Why write another blog on auditioning? It’s certainly a much-covered topic already! And yet…it is a type of performance that strikes equal parts of exhilaration and trepidation in us. So, it is worth considering what we do that is working well and what we are doing that might be working against us.
In order to minimise trepidation, maximise exhilaration, and celebrate our strengths, let’s emphasise the idea of preparation as the essential ingredient. To do this, I have synthesised the thoughts of several people (including authors, practitioners and friends) alongside my own experiences as a singer, MD and accompanist.
As you read, I hope you find one new idea to try at your next audition. As always, if you have ideas you think would be great to add to this blog, please email me ([email protected]) and we will add you to the source list!
Key #1: Curiosity
Why Do I Want To Do This Audition?
There are several reasons that people in amateur musical theatre decide to audition for a show. These include:
- You love the show and have always wanted to perform in it.
- You support your local theatre company and the community they have created.
- Your friends are auditioning for the show.
- Your favourite director/MD/choreographer is on the production team.
- The show will be performed in your favourite venue.
- You hope to audition for a tertiary performing arts school and community theatre is important experience.
- You’ve just moved to a new area and want to start meeting local community members.
I’m sure you resonated with one or more of these. I hope you did! Because any one of these motivations alone is not enough to sustain you through several months of commitment when you’re tired and do extra practice at home and investing your own money in a costume piece.
In fact, you can test your motivation by asking yourself if you’d still do the show if one of those motivators changed. Because it is common for something to shift along the way. Maybe your friends didn’t get in and you did. Or they pull out. Or the Director changes. Or the performance schedule is lengthened.
On the other hand, it’s totally fine to declare which role/s you’re auditioning for and then nicely say “no” if you’re offered a role you didn’t audition for. The team will have factored that in since you declared your intentions up front.
Research the Company
“[Auditioning is an art form.] I think you have to do your research. You have to understand for whom you’re auditioning, what [they] are looking for, how you’re going to dress for the audition, and how you’re going to approach it.”Sergio Trujillo (Broadway Choreographer)
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in amateur/community musical theatre, you will not be paid in money. You might get some complimentary tickets to give to your friends, but you will not receive direct remuneration for your time and skill. You get paid in applause and endorphins and camaraderie.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this means you aren’t in any kind of contractual arrangement with the theatre company. You are – although it is not always explicit. But it is real. When you accept the offer of a place in the cast/orchestra/stage crew, you implicitly accept the company’s philosophy, values and work ethic.
This means that you should research the history and reputation of the company before you audition so you know what you’re committing yourself to. You may decide to go ahead even if there is something that doesn’t resonate with you, BUT you will be going ahead with your eyes open.
I also recommend learning what you can about the director, choreographer and musical director. You are going to be spending a lot of hours with these people. And this is your hobby, your leisure time…so it is better if it is a rewarding experience.
Research the Schedule
Don’t audition for a show that can’t give you a rehearsal and performance schedule to review ahead of your appointment. Do ensure you can adjust your life’s routines around this schedule and be up front with the panel about any dates that you will have difficulty with.
Research the Commitment
Is there anything else you need to know about what will be required of you? At the time of booking your audition, the company should send you an audition pack. Read it carefully. If there is anything else you’d like to know, ask in advance.
Common things that might arise:
- Membership fee for insurance purposes (depending on the governance model of the company)
- Supplying your own make-up and hair products
- Supplying all or part of your costume
- Suppling your own shoes
- Expectation that you be available to help build/decorate the set
- Expectation that you be available to assist with bump-in to the theatre.
Research the Show and Characters
This sounds like a no-brainer…but I include it because I have seen people audition without a full knowledge of the plot, music and character profiles. Do your homework and ensure that the writing of the script and music is a good fit for you.
Remember to consider any accent requirements – if the character must use an Irish accent and you really can’t produce that in both speech AND song, then rethink your options!
“I give the show a look and a read and see if I’m interested. If I am, I look for a role or character I am interested in playing or could bring something to.”John Whinfield (Canberra-based actor/singer)
Make a Shortlist of Characters/Ensemble Parts
After you’ve done all of this research, it’s time to start dreaming. Which characters, plotlines and songs “speak” to you?
I realise that this could feel conceited to consider. However, if you have a misconstrued idea of what you can achieve, you are likely to audition for the wrong roles or shows and increase your disappointment when you are not cast.
Take time to reflect on which elements of this particular musical align with your vocal identity.
“Unsuccessful performances are not always due to poor preparation. The performer may have chosen a song or a character that is outside what we call their Falling-Off-A-Log area. Your FOAL area is something that you do so instinctively that you may not even realise you are good at it, or discount your ability completely, because you don’t have to ‘try’.”Gillyanne Kayes & Jeremy Fisher
Make a Shortlist of Song Ideas
“Always choose a song you can sing on a bad day.”Derek Walker (Australian Director & Performer)
That advice from my esteemed colleague comes to mind. All manner of things could constitute a bad day – like illness, bad news, hearing the person before you sing your audition song! Your choice needs to survive the impact that a “bad day” has on your mind, body and voice.
Read the audition pack carefully to note what songs they are asking for. You are likely to be asked for one or more of these categories:
- A song of your own choice (that displays your vocal range and acting ability)
- A song from the style of the show (but not the actual show)
- A song from the show (own choice)
- A specific song or excerpt from the show according to the character you’re auditioning for.
The first place to start is to check your own repertoire folder. What is already ripe or close to ripe that you could refresh for this audition?
If that inventory doesn’t help you out, you may need to learn a new song. Time to get your planning tools out! This is where the support of a vocal coach can be advantageous.
Key #2: Planning
As you prepare for your audition, you will want to be in the best health possible, both physically, mentally and vocally. This will be different for everyone, but some basic ideas to consider are:
- How you manage a head cold or allergies.
- Whether your ongoing health concerns are being well managed, eg asthma, reflux, medications.
- Your hydration and dietary plans – ensure you’re on track from 48-72 hours before.
- Plan your sleep the week before the audition.
Vocal fitness is the capacity for stamina, flexibility and performance delivery that comes from steadily building up your technical and artistic practice times over a period of weeks. There is good evidence for the factors that support good vocal training. Plan ahead to prioritise the work that will lead to muscle memory.
Planning ahead to build your fitness will also build your confidence. And confidence in your plan will help you to trust your preparation when you’re standing in the audition room.
Your plan should