Each year, eighth-grade families in New York City try to figure out which high school to attend. It becomes chaotic as deadlines approach.
Specialized schools are no different. Some are even more chaotic as it becomes a challenge to prepare for them, such as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, which requires auditions.
The famed LaGuardia has graduated a handful of successful alumni — rapper and songwriter Nicki Minaj, actress Jennifer Aniston, Disney actor Corbin Bleu and even Al Pacino.
And as a performer, getting into the best-performing arts high school is challenging as competition is flourishing and schools go through thousands of auditions.
But do young adults know how to nail the perfect audition? The question is, what makes you stand out from everyone else?
“If you’re not exposed to arts programs in your schools and grammar schools, how are you going to prepare for an audition for these performing arts schools?” said Derek Woods, executive director and founder of the Riverdale Children’s Theatre.
Derek was a former producer/reporter in the Bronx for BronxNet Television more than a decade ago, and while working, he realized there were few excellent performing arts schools in the Bronx.
Along with his wife Becky, he offered free high school audition prep in 2010 for students who want to get into performing arts high schools.
“In a lot of parts of the city or high-income neighborhoods, you can hire a voice teacher, or you can hire an acting teacher, but not everyone has access to that, especially in the Bronx,” he said.
Derek continued to say it was always evident the Bronx representation at many of the performing art schools were minimal.
One of the performing art schools, for example, Professional Performing Arts High School in Hell’s Kitchen, also has a middle school program. One of the Riverdale Children’s Theater students started such a school at 6th grade.
PPAS, “Have about 30 kids in a class and she — one of their students — was the only one from the Bronx,” Becky said.
The program is over three weekends, where kids come in, and the team helps them navigate the audition process to make it easier for them. One of the things they begin with is helping them choose and work on their monologues.
Theater teachers recommend more than 100 several productions that students can choose from, such as “1 Girl,” “5th of July” and “Anne Frank.”
Becky said memorizing these monologues is one of the biggest obstacles. Students will need a song, including a monologue if they apply to musical theater.
“We try to take the stress away from the whole process,” Derek said.
The stressful part is that kids need help figuring out what to do. Auditioning is stressful for adults nevertheless, kids who have never done a show before.
And now the audition process has changed because of Covid-19, when everything was remote. Before the pandemic, auditions were in person.
In addition to the help, the theater team works to ensure the students follow all the rules and give them a better opportunity to land a spot in their specialized high school choice.
All three meetings will occur at St. Barnabas Elementary School auditorium at 413 E. 241st St. To register, visit riverdaletheatre.org. Participation is limited, and registration is mandatory. There are two classes available.
• Saturday, Oct. 14
• Saturday, Oct. 21
Anything can happen at the audition prep. Fourteen years ago, one of the program’s first students became an Emmy and Oscar-winning actor, Jharrel Jerome, who is known to play Miles G. Morales — a vigilante — in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” which was just released in theaters last summer. As well as his role as Kevin in Moonlight.
The Riverdale theater is celebrating 14 years of performing arts education in the Bronx by playing another family favorite play. The classic “The Wizard of Oz!” has been charming audiences for decades, and “The Prom,” a play loosely based on a true story.
A large number of kids auditioned — more than 100.
For “The Wizard of Oz,” there are two full casts of 45 kids with a total of 90. One cast will perform three shows, and the other cast will perform the next three.
The teenagers will be with one cast of about 40 kids.
“’The Prom’ is beautiful,” Beck said. “It’s a little political, but there is a beautiful message for sure, and the Wizard of Oz is just timeless it’s going to be beautiful.”