TPS Assistant Chair and Artistic Director, said that students are already auditioning for the fall 2020 production of “Grace, or The Art of Climbing” and “Water by the Spoonful.”  Students submit taped “sides” from each of the scripts. “The TPS faculty sees this as a welcome opportunity for students to practice their skills at self-taping and online submission of audition files. This submission format has become the rule-of-thumb for the Atlanta film, television, and commercials industry, as well as for out-of-town auditions for theatrical productions,” said Robinson. “Roles are often cast without a live audition; a skillfully taped audition can be the ticket to a successful booking.”

Robinson added, “We are grateful for the technology that makes this new paradigm a possibility, but we look forward to welcoming the students—live and in-person—when our social distancing has flattened the curve, our scientists have more answers, and the world is once again ‘re-opened.’”

--Kathie Beckett