Friday, 3 February 2017

The Audition Issue

Seeing as WestEndProducer has raised the important question of audition fees one more time, and given that this was one of my blog areas the other day....here's the deal with drama college/uni auditions...as I see it.

When you go to the doctors, 9 out of 10 people don't feel 'better' unless they give you a tablet. We feel short changed when they say the word virus, and say that antibiotics won't help us out.  We would feel ripped off if on top of that they had charged us between £30-£75 for the privilege of hearing this information even though the facts were correct. 

The question is (unless I'm very much mistaken) - is the audition process a cash cow for colleges? Everybody gets cross at the question, all standing their ground that their audition process is not only fair, but very often it's a loss maker. We could probably 'chose' our students in half a day if we crammed things in, but you'd definitely feel that you hadn't been seen or heard - so we've always opted for a whole day audition process with no cuts. I can tell if you can sing by hearing 16 bars. . . but you feel like you need to sing your entire rep. . . so we compromise on one time limited song.

Now I run a teeny, tiny college.  Here are my facts:

We audition up to 15 people in a session.  We only do whole day auditions. Throughout the day they will have my senior faculty with them at all times, plus one of my dance staff for an hour and a half. Clearly we need a studio to facilitate this day.  Part of our revenue relies on the hire of our one free studio space in the day - just a quick google check and you'll see that our one day studio hire is £140/day (for our audition studio...although we do sometimes vary it, depending on the needs of the course)
So we've potentially lost that revenue for that day...and therefore have to count it as a 'cost'.  It usually costs us around £40 to have one member of my dance staff with us for a dance workshop...so we're already 'down' £180.  Whilst the staff that are in the room are my salaried staff, that does 'lose' me a day of their contract elsewhere, so budget wise I have to factor it in.  All the staff are on different salaries and on different point scales, however roughly speaking that would mean that each member of staff costs me around £120....and there are 4 of us in the room.  So our audition day costs us £570...to do the paperwork around each audition is probably around 2 hours per audition day, in addition we send all applicants written feedback which takes a further 2 hours at the end of the day. If we say that each hour of admin is £15 - we're on £60 admin charge/day.

So we have 15 people paying £45 - giving us a total of £675/audition day.
So it's room hire £140 (or more accurately, loss of earnings for that room)
Staff costs at £520
Admin costs at £60
Total cost to us - £720
So as I've always maintained...we run all of our audition days at a loss.

In reality we lose a bit more than that though, as our classes all have to be covered by our freelance teachers - so as a business we have an additional £330(minimum) to 'cover' too. However it's imperative to me that the audition panel consists of the very people who are going to have to get you industry ready in 2 years, I don't buy into the 'guest' system of auditioning. I need my staff to see if they can solve your bad habits.

In other words. . . I can justify the cost of my audition day without any difficulty.  It's for you to do the sums everywhere else...or even better for every college to break it down to show complete transparency over costs.

This does not make your audition day any cheaper BUT we're on our 9th year of auditioning now, and at the end of every session we have asked every applicant to anonymously fill out a questionnaire to ensure that they feel like they've had value for money from their day with us.  100% of applicants have not only felt like they've received the value of their audition fee, but every year around 30% say that they feel like we're under selling our day! 100% of them would recommend our audition day to their friends.

We cap our audition numbers, as we are simply looking for the 22 people to fill our course, and we fill as we go along. Our applicants find out that evening if they've been accepted or not.

However we're equally unhappy about 'the system'. We advise people to apply early to us due to the fact that we fill as we go along. . . and yet every year a percentage of students will come to an early audition, we'll offer them a place and of course, they want to go and see everywhere else before committing to us.  So to us they've wasted one of our valuable audition spaces, but also it's really disappointing when we invest so much into people on our audition days when they then turn around and say that they can't decide yet (even though we make it blatantly obvious everywhere that you will only have a 2 week period to decide on accepting that place or not. . .AND explain the reasons for that), so they end up turning down the place.  This is very different, I'll add, to the people that are clear that it's just the wrong course for them (which of course they wouldn't have found out unless they had done our audition day. . . so I'd say for them and us, that was still a day well spent). FYI there is only a short 2 week deciding time as we need to know how many places we have to offer by the next audition day, and as the applications keep coming in, as we would stop our audition process early. We also deliberately put a large deposit request in, as we don't like the game of 'holding security places'. We only want you to pay a deposit if you're coming to train with us...if  you're sure that we're the right place for you.

Interestingly as we're one of the few drama colleges that give feedback, I have a surprisingly large number of people that thank us for the feedback and inform us that they used it, and it facilitated them getting into another college! Again if we were seriously being considered as a training option but it wasn't right for them(or us)...that's bloody brilliant...and they definitely did receive value for money. however disappointing it might be for 'us'.

As nearly every applicant says on their feedback form, they like the fact that we get to know our applicants as people, with names, not commodities with numbers.  However that means (as our testimonials will vouch for us actually) that we clearly invest from day one. . . probably a bit too much if I'm honest.

I get that applying to loads of colleges is the advice that we all give...just applying to 10 would cost you around £450 these days(& I know that you have to add travel and accommodation on top of that...which is why we decide in a day, and refuse to do any recalls, which would cost you more money again)...and that's a big investment, for very little return. So I guess my advice would be chose your 10 carefully. . .  Find out exactly what you're getting for that money. It's only if you start deciding to give your money elsewhere will the colleges who are suspected of running cash cow auditions will change.

Should we audition around the country to lower your audition costs? I don't think that we can. We're a unique course, with a unique atmosphere. That atmosphere will instantly click with you, or instantly repel you I guess. . .but you'll only find that out by submerging yourself in our culture/habitat for the day.

And the bit about the doctor? Well sometimes you're just not right for a course, it doesn't matter what you do, you're not the right 'fit' for the college of your dreams. If they're honest with you and tell you that you will always feel ripped off. . . even if you come away empty handed because they want to actually save you money.

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