Finding a place in the arts

Northwest School of the Arts was abuzz Friday as its rising ninth-graders nervously waited to audition at the high school level - tryouts that will secure their places in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools magnet program.

Northwest serves grades six to 12 and offers concentrated studies in 10 areas - band, orchestra, piano, chorus, dance, musical theater, theater and visual arts, as well as costume design and technical theater, which only are offered in high school. Visual arts students do not audition but submit a portfolio for review.

 "This is what I want to do, and I get emotional thinking about not being here," said Sophie Teague, who is studying musical theater. "You can't be successful here if you don't get your game together. You have to be totally focused."

All students must first pass an audition before entering the CMS magnet school lottery - the earlier, the better, said Susan Donkle, the school's auditions coordinator. She said the tryouts ensure that students enter the program at a certain level of competence.

"It's not about exploring something new; it's about getting better at what they already know," Donkle said of the audition requirement. "A certain type of kid goes to Northwest, and it's super exciting when they find their place here."

The next auditions will be held Nov. 21 and Jan. 20. All auditions are by appointment only. Parents need to complete an application to audition in order for their child to be scheduled. Auditions are scheduled in the order applications are received.

Passing an audition early enough to enter the first of the two lottery periods is recommended, as certain grades sometimes have waiting lists. The application period for the first 2016-2017 lottery runs from Dec. 4 to Jan. 25 at 10 p.m. Each area of study also has specific requirements for auditions/portfolios. Parents should make sure their children know what is expected so they can prepare for a successful audition.

Band teacher Mark Johnson said he works with students who just need to calm their nerves in auditions, but it is evident when a student Audition3.inside pic.10.23.15.jpgdoesn't know the material. He said the school is so creative and accepting that there rarely is any student discord. While some students want to have careers in the arts, others want to attend because of the unique environment.

"Everybody's here for a reason," Johnson said, "and it becomes an important part of their lives."

Northwest has received arts recognition at the national level, and its graduation rate is 97.37 percent. Art director Donald Nagel said Northwest is a special place where students can pursue the arts as well as an academic experience. He said the $9.5 million overhaul of the school's auditorium, which is set to begin next summer, will transform the space into a state-of-the-art venue that will take the program to a whole new level.

"There's a lot of magic here," Nagel said, "and the magic is only going to grow."

Families that want to learn more about Northwest can attend the open house on Dec. 2. For step-by-step application instructions, along with audition information, click here. For information about the lottery, contact the Magnet Programs office at 980-343-5030 or