Dear Freshmen: Advice from Sophomore Theatre Majors to the Incoming Class

News   Dear Freshmen: Advice from Sophomore Theatre Majors to the Incoming Class Students from some of the best known college theatre programs offer their tips for a successful first year.
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With the school year underway, Playbill wants make your freshman year a bit easier! We recently interviewed nine sophomore musical theatre and acting majors to give advice on what they learned during their first year to the incoming freshman class. Students from Marymount Manhattan College, University of Northern Colorado, Ithaca College, Pace University, Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Baldwin Wallace University, Florida State university and The University of Texas at Austin all weighed in.

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Noah Pyzik –
College: Marymount Manhattan College
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Kalamazoo, MI
Dream Role: Leading Player - Pippin

As a sophomore, what’s the one piece of advice you would have given yourself as an incoming freshman?

Don’t feel like you need to prove yourself. Coming into a prestigious program made me feel like I had to stand out and show that I deserved to be here. I was way too concerned about how everyone else saw me instead of focusing on my own growth. I needed to remember that all of the upperclassmen were once freshmen too, and that we were just at different points in our journey. As soon as I stopped worrying about how others saw me, amazing things began to fall into place.
~ Noah Pyzik, Marymount Manhattan College

The impending nervousness that you feel in your stomach is inevitable. In fact, it’ll become a part of you; it will live inside you for so long that, come the day you don’t feel nervous, you’ll begin to get nervous. You’ll think: Why am I not feeling nervous? And the stress that resides in your gut is a good thing. Because when you get comfortable, you stop growing. As a freshman, and dare I say as an adult, you needn’t ever get comfortable. Those nights spent staring at the wall, hoping to get a text, worrying about what everyone thinks about you, stressing about the upcoming week, those nights are coming, and they’re coming with a bout of homesickness that’ll dampen many a pillowcase. Embrace them.
~ Karim Nematt, Pace University School of Performing Arts

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Jordan Palmer –
College: Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Major: Contemporary Theater
Hometown: The Dalles, Oregon
Dream Role: Currently, The Poet in Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad.

Practice open-hearted, constructive honesty with yourself and others. Invite them to practice honesty with you, and listen well for it. The more vulnerably and compassionately you communicate with the people you care about, the more you allow yourself to be seen, the richer your relationships become. Avoid hurting others and hurting yourself by bottling things up and/or ignoring them.
~ Jordan Palmer, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

Stop comparing yourself to others! When I first arrived in my freshman year, I started getting into the mindset that I had to try and keep up with everyone else. However, I quickly learned that everyone is on their own unique path and has such a wide range of skills to contribute. Own both your strengths and your weaknesses, and let them drive you to hone your craft. The goal is not perfection, but growth.
~ Amy Keum, Baldwin Wallace University

Don’t be afraid to make new friends. I think the best advice is to meet people and be open to creating new friendships and relationships. I’ve learned from my freshman year that the one aspect that has the most power in making or breaking your new life is the people. If you do not like the people you surround yourself with, it takes away from the experience. It helps to have a support system of people who love and support you. The better friends you have, the more a place can feel like home.
~ Adriana Scamardi, The University of Texas at Austin

What tips do you have for incoming freshman?

<b>Cameron Mitchell and Mariah Lyttle –</b><br/>College: Ithaca College<br/>Major: Acting and Musical Theatre<br/>Hometown: Washington, D.C.; Bridgeport, Connecticut <br/>Dream Role: Black Stache in <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">Peter and the Starcatchers; </i>Felicia in <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">Memphis</i>
Cameron Mitchell and Mariah Lyttle –
College: Ithaca College
Major: Acting and Musical Theatre
Hometown: Washington, D.C.; Bridgeport, Connecticut
Dream Role: Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatchers; Felicia in Memphis

Breathe. Take your first year of a BFA program one step at a time. Remember that you are not only a theatre student but a college student, and that it is okay to have a balanced college experience. Think of sleep as your best friend. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and no matter how hard it gets, remember why you chose to be a theatre major in the first place.
~ Cameron Mitchell & Mariah Lyttle, Ithaca College

Dive into the work. The work is all we have. I mean sure, party hard and lose yourself in the hedonism that college provides, but remember why you came here. To learn, break barriers and develop as an artist. What good will your three-day bender do come the end of the semester? You must make use of the material and the facilities. We’re surrounded by hungry artists looking to earn their place in the world; you should be one of them. Thinking you can show up to a morning class hung-over is plain stupid. And if you’re capable of keeping two thoughts in your head at the same time, (I suspect my dear reader, you very well can) keep in mind most of your education doesn’t come in the classroom. It comes in the hallways, chatting away with friends, so while I pray that you take your academic life seriously, you should maintain a healthy, outgoing approach outside the walls of your college.
~ Karim Nematt, Pace University School of Performing Arts

What Advice do you have for high school seniors who are about to go through the application/audition season?

