Try On Theatre, It May Fit Better Than You Think

American Theatre recently had a great piece about an interesting approach Princeton University is using as an alternative to auditions called “Try On Theatre Days.” They describe the program as “replacing high-intensity auditions with educational workshops as a means to cast performers and stagehands for the school’s seasonal productions.”

What I appreciate about this approach is the broad invitation to the campus community to come and check out the theatre program and experience mini-lessons in various functions. This is a departure from the practice at many non-conservatory theatre programs I have worked with and encountered where the invitation to the campus community starts and ends with the audition notice. The approach that Princeton is described as using seems to do a better job of giving people the confidence they have the ability to contribute to a production both by getting them to participate in various activities and raising awareness of roles beyond performing.

There is also a hope that the process will introduce greater diversity and reduce insular clique culture in the theatre program:

The first day of the three-day process is a community day, at which all Princeton students are invited to meet the theatre department and to experience introductory-level singing, dancing, and acting workshops…The next two days are designated for students to “try on” specific shows in the upcoming season, … not only in the acting sense but also, for example, stage management, in which prospective students get the opportunity to try calling cues. The purpose is to introduce and teach students to different facets of theatre rather than make judgments about what capabilities certain students walk in the door with, and in turn let students decide if theatre is something they want to pursue.

This new process aims to level the playing field for students who didn’t have traditional theatrical training prior to attending Princeton University. The goal is to transform the student theatre culture and attract a more diverse population, as well as to reduce the cliques and the student hierarchies that often result when theatre students consistently casting their friends in productions.

The “Try On Theatre Days” grew out of an initiative where the university administration paid students to conduct teach-ins about the challenges, biases, and other discouraging factors they faced when trying to participate in productions and classes. Students interviewed by American Theatre said the result has been an increased degree of authenticity in productions, a shift in power dynamics, a rethinking of the casting process, and an improved sense capacity to participate in the creative process.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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