by Shelley Lynn Johnson
Acting Coach for Singers
Love performing — hate auditions? Get used to it! Auditions are the job interview and networking opportunity for our profession. Why not take the initiative to make it a positive experience? You are doing this because you love the work and you want to work with these people — right? This is your time: Use it to showcase what you do best. Give time & serious thought to this process. Your choice of material, your preparation, and how you handle the audition are your tools for convincing directors that you are an artist they want to work with.
What's an Audition?
Auditions are job interviews and networking opportunities. Directors and conductors remember good singer/actors and refer people all the time. If you are not right for this project, you could be called for the next one. Plan your audition wisely. Be realistic about your abilities and audition for roles that are right for you. Your choice of material, your preparation, and how you handle the audition are how you convince directors that you are what they want.
Be REALISTIC about what roles you are appropriate for. Decide in advance if you will accept a smaller role or a chorus role if you are not offered the lead or the specific role you want. Keep an open mind — a smaller character role can be a showcase. It's a great way to show a director or conductor what you can do and, just as important, how easy it is to work with you! The experience of working with a good conductor or director can be well worth accepting a smaller role.
AUDITION PREPARATION & STRATEGY
Auditioning is a different craft from performing a role onstage. You have mere seconds to do the following:
- Convince the auditors of your general ability to perform (diction, projection, dialect, stage presence, appeal)
- Clearly communicate:
- A recognizable character
- Your strengths. Tailor your audition selections to reflect what you do best.
- Your vocal ability in its most important light (don't do an aria for a belting part)
- Your musicality and ability to interpret a song
- Your ability to take direction & make character adjustments (at callbacks or in dialogue readings)
- Your ability to explore the same scene in different ways
- Your professionalism and likeability. Who wouldn't prefer to work with someone you get along with?
Keep your piece SHORT. This is very important. Do one verse or edit each piece so you can perform the part that shows what you do best. Directors will ask for "your best 16 bars" and cut you off. The more professional the company — the more likely they are to do this. If you are auditioning for a specific role — directors and conductors hear what they need to know about your voice & stage presence and can make a callback decision from a few bars. In general auditions, they are more likely to consider possibilities and might ask to hear a second, contrasting piece.
CHOOSING AUDITION MATERIAL
Each company does things differently. Some directors DO want you to sing from the score at a preliminary audition. Usually this is announced. If you are not sure — ASK when you make the appointment. If a company is doing a general audition for their season, they will announce the shows. Research the musical style and available roles so you can give the most specific audition possible. The library is your friend.
See shows! Read bios of performers who do roles you would like to do — shows they were in could yield good audition material.
Choose pieces that suit your voice and are not overused. It is your work and a vital part of the craft of auditioning to look for good audition material and spend the time to prepare it. Choose something in a similar musical style to the score for your preliminary audition. It is not a good idea to sing music from the show they are casting unless they request it. If you are auditioning for My Fair Lady — why be the 15th Eliza candidate who sings "I Could Have Danced All Night" that afternoon? Start by looking at other shows by the same composer, or music from shows written about the same time. It does not help a conductor visualize you as Hodel in Fiddler if you belt out "All That Jazz".
Remember, the audition accompanist is sight-reading. Choose something that is not demanding to play. Pieces by Stephen Sondheim for example, can be extremely difficult to sight-read. How does it help you show off what you do best if you have chosen a piece with accompaniment that is challenging to sight-read? Pay attention to the accompaniment when choosing audition material. It is YOUR audition.
PREPARING AUDITION MATERIAL
Be familiar with the musical score as well as the characters and story in the musical you are auditioning for. Research and knowledge of musical theatre is part of your craft.
The text and music are two halves of the whole. The text is as essential as the music. Diction must be crystal clear! Look closely at both the text and the music and ask yourself these questions:
- What range/vocal style does the score require?
- Who is the character that sings this music?
- What are you singing about?
- What is the situation in the story when the character sings this song?
- Who are you talking to?
Even taken out of context, visualize a situation where you could be singing these words. This gives you a specific frame of reference and an objective: a big help with nerves.
THE AUDITION: MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO CAST YOU
What Are They Looking for Besides a Great Performer?
Your audition starts the moment you arrive. Your attitude and how you handle yourself — starting with the receptionist — is just as important as how well you sing and act. Dress in a simple, complimentary way that could suggest the roles you want to be considered for, but don't wear a costume.
Sell your song. SMILE! Sell yourself — act like you want to be there. If you look as if you are being sent to the guillotine as you walk onstage, it makes the auditors tense, too. Think of it as a "real" performance — a chance for you to sing for an audience!
Directors love to be entertained at auditions. The audition process can be excruciating for them, too. Remember, DIRECTORS WANT YOU TO BE GOOD!!! They really are on your side. They need good people to choose from so they will have the best people in their show.
AUDITION DO'S AND DON'TS
- Know your piece cold!! Throwing something together at the last moment is a big mistake.
- Common Sense: Don't do a pop song if you are auditioning for a musical requiring legit singing — Don't do an aria if you are auditioning for a character that is required to belt.
- Always bring along a contrasting piece. They often will ask to hear something else! Ideally have 6-10 songs ready to choose from.
- Be Individual — particularly in general auditions. Your objective is for them to hear what YOU do — not invite comparisons to another artist. Doing a piece that has a "definitive" version associated with a specific performer or recording puts you at a disadvantage: You must erase the impression other artists have made and make your version the standout. Why invite comparisons or create obstacles for yourself? Sing something that is not heard over and over. For example, "Summertime" is sung — often badly — by at least two sopranos at nearly every audition. The big tune from the current hit on Broadway is often overdone, as well. The published collections out there are great — but beware — you are not the only one who has them...
- Bring your calendar to auditions. Be honest about your schedule and any conflicts with rehearsals. Conflicts are taken into consideration in casting decisions
Your accompanist is your audition partner. Make it easy for the accompanist to succeed. ALWAYS be gracious. Your audition accompanist could be the show's music director. Remember, it is YOUR audition. The auditors are looking at you — how you behave and react is the only important information. Don't apologize for yourself, either: If a mistake happens, keep going and stay in character. If absolutely necessary — simply stop and graciously ask to begin again from where you stopped.
The Accompanist is sight-reading your music! Help him or her to do a good job for your audition.
- The copy of your audition piece must be legible and in YOUR key.
- Be sure that your music lies flat and the pages are easy to turn. Don't give an accompanist a book that won't stay open.
- Make a copy of your piece and give it to the accompanist in a binder. Don't use plastic sleeves — pages are hard to turn quickly, can't be marked and there can be a glare from the light.
- DO NOT ask an audition accompanist to transpose your music. It is your responsibility to bring music in your key to the audition
- Mark your music clearly, and show the accompanist the cuts or edit marks you have made.
- Tell him/her what tempo you are going to take.
- Don't bring lead sheets unless you know in advance who is playing and whether that person can read them
- NEVER blame the accompanist, even if a mistake is obviously their fault.
CALLBACK PREPARATION and STRATEGIES
At Callbacks you will sing from the score. Conductors specify the music they want to hear at callbacks. When you are called back for a role, the theatre will provide the music for callbacks, but it is to your advantage to get the music and prepare in advance, if at all possible.
Callback do's and don'ts:
- Be aware they could ask you to sing or read a different role than the one you were called back for to show emotional range in readings and songs
- How you interact with the other singers and actors you are reading with is part of your audition.
- Watching others perform "your" role at callbacks is part of the process. Never copy what someone else is doing, but don't let it psyche you out. Seeing other's interpretation can spark your imagination and creativity for your own readings. Show the auditors your ability to explore different ways of portraying the character. Many a director has changed their mind about casting an actor they were initially interested in, when the actor did not listen or take direction at callbacks!
What should I do when they contact me?
- Show enthusiasm for working with them and the company — even if you must refuse a role.
- Prepare questions you'd like to have answered if you need to make a quick decision when offered a role. For instance you may want to know:
- What are rehearsal days and times? Communicate all your rehearsal conflicts immediately. It is not OK to add conflicts after you are cast.
- Is the show being edited at all?
- Are you double-cast?
- Who else is cast? Will you have an understudy?
WHAT IF I DON'T HEAR ANYTHING?
Directors and conductors have many factors to consider in casting. This is a business, this process is extremely subjective, and most factors directors consider are out of your control. If you are not cast it rarely has to do with whether or not you have talent. Don't be discouraged. Focus on your work and keep auditioning!!!!!!!
It is generally a very bad idea to call a director and ask how you did. Directors are not obligated to share or justify their casting decisions, and do not like being put on the spot. If you know a director personally — sometimes it can be beneficial to ask. BUT BEWARE: If you ask you must be prepared to take the answer. without arguing or becoming defensive, and remember it is only one person's opinion. Work with a coach or teacher to prepare and analyze your audition technique rather than call a director and put him or her on the spot.
In auditions anything can happen. Stay flexible, be gracious and have a sense of humor. How you handle yourself is definitely a deciding factor in casting. It is YOUR audition. THis is YOUR time. Your goal is to show the auditors what you can do, and to present a professional artist and gracious colleague for their consideration.
YOUR GOAL FOR EVERY AUDITION:
Be prepared and professional
Make it easy for them to cast you!
in bocca al lupo
Copyright Shelley L. Johnson, 2005. A shorter version of this article appeared in Theatre Bay Area Magazine, August, 2005