A few years back, I applied to five colleges when trying to decide my future. I wanted a school that would prepare me for what I knew would be my graduate work – law school. The process was simple. Find the right schools, do well in high school, and be well rounded. When application time came along, the formula was to apply to a reach school, a safe school, and anything in between. It all went according to plan.
Fast forward 20 or so years and repeat the process for child number one and child number two. Once again, everything seemed to go according to the plan. Enter child three. She uttered eight words that turned this tried and true process into some sort of fight till the death amongst potential applicants – “I want to be a musical theatre major.”
I must admit this whole musical theatre major thing was brand new to me. I had no idea that we would be thrust into some alternate universe where nothing I had experienced as a college student or a father helping his first two children through the college process mattered. Dance lessons, voice lessons, college coaches, auditions, pre-screens, call backs and BFAs were all new words that became part of my vocabulary.
Just when we started getting comfortable with all of this, we learned something else as audition season began – we had entered one of the most competitive, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog processes I have ever experienced. It was the Hunger Games, the Musical Theatre version, and Catherine was our Tribute!
Law School is competitive. Veterinary School is difficult. Musical theatre is insane! I learned that some schools consider 1,500 applications for 18-20 spaces. Instead of applying to 4-6 schools, these kids have to apply to 14 or more school because of the difficult odds associated with being selected. Part of the process includes the special games to cull the herd, also known as Unifieds. This is an intense extended weekend long process where families bring their Tributes to one of three venues.
We decided to travel to the northern district called New York for the games. There are also culling competitions in Chicago and Los Angeles. During this thrilling weekend, Tributes navigate through the city to find one of several studio locations for their interviews. Their support teams are with them to watch, help carry clothing changes, dance shoes, water bottles, and provide moral support. Frankly, I’ve never seen so much Lycra and spandex in one place in my entire life.
Some of these interviews have parental components where you quickly learn that the students might be more intelligent and composed than their parents. Some interviews have rounds, which require candidates to check the callback list in order to move on. After several of these interviews, the day is over only to begin again the next morning.
Catherine’s drama teacher talked about this process for some time. It sounds surreal, cruel, daunting, and the stuff that makes a great fictional novel. But until you live it, breathe it, and experience it for yourself, you can’t explain it or appreciate it.
The truth is, when you are a part of this process up close and intimately, you gain a whole new level of respect for the young people who choose this career path. Each day, they are tested over and over again, audition after audition. Sometimes they find their names on the callback list, while in other cases, their hopes and dreams are extinguished with the simple posting of a list.
Yet, they go on. No matter where this journey takes these kids, they have more poise, determination, and discipline than most others their age. They have learned important life lessons before ever leaving for college, including important organizational skills, how to conduct oneself in a job interview, and rejection. And that makes them all winners in these Hunger Games.