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Just Breathe: An Interview with Kaitlin Hopkins of Texas State University

Kaitlin Hopkins is an award-winning actress, director, producer, and educator and has worked in theater, film, and television for over 30 years. In 2009 she created the BFA Musical Theatre program at Texas State University, ranked in the top 10 musical theatre programs in the nation.

We sat down with her to ask her about the industry, her program, and the effect that COVID has had on college auditions.

How long have you run the MT program at Texas State University?

12 years. I created the BFA program in fall 2009.

Congrats on building a well-recognized program right here in Texas. Many of our students are aware of and interested in your program. What makes a Texas State Bobcat? What do you look for?

We look for kind humans who value collaboration, integrity, self-care, don’t do drugs, are innovative, proactive, take responsibility for the world they want to live in, and inherently understand that being an artist is about being of service to our communities thru the art of storytelling, and who are interested in further exploring activism thru their art.

This university was founded on Social Justice and our industry needs leaders who want to reimagine, redefine, and challenge the traditional pedagogy and want to be part of moving the artform and the profession forward, and are not afraid to have the hard conversations, who want to develop as artists and humans who listen first, problem solve in collaboration, want to learn, and think outside of the box. We are looking for the students who don’t want to fit in a box or adhere to a “type” but want to bring their whole -selves to the work, and want to bring awareness to the narratives they put into the world. I always say, “if that sounds sexy to you, we might be a good fit!”

Describe your experience the first year handling the MT audition process. Was it as crazy for you as it is for parents going through this?

The first few years it was only live auditions, so it was easier. Then, due to overwhelming numbers of applications, and not having enough time to do everything in person, we transitioned to having to pre-screen applicants before we called them back. Then it became unmanageable to deal with hard copy applications and DVDs (remember DVDs?).

We then had to transition to those applications and auditions being online. So yes, it is crazy, and overwhelming at times but I have tried to help families by joining with other programs to streamline and simplify the process by participating in the Musical Theatre Common App Pre-Screen. As we continue to refine that, I hope it will help all of us save time and expense, and make it a more inclusive and equitable process.

What are some "must-haves" for the auditioners "book?"

Uhhhm. Yeah, I don’t subscribe to “must-have” and “do not.” Just be sure you really love your material, and I would advise having a pop/rock song in your book (not from a musical), and two contrasting songs that show off what you do best. I suggest one being a ballad and one more up-tempo as that helps give us the information we need.

How has the landscape for auditions changed in the last 8-10 years?

Well before Covid, the pre-screen process was starting to be virtual. Since then, the main change is that most of us will never go back to “only” in-person auditions and will continue to also have virtual callbacks. This is for two reasons, but the main one is to make it easier, more inclusive, and more equitable for students and families, as it saves thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Having said that, I always recommend once accepted to any program that the student visits the campus before committing.

We learned a lot from Covid, related to virtual auditioning:

  1. We can do it successfully

  2. There are other ways to get students information on our campus and programs without them having to come to campus.

Is it as fun as in person? No of course not, but it is absolutely possible.

Do you think those changes are here to stay?

I think those changes are here to stay, and frankly, schools that don’t still make it possible for students to do their callbacks virtually if they prefer are somewhat elitist. We saw a big uptick in numbers this past year, which makes no sense if you think about it because live theater was shut down and we were in a pandemic, yet, we saw a 20% increase. I believe it was because it was so much more affordable and accessible, and that is more important than seeing every student in person.

These changes make auditioning for multiple programs easier, more affordable, and less disruptive to the senior year for students.

What is the biggest advice you'd give to students considering auditioning for MT programs? I think to spend a little time journaling on what makes you happy, what do you want the quality of your life, and your college experience and training to be like? What are the things that are most important to you? It will help you stop worrying about what the schools are looking for, and put the focus where it should be, on how we can serve you. Other than that, just have joy in the process of auditioning for colleges. Treat it as an adventure, not a stressful thing that is scary. Breathe, breathe, and breathe some more. Just be present in the moment so you don’t just focus on the outcome but the journey. That’s just good life advice as well as for college auditions.