College audition season is going to be so stressful, but don’t worry too much! Make sure to be yourself in the audition room and slay those 90 seconds as best as you can. You will end up where you are supposed to be; I know I definitely did. When you narrow it down to your final colleges, make sure to visit them. Wherever you feel at home the most is most likely where you belong.
~ Chris Carranza, University of Northern Colorado

Keep your options open and have an open mind. The college application process is all about growth, and you will come out of this experience learning so much about yourself. Organize the colleges you are applying to and auditioning for and what they can offer you as a student and as an artist.
~ Cameron Mitchell & Mariah Lyttle, Ithaca College

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Gabriella Juliet –
College: Florida State University
Major: BFA Music Theatre
Hometown: Orlando, FL
Dream Role: Glinda from Wicked… or Eva Peron from Evita. Too hard to choose!

All schools and programs are different, so try to do as much research as you can about them before applying. If you can, go visit the school. When I was a senior in high school, FSU allowed me to not only visit the campus, but to “shadow” a student in the MT program for a day. I got to go to classes with them and see what a real day was like. That experience was really valuable in making my decision of where to attend! My other advice would be to stay as healthy as you can during audition season. More than likely, you’ll be traveling to different cities for your auditions, and between the travel and the stress you have a higher chance of getting sick. Your body and voice are your tools, and at the end of the day those few short minutes at the live audition is all that really matters. As someone who bombed one of my auditions because of losing my voice from sickness, trust me. You want to be at your 100 percent best!
~ Gabriella Juliet, Florida State University

Apply to as many schools and programs as you can and find good audition pieces for you! College auditions are crazy. Depending on the audition, you typically have about 90 seconds to stand up in front of a panel, be vulnerable and show your full range of acting (and singing). This sounds impossible, but one thing that can make this process a lot less difficult is having the right monologues/songs. Figure out what makes you, you. Find what makes you different from everyone else. Then search for a monologue or song that you can relate to that will show your uniqueness and your talent. The key to a successful college audition is finding acting/singing material that fits you.
~ Adriana Scamardi, The University of Texas at Austin


How did you handle being in a new environment for the first time?

Crying your eyes out is one way to phrase it. I prefer to say I struggled. It’s a shock to the system to be so far away from home, with little emotional stability. I think sometimes adults forget how frightening it is to be 18 and off to college, transitioning from the world of comfort and safety to unpredictability and aloneness. Luckily, you’ll have friends by your side to marshal you back into a stable mentality. Though at the time it looked like everyone else was adapting with ease, I now know most of them struggled just like I did. That’s a relief.
~ Karim Nematt, Pace University School of Performing Arts

Day to day, I depended on friends and peers with whom I felt safe and free to be myself. I made friends with upperclassmen I admired. I called my mom frequently. I talked with teachers over coffee, over lunch, occasionally on the sidewalk. I regularly visited a counselor to touch base. My focus became about building planes of mutual care, support and honesty, which stabilized me.
~ Jordan Palmer, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

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Amy Keum –
College: Baldwin Wallace University
Major: Music Theatre
Hometown: Westford, MA
Dream Role: Eponine - Les Misėrables

It was hard to make the adjustment from performing for fun to studying it as a career. Suddenly being surrounded by so many talented peers, I felt a lot of pressure to be the best and started doubting if I was really “talented enough.” I think the key is to stay inspired and trust that you are where you are for a reason. See shows you love, sing fun songs in the car, and take time to do the small things that remind you why you love what you do.
~ Amy Keum, Baldwin Wallace University

What’s the one big thing you discovered about yourself as a performer during your freshman year of college?

