Just one audition away from high school fame


In the opening sequence of the 1980 film Fame, a montage of eighth graders — with varying degrees of experience at auditioning — strut their musical and dramatic talents while trying out for the New York High School of Performing Arts.

In the movie, those with the talent get in. In the real life competition, admittance to what is now known as the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts can come down to knowing how to audition. 

Daniel Pinckney had prepared for the audition with a scene from the movie Notorious, the biopic about rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.

Daniel said he had spent a lot of time practicing lines from a scene in which Mr. Wallace and his mother discuss the salaries of teachers and sanitation workers. 

But not knowing the difference between a monologue and a dialogue was a stumbling block that could have held Daniel back.

At a free annual seminar run by Riverdale Children’s Theater’s Derek Woods and Becky Lillie-Woods for Bronx eighth graders preparing for the auditions — which are going on through mid-December — he learned the performance wouldn’t woo LaGuardia for two reasons:

1: In a monologue only one character speaks. 

2: New York City’s performing arts high schools require audition monologues to be taken from plays; no films allowed.

“A lot of these kids don’t even know what a monologue is, and there’s nothing in the school’s to help them learn,” Mr. Woods said.

He and his wife began holding workshops at Hunts Point Middle School, MS 424, in 2010. Mr. Woods said the school’s principal volunteered Hunts Point Middle School’s auditorium for the seminars because he wanted to give his kids a better shot at making the exclusive performing arts schools.

About two-dozen students — many who attend Hunts Point Middle School and some of who had never been to an audition — came to this year’s seminars held on Nov. 7 and Nov. 14. 

“This is the time of the season when a lot of children across the Bronx are trying out for these performing arts high schools, and what me and my wife found is there’s a lot of kids who have no clue what these auditions are,” Mr. Woods said. 

Mr. Woods suggested that Daniel consider a monologue from the play he was most recently in.

It was Hairspray and it’s what turned acting, a career path Daniel had never considered, into his passion.

“At first I knew I wanted to do it, but to me I thought Hairspray was a play for girls, but then I thought about it and I said ‘OK, I’ll go for it,’” Daniel said. “It was a lot of hard work. I was happy because I never thought I could reach that kind of magnitude.”

While Daniel used the seminar to learn about what would be required of him at an audition, other students took the opportunity to practice their craft and hone their performance for the big day.

Ben Markbreiter, a Riverdalian who attends Kinneret Day School, has been passionate about drama and music for a long time. While practicing for his audition, he was also rehearsing lines for a Riverdale Children’s Theater performance of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

“I love all the songs, and I just love all the vignettes in it,” Ben said of the play. 

But at the seminar he was practicing an entirely different role for his monologue: the Brighton Beach Memoirs’ character Eugene, whose neurotic family won’t talk about anything uncomfortable.

As Eugene, Ben explained to the audience that he has to whisper the words “cancer”, “asthma” and “high blood pressure.”

Although he had all but memorized his lines, Ben said the seminar helped him build the confidence he needed to be Eugene in front of a room of total strangers. 

“He’s awesome,” Ben said of Mr. Woods. “He’s always giving us pep talks.”