Virtual theater auditions bring new challenges to students

One of the major changes students auditioning for theatrical performances this year have had to adapt to has been an all-online audition format, for which students must navigate acting over Zoom and finding a quiet space to audition.



Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

Every year, the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts hosts spring and fall season auditions that give students with an interest in theatre a chance to perform in a number of productions. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has altered countless aspects of the arts community at the UI – however, this season’s theater auditions have become entirely virtual.

Last spring, auditions for the Fall 2020 season ended up transitioning to a totally virtual format for the first time ever, and now auditions for the spring season have done the same. From Nov. 4 through Nov. 6, students could send in videos of a prepared contemporary monologue in order to be considered for next semester’s season.

Production Stage Manager for UI Department of Theatre Arts Melissa L.F. Turner said that a video submission option has always been available to students who are unable to appear in person for auditions, so the digital format of recent auditions has not had a hugely disruptive impact on the selection process.

“It is good practice for [students] as video auditions are commonly used in the industry and probably will be used even more at least for the time being,” Turner said. “This process seems a little less exciting to me as there is not the same time constraints as the in-person process. We lose a little of the connection of having people gather to both audition and to watch auditions.”

Jessie Shaw, a third-year student majoring in Theatre Arts, said that performing in person is easier than on camera.

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“I think some people are not trained to act in front of a camera,” Shaw said. “You have to have a lot of emotion and that can sometimes be hard to conjure without an audience. It definitely is for me.”

Other students, however, said they believe that the virtual auditions have benefits that don’t come with in-person auditions.

Cullen Asbery, a freshman majoring in Theatre Arts on the Musical Theatre track, described virtual auditions as a little different, but also a little relieving.

“I think the rehearsal load and practicing is a lot less, because you have an infinite amount of takes,” Asbery said. “So, you kind of have as many takes as you want to get it as perfect as possible, so it’s not as strenuous as it would be if you only had one shot at it.”

Looking ahead, Turner said, auditions will likely remain virtual until it is safe to resume usual audition practices. She added that, although there will not be any in-person auditions any time soon, the theatre department has set up several resources to help students prepare for virtual auditions, including information on how to create an effective audition tape, and she anticipates the eventual return of in-person auditions.

“I miss walking through the halls during callbacks weekend and seeing actors everywhere practicing their sides, as stage managers keep what looks like chaos organized and running smoothly,” Turner said. “I do look forward to a day where we can all be in the same room again.”