Upperclassmen shed light on performance group auditions

by Madeline Killen | 9/14/16 12:00am

Whether first-year students have been dreaming of joining the Aires since their first solo in their high school choir, curious about Ujima since the dance showcase or thinking they might just wing it at the Dog Day Players auditions, the start of classes brings with it the first opportunity for first-years to show off their talents to student performance groups at Dartmouth. As auditions kick into gear, upperclassmen in performance groups share their own audition experiences and wisdom with the arts section.

Nick Vernice ’18 joined the Sing Dynasty his freshman fall and described the group’s welcoming nature as what drew him in.

“They had a few members in the hallway who just seemed so genuinely interested in getting to know me,” Vernice said. “I just remember how easy-going and laidback the group was.”

Vernice remembers that the Sings’ open nature calmed his nerves despite the fact that his audition process involved singing his solo in front of five other a cappella hopefuls before listening to their solos. This structure is no longer in use. Singers now individually enter a room to audition for the a cappella group.

Fellow Sings member Matty Treiber ’18 said that he was surprised by how welcome he felt when auditioning.

“I didn’t expect [that] because I wasn’t a freshman,” Treiber said.

Christian Williams ’19 auditioned for X.ado last fall and also remembers how upperclassmen in his group were “warm and welcoming” towards him. Like Vernice’s, his audition process was a bit different than the current audition process ­— last year, X.ado held separate auditions from the other a cappella groups, so Williams only auditioned for X.ado. This year, X.ado has voted to participate in group auditions with all of the other coed a cappella groups.

“We’re excited to be with the rest of the groups,” Williams said.

Williams did not enter college expecting to get involved with a cappella, but decided to audition for X.ado the morning of auditions.

“I auditioned for one of the improv comedy groups but didn’t get in, so then I auditioned for an a cappella group just because I thought it sounded fun,” he said. “I didn’t sing at all before college.”

Zach Schnell ’18 similarly auditioned for his improv group, Casual Thursday, on a whim sophomore year.

“I didn’t audition for Casual Thursday my freshman year because I figured my floor meeting was mandatory and there was no way around it,” Schnell said. “Little did I know, four people who wound up in Casual Thursday did not go to the meeting.”

Schnell only auditioned for Dog Day Players his freshman year, and has fond memories of the audition process despite not getting in, he said.

“Sophomore year, I just auditioned for Casual Thursday for fun,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to get in, but I figured, ‘Why not?’”

Olivia Deng ’18 agrees that performance group auditions are a good time to experiment — because of this, she is glad that dance group auditions require dancers to try out for Fusion, Ujima, Sugarplum and SHEBA at the same time.

“You don’t know which one you’re going to like,” Deng said. “It’s good to spend time with all of the groups.”

Deng is a member of SHEBA but only dabbled in hip-hop in high school, she said.

“Don’t worry about dance experience,” she said. “Most of us either didn’t have dance experience or didn’t have relevant dance experience.”

For example, Deng largely focused on ballet before college, she said.

“Auditions are mostly about confidence and about projecting yourself and not being afraid to go full-out,” she said.

Schnell’s advice for those interested in auditioning is similar.

“Our old president used to have a saying that people’s peak is at auditions because they’re just being themselves without thinking about the ‘rules of improv,’” he said. “It takes years for them to get back to the level where they were at their audition.”

Because of this, he advises auditioning students to just have fun and be themselves.

Treiber and Vernice offer some slightly more pragmatic advice for a cappella hopefuls.

“Sing the song that you’re most comfortable with, that you’re proud of and that you know well,” Vernice said. “Also, prepare a backup song for callbacks. Some groups will want another song, but I remember the Sings didn’t tell me that my year.”

Vernice auditioned for the Sings with “One Song Glory” from the musical “Rent,” while Williams chose “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel and Treiber sang “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson.

“It’s iconic,” Treiber said of his song choice.

Treiber advises singing in front of floormates prior to auditioning.

“The more people you sing in front of, the less nervous you’ll be for the actual audition,” he said.

Alternately, for those who would love to be involved with a performing group at Dartmouth but worry they will not have the time, Street Soul offers a time-flexible, no-audition alternative. Angie Lee ’17, co-director of Street Soul, got involved with the group her freshman fall. She entered college with a background in street dance and loves Street Soul because it gives her an opportunity to teach others, she said. Her advice to first-years interested in the group revolves around consistency.

“Literally just show up,” she said. “If you come, you improve. If you’re a beginner, you’re not the only one.”

Lee credits Street Soul’s cohesion as a group to its open nature.

“People stay because they like being there, because it’s so open,” she said.

Across the board, these upperclassmen credit their performance groups with critically shaping their Dartmouth experiences.

“I was a lot more timid before SHEBA,” Deng said. “It brought out my self-confidence, it made me not afraid to do what I think is fun. It’s become part of my identity.”