I needed to further trust in myself, my abilities and my training. It sounds cheesy, but it’s so true! You are unique, and no one else can do what you do. I think no matter how long you’ve been in this business, there will be doubts along the way. The most important thing is to never compare yourself to others. My freshman year taught me to take bigger risks and invest my whole self in every moment.
~ Noah Pyzik, Marymount Manhattan College

I discovered that the best actors are the ones that aren’t afraid to reveal the darkest parts of themselves. I excelled way more when I started taking risks in everything I did.
~ Chris Carranza, University of Northern Colorado

I discovered that I was tougher than I realized. Even though there were many moments when I felt sleep deprived and ready to give up, I used every bit of strength to keep going. Throughout freshman year, I let myself make mistakes and fall. I’m glad I did because in learning to get back up again, I discovered resilience in myself as a performer.
~ Amy Keum, Baldwin Wallace University

My biggest discovery is how important confidence truly is. Every artist struggles with self doubt, but I had to remind myself that I made it into this program for a reason and the love of performing has been instilled in my heart for a reason. My high school theatre teacher used to tell us “High school theatre builds you up. In college they will tear you down, but then build you up to be even greater than before.” I agree with that completely. The phrase “No Fear, No Doubt” is my motto to remind me that my best work as a performer is when I am fearless and strong.
~ Gabriella Juliet, Florida State University


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Chris Carranza –
College: University of Northern Colorado
Major: Musical Theatre
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Dream Role: Usnavi - In the Heights

Finally, what audition songs or monologues are you currently loving right now?

Right now my go-to ballad and up-tempo are “Sailing” from A New Brain and “Try Me” from She Loves Me. For monologues, the Drama Book Shop on 40th Street is heaven! I can spend hours in there looking at all of the newly released scripts. Right now I’m loving The Flick by Annie Baker and The Whale by Sam Hunter.
~ Noah Pyzik, Marymount Manhattan College

I’m loving “Role of a Lifetime” (Bare), “Try Me” (She Loves Me), and “Proud of Your Boy” (Aladdin).
~ Chris Carranza, University of Northern Colorado

In regards to audition songs, Putnam County Spelling Bee is a great option for when you’re required to play “younger” roles and the score has a great range of songs. Anything contemporary also works, such as Pasek and Paul, or if you’re looking for something more stylistic then Stephen Sondheim is a great choice. In regards to monologues, Mabel’s monologue from An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde is one we have been raving about, and if you are looking for a general mix of a classical contemporary monologue that is more poetic, selections from playwright Federico García Lorca are a great choice.
~ Cameron Mitchell & Mariah Lyttle, Ithaca College

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Karim Nematt –
College: Pace University School Of Performing Arts
Major: BFA Acting
Hometown: Amman, Jordan
Dream Role: The Emcee – Cabaret

You can’t go wrong with Shakespeare. Macbeth’s “She should have died hereafter” or “If it were done when tis done” are staples. Benedict’s “O she misused me” gives one license to move around and therefore get rid of any nerves. For a more contemporary approach, I highly recommend Carol’s “Why do you hate me?” monologue from David Mamet’s Oleanna, the language will force you to make the delivery on point. Try Amir’s “You keep saying that like it means something” from Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, an intellectual criticism of Arab-Islamic culture. As for songs, Tom Odell’s “Magnetized” is an absolute killer. Plenty of legato to go around, and it’s not that well known. I once tried Hozier’s “Jackie and Wilson,” it has a comfortable pitch and is easy on the ears.
~ Karim Nematt, Pace University School of Performing Arts

There’s a great monologue for B2 in Caryl Churchill’s A Number, and though I’m probably still too young for it, it’s very special to me. The writing offers so much room for exploration and surprise.
~ Jordan Palmer, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

I recently discovered David Henry Hwang’s works and have been intrigued by his monologues. It’s refreshing to read stories that are representative of many of the experiences I’ve had growing up as an Asian-American.
~ Amy Keum, Baldwin Wallace University

<b>Adriana Scamardi –</b><br/>College: The University of Texas at Austin<br/>Major: B.F.A. in Acting<br/>Hometown: Houston<br/>Dream Role: “Christine” from <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">The Phantom of the Opera</i>
Adriana Scamardi –
College: The University of Texas at Austin
Major: B.F.A. in Acting
Hometown: Houston
Dream Role: “Christine” from The Phantom of the Opera

Songs: “Lost in the Brass” from Bandgeeks or “No One Else” from Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812. Monologues: “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” or anything by Theresa Rebeck!
~ Gabriella Juliet, Florida State University

Right now, I really love finding obscure cabaret style musical theatre songs on YouTube. They make the best audition songs. Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich have written some really great songs for women.
~ Adriana Scamardi, The University of Texas at Austin