We've seen several students at Stageworks trying to select between pursuing vocal performance or musical theatre. These are traditionally students who have a fairly classical-sounding voice. What advice would you give them?

Having a classical-sounding voice shouldn’t stop you from pursuing musical theatre. That is just because you learned that style first, but, just like you learned to shape sound to be more legit sounding, you can just as easily learn to shape sound to sing any other style you want! So the answer is, if you want the career and lifestyle that goes along with vocal performance, great. If you don’t know what that would look like, you’d better do your homework and find out because otherwise you waste four years only learning how to sing in one style, for a career/life that doesn’t interest you. Same for musical theatre.

What song will force you to bang your head against a wall if you hear it again in an audition?

There isn’t one, if a student performs a song well, and I have heard it a hundred times that season, it DOESN’T MATTER. There is NO SUCH THING as an “overdone” song. I don’t know who made that up, but it isn’t a thing. That is something students worry about and think is real, instead of focusing on what is really important, which is that you love to sing it, who are you singing to, and why you’re singing it.

What are some good strategies to take care of your voice and body during the process and callbacks?

Hydrate (with water, or herbal tea), limit soda and caffeine, use a steamer if you are dry, use Fontus Dry Mouth Lozenges, they were designed for singers and anyone who suffers from dry mouth. If you are traveling to a dry climate (let's say Chicago in the winter), hotel rooms are very dry, consider traveling with a travel size humidifier, or put some water in the bathtub, it will help put moisture in the room. Wipe your room down with disinfectant wipes. Drink at least 8 oz of water for every hour you are on a plane, and most importantly, drink some water when you first wake up every morning, your body has been dehydrated for upwards of 8-10 hours. If you are a coffee drinker, have water first. For every 8 oz of a caffeinated beverage you consume, your body needs 16 oz of water to compensate for the dehydration the coffee/tea causes.

What didn't I ask that I should have?

The price to go to school at TXST, the university awards a lot for academic scholarships, and the program is able to award all out of state students in-state tuition, and we have additional scholarships, and we are one of the best deals in the country at under $13,000 a year tuition depending on the number of hours, total $26,000 for everything.

Kaitlin Hopkins Bio

Kaitlin Hopkins is an award-winning actress, director, producer, and educator and has worked in theater, film, and television for over 30 years. In 2009 she created the BFA Musical Theatre program at Texas State University, ranked in the top 10 musical theatre programs in the nation.

As an entrepreneur, Hopkins is the proud creator and CEO of Fontus Green Apple Dry Mouth Lozenges. Fontus is the official lozenge of Hamilton the musical, and many other Broadway shows and national touring companies. She is also the Co-Founder of Living Mental Wellness, which is a holistic evidence-based company that offers educational programs to enhance mental wellness for performing artists.

As an educator, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching from Texas State University and was recognized by Broadway Dreams Foundation as an innovative voice in education, and one of the 6 top women educators in the performing arts. She currently serves as an External Examiner for The Sharjah Performing Arts Academy in Dubai, on the Artistic Advisory Board for North Texas Performing Arts and founded EETA (Educators for Equity in Theatre Arts).

As an actress her Broadway credits include: Noises Off, Anything Goes with Patti LuPone and originating the role of “Mama Who” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Hopkins has a half dozen cast album credits to her name and has originated multiple roles off-Broadway including: Bat Boy-the Musical for which she received a Drama Desk and Ovation award nominations, Bare: A Pop Opera, and The Great American Trailer Park Musical. National tours include originating the roles in Disney’s On The Record, and Dirty Dancing. Hopkins has appeared in over 50 television shows including Star Trek- Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, Law and Order CI. She has appeared in 11 feature films including The Nanny Diaries and Confessions of a Shopaholic.

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