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Finding Top Talent: A Look at OU Fine Arts’ Competitive Auditions Process

Finding Top Talent: A Look at OU Fine Arts’ Competitive Auditions Process

Masked student performs for instructor

For incoming undergraduate students at the University of Oklahoma, their “mettle” isn’t measured academically until they receive their final semester grades. But, for students interested in pursuing a degree in the performing arts, their mettle is tested – through a rigorous and highly competitive audition process – before they are even considered for admittance to the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.

Auditions for the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts are held around the world and attract hundreds of students wanting to hone their skills and pursue a career in the arts. Faculty from the college serve as adjudicators and evaluate students on level of expertise or technique exhibited, artistry, experience and promise of academic excellence.

The Helmerich School of Drama, the second-oldest university theatre school in the United States, has produced successful alumni who hold a range of acclaimed positions, such as lighting, scenic, costume and sound designers in live theatre, including on and off Broadway; casting directors, producers, stage managers and performers in professional theatre, television or film, to name a few.

“Some of our auditions attract hundreds of students,” said School of Drama Director and Professor of Performance Seth Gordon, who also described the OU drama experience as “intense,” noting its extensive breadth of training. Gordon said the school “offers students classes not only in acting, but a range of related topics, including voice, diction and dialects, stage combat and playwrighting and directing.”

As one of the top musical theater training programs in the nation, the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre attracts top-tier students from high schools across the country.

“We are highly selective,” said School of Musical Theatre Director Ashton Byrum. “Each year, we audition over 500 students for 12 slots. We are more selective than the OU football team!”

Musical Theatre 'CALLBACKS' sign hangs on door outside audition space

Students who graduate from the School of Musical Theater are artistically competitive and highly successful.

“We are fortunate to have many alumni working in Broadway shows, on national tours and for international productions,” Byrum said. “Many have found great success in the film and TV industry as well.”

Known as a place to pursue artistic and academic dreams, the School of Music is home to over 500 students.

“Each area – voice, music education, orchestral string, percussion – has its own unique audition and interview process, though faculty judges are looking for common elements, including preparation, potential and passion,” said School of Music Director Roland Barrett.

Student on a stage space practicing while masked

Last year, due to the worldwide pandemic, the school had to transition to an online audition format – an adaptation that had some unexpected but positive results.

“We were absolutely thrilled to have one of the largest groups of auditionees in school history, along with some of the highest levels of musical talent we’ve ever had,” Barrett said. “We have 81 new freshman music majors, plus another 15 music minors and/or transfer students.”

The School of Dance, one of the leading programs in the nation for training in ballet and modern dance techniques, also boasts a very selective audition process.

“Each year, we audition an average of 250 students, with an acceptance rate of approximately 20%,” said School of Dance Director Michael Bearden. “Our goal is to maintain a school population of 80 to 90 students. This ensures our students benefit greatly from a higher quality of education and training. We believe this provides the best possible opportunities for our students to progress and be prepared for careers as professional dancers.”

Bearden also said he is proud of the school’s success in producing marketable talent and noted that many OU dance alumni have gone on to careers with prestigious companies, including Alvin Ailey Ensemble, The Martha Graham Dance Ensemble, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, and the Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Kansas City ballets.

To learn more about the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, including opportunities to attend performances, visit

By Jerri Culpepper

Article Published:  Wednesday, August 25, 2021