From the outside, the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago looks like it does every week of the year: grand, elegant, and overwhelmingly calm. However, on the first weekend of February each year, it’s anything but. The guests residing here during this week double as a group that most people would normally dread, full of individuals who can’t stop singing, won’t stop dancing, and who can collectively be labeled using two words: theatre kids.
The occasion for such a large gathering of high school drama geeks? It’s relatively simple – college auditions, in the form of an event called Unifieds. Each of these students traveled across and even outside of America in order to showcase their skills to an arrangement of around 70 available schools’ program directors. Alongside these hopefuls were a few of DSHS’s own students, who attended in hopes of receiving offers to prestigious musical theatre, acting, and stage management programs.
“You go into this process thinking you know exactly how it is going to pan out, and it never ends up that way,” Ryan McCartney, prospective musical theatre major, said. “You really discover who you are and your limits through these ruthless few months and you can either let that break you, or build you and make you a stronger person.”
In order to guarantee a program acceptance, many hopefuls audition and apply for upwards of 20 schools; many of these auditions take place at Chicago Unifieds. Most programs require a separate live or digital audition alongside the general university application, each with their own specifications.
“I would prepare my monologues and would adjust them to each school’s requirements, and I think I ended up with 5 monologues and one song,” Cassie Martin, hopeful acting major, said. “Then, I would research each one of the schools and come up with specific questions about the program for each of them. In Chicago, I auditioned for 16 schools.”
No matter the school or the program, each audition experience is wholly unique. While some auditors may keep a prospective student in the audition room for over 15 minutes in order to chat and get to know the person, others only want to see the prepared material and may acknowledge a candidate with a mere smile and nod.
“[In] my favorite interview at Unifieds, we chatted about my friends in theatre, my dogs, and our favorite tv shows amongst all the other interview questions,” Sarah Davison, prospective production and design/stage management major, said. “I started my [worst] audition out with forgetting another copy of my resume in the hall, and then I proceeded to tell them I liked shows specifically about murderers. It was a little awkward to say the least.”
Though Chicago Unifieds counts as the largest gathering of schools for theatre-related college auditions, Unifieds also occur in New York and Los Angeles. Most schools that attend Unifieds aren’t even officially a part of the Unifieds organization; in fact, the majority of programs send auditors to the Palmer House during Chicago Unifieds in order to provide a cheaper option for students who aren’t able to travel to each school specifically to audition.
“Chicago Unifieds saved me so much time and allowed me to audition for 20-plus schools, which I would have not been able to do if I had gone to all on campus auditions,” Martin said. “It was a fun, chaotic, and unique experience… and I got to spend a week in Chicago.”
During Unifieds, and even throughout the entire audition process, prospective theatre majors are constantly reminded of the thick skin they must wear in order to pursue such a subjective career. With the constant rejections and lengthy waiting periods (many hopefuls are kept waiting until April to receive an acceptance), the process never seems to get any easier.
“The most stressful thing is comparing yourself to other people,” McCartney said. “In this industry that is an exceedingly easy thing to do and it’s inevitable to most people, but it does nothing for yourself except add more stress to an already stressful process. The one thing this process has taught me is to focus on yourself and keep your eye on the prize.”
However, as most (if not all) of these hopefuls would argue, they wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. Though the process is arduous at best, those living it strive to find the joy in honing their craft on the daily, and never let the stress keep them from pursuing their passions.
“It’s a whirlwind,” Davison said. “The whole selling yourself aspect can be terrifying, but I know it will be worth it in the end.”
By Katie Haberman, Feature Editor
Featured photo from Katie Haberman on Instagram