Before I got into Juilliard, I didn't get into Juilliard.
I remember getting the letter. I put on my winter boots, and went for a long walk up the frozen river that runs through my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The letter read "Please know that your recording was given complete and careful consideration; however, we do not provide individual feedback or faculty comments. Your application for Fall 2017 is now closed.”
When I was accepted two years later, it was in some ways difficult to tell what made the difference. One never quite knows. What was clear to me, however, were some of the ways I sabotaged myself the first time around, and in parts of the intervening years. And so, rather than a list of fallible audition tips, I give you a list I feel better qualified to write: 7 Ways Not to Get Into Juilliard.
1. Go in blind
Don't get acquainted with Juilliard before walking into your audition. Many current students, alumni, staff, and teachers would love to talk with you, and offer insight or a personal connection that might sabotage your goal of not getting into Juilliard. Avoid these potentially meaningful conversations. The mutual lack of familiarity when you show up will make everyone a little less comfortable, and demonstrate your lack of interest in the school, giving you the best chance to not get into Juilliard.
2. Be a perfectionist
I've found that if you always insist on absolute perfection, not only will you drive yourself crazy, but you're likely to never even finish your prescreening application! This practically guarantees you won't get into Juilliard, and therefore qualifies as a “pro strategy.” Focus on covering up your weaknesses, rather than showcasing your strengths.
The faculty want to see a potential spark of greatness, so don't show that to them. Instead, present an inoffensive technically correct performance that they could care less about.
After auditioning, unmitigated perfectionism is the gift that keeps on giving, as it will ensure your creative life is not only virtually impossible, but also rob you of the joyful artistic freedom and risk-taking originality that make art worth doing. If you let your guard down and produce art that is true to who you are, but technically imperfect, you risk having a fulfilling artistic life, and, at worst, getting into Juilliard. Don't take that risk.
3. Compare yourself to the other applicants
You're all at the audition for a reason: forget yours, and try to find out what theirs is. See if you can find things in others that make you feel inadequate, but make sure to do so without being friendly toward your co-applicants, as that might set everyone at ease and generate an atmosphere of positivity that helps everyone. Convince yourself it's a zero-sum competition and forget the fact that you're all there to shine the hope-giving beacon of art in a dark world.
4. Say/play what you think they want to hear
Abandon your own instincts and artistic vision in favor of what you think they want to hear. As in any relationship, if you hide who you are, it can help foster rejection in both the short and long term, so really try to erase who you are in order to suit a made up concept of “what they want.”
The faculty might see a surprising, convincing performance—true to who you are—as something they want to have at the school. A pale, mocking imitation of themselves is likely to give you a successful rejection. In the unlucky chance that you accidentally get in under this deceit—don't worry. Keeping up the charade will be nearly impossible, and the school may well not be a good fit for your true self, so you're bound to find your way out of Juilliard in short order.
5. Focus on the result, not the process
Your ultimate acceptance or rejection from the school is completely beyond your control, so give it all your mental energy. Don't do your job.
Bryan Cranston—a terrible example of failure—said about auditions: “Know what your job is. About 18 years ago, I realized I was going into auditions trying to get a job. And that simply wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. An actor is supposed to create a compelling, interesting character that serves the text, presents it in the environment where the audition happens, and then walk away. That's it. Everything else is out of your control so don't even think of it. Don't focus on that. You're not going there to get a job. You're going there to present what you do. You act. And there it is. Walk away.” Bryan Cranston would probably have a good chance of getting into Juilliard with this attitude. Don't be like Bryan.
6. Do everything right
The comforting news is that even if you, by some tremendous accident, do everything right, you still might be able to not get into Juilliard. Some years, there simply isn't space even for wonderful candidates. It's not who you are, or even what you do at the audition. So let go. Your rejection is out of your hands.
7. Have your priorities in order
My older brother once told me, when I was getting completely wrapped up and stressed out about applications: “Wherever you end up, it's still you.”
Juilliard won't make you someone you're not, nor, ultimately, will rejection. The beauty of setting your priorities in order—what's meaningful in life, who you love, what good is worth fighting for in the world—is that if you follow this list and don't get in, you're going to be ok. And if my list fails, and you get in, you're still going to be okay. That solid foundation is worth more than a degree or the lack thereof, and is something no kind of letter can shake.
College applications for fall 2020 are now open.