MFA Auditions 2018: Part 3: USC

Originally Published: 14 April 2018

Recap: I finished Yale and was like “meh”. No callback, but I was strangely happy about it. Now it’s time to go to the West Coast baby!

The time is now 10:43. USC’s audition is at the Westin Michigan Avenue hotel, about an 8 minute Lyft away (I don’t use Uber anymore ’cause they're not so good). USC Admissions was very kind and when I told them about my packed day, they said I could show up anytime during the morning session, or anytime before my afternoon auditions.

I chose to go to USC right after Yale. Even though I was tired and the bed in my room at the Hyatt felt so nice when I laid down for a minute, I hardly had to do any mental gymnastics to talk myself into getting back up. I wanted to be there, I wanted to show everyone my work and I knew there was no other option but to kick ass all day long. Self-sabotage can get to us all. But not today!

Here’s how USC works:

USC holds their auditions in two blocks: morning session from 9am-12pm and an afternoon session from 1pm-4pm or 5pm. At the beginning of each session, they hold an info session to talk about the program, the audition and answer any questions. In this info session is someone from the admissions office and whomever will be in the room that day. You are then given a time and order to audition. You go in and audition, then do a little interview with them. Sometimes they ask you to leave the room and then ask you back in to do an interview. No day-of callbacks. Within a couple of weeks, you may receive an e-mail invite to the Callback Weekend at the beginning of March.

So off I went to USC! I got a Lyft and posted a selfie to my Instagram story. I didn’t even know Instagram stories were a thing until like a week before. I love them! How did I not know about them?!?

I arrived at the Westin at like 11:08 and checked in with Ramon, the Admissions guy. They had been accepting walk-ins all morning and weren’t sure if I would be seen before lunch at 12pm. Ahh! Eee! Noo! I let him know that I had other auditions in the afternoon and he said he’d try to make it work.

Waiting time. Nabbed a padded window seat, pulled out my headshot and resume for easy access. I fixed my makeup a bit. I scoped the room for a second before reminding myself not to do that. I decided that I was better than everyone else because I had deliberately applied to the program and scheduled an audition and everyone else here were walk-ins. You do what you have to do to survive. #sorrynotsorry

I lied down and put in my earphones. Jazz felt like a good choice. I couldn’t really sleep because I kept getting distracted by people coming out of the audition room and talking about it. I got on the floor and lied on my back, just to get my breath in check.

The room had thinned out and Ramon came over to tell me I’m was deck. Ok! Here we go! I don’t think I even fixed my makeup. Meh, I’m sure I was fine.

I waited a few minutes and the guy before me came out. Then I wait another few minutes as Ramon entered the audition room. He comes out, and I go in.

At the table are David Warshofsky, Director of MFA in Acting and Lauren Murphy, Assistant Professor of Theatre Practice. David is an odd mix of intimidating and approachable. Lauren is sweet and smiley. I introduce myself and my pieces and go.

My comedic contemporary piece was fine. A bit forced. They didn’t laugh. It was a void. I was acting AT them. Not my strongest work.

Then, I did my Shakespeare. I begin and about three lines in, David stands up, walks to where I’m looking and stands right next to that spot. As I’m still speaking my text, I thought, “What? No, where are you going? What are you doing? Am I boring you? Oh come the &#!@ on!”. When he stops, I think, “Ok, well if he’s standing right near where I’m looking, I’m just going to look at him and use him. Fine by me. It’s his fault if he doesn’t like me looking at him”. So I seamlessly continue and use him for the rest of the piece.

He was pretty stoic throughout and man oh man did that work for me! I kept not getting what I wanted, so I had to keep trying different tactics. The piece was still similar to how I’d rehearsed it, just a little more alive and active than how it may have been without me using David.

Fun fact: I learned weeks later that during the info session before the auditions, they tell you to use Lauren for one of your pieces and David for the other. I did not get that memo, but at least I went with it when David stood up. Advice: always go with your gut!

I finished my Shakespeare and David walked back to his seat. There was this kind of awkward silence. I sensed I wasn’t done in the room yet so I didn’t say the customary, “thank you” and leave. David tells me to pull up a chair from the side of the room. So I do and I sit in the chair in the middle of the room, right where I had done my pieces, about 10 feet away from them.

Here’s where it got interesting. USC is an intense place, and they let you know it.

David: When did you graduate from school?

Me: (I told HIM, I’m not telling YOU) :)

David: That was a while ago

Me: Mmm I don’t /

David: / So what have you been doing since then?

I began to talk about how I worked at NBC for a bunch of years and since quitting I’ve been working pretty steadily as an actor. I mentioned that I had actually been to the USC callback weekend in 2015. He had already been leaning forward, clearly interested, but his ears perked up a bit more at this.

I said I knew some of the current third-years because they were all in my callback group. Lauren chimed in that she remembered me and I said I didn’t remember her (oops). There was a little more talk about that particular callback weekend.

David was eager to get back on topic. He asked why I didn’t go to USC. I said that I wasn’t given an offer. He seemed confused and kind of peeved. He asked again why I didn’t go to USC and I answered again, saying that I had not received an offer and it wasn’t the right time anyways, as my mom was on her deathbed at the time. He still seemed confused and asked me again, still clearly unhappy with my answers. I tried to clarify one last time. I said that I was not offered a spot and that USC did the right thing by not offering me a spot. My mom had died less than a month after the callback weekend. It was not the right time for me to go to grad school. “They shouldn’t have let me in and I’m glad they didn’t let me in. I needed to grieve.” – I specifically remember saying that exact phrase.

My display of fortitude, self-assurance and poise ended that line of questioning. I was forced to stick to my guns. 

David leaned back, seemingly satisfied with my answer. He then introduced himself and Lauren, as if I didn’t know who they were. I said I’d heard great things about him from current students and he said he wasn’t looking for a compliment from me but thank you. It was time to leave and we thanked one another.

As I was putting the chair back on the side of the room, I thanked them for seeing me right before lunch by telling them to, “have a great lunch”. I suppose it came out the way it did because I thought David may have been hangry. I think I was right, because they both laughed WAY more than they should have at that little phrase and wow did that cut through the tension.

It was unlike any grad school audition I’d ever had – including my USC audition three years ago. Oddly, though, I knew I’d passed the test.

No time to dwell, Columbia is up next! 

How will I revive myself? Will Ron Van Lieu remember me? Will I ever eat a freaking snack?!?

Until soon,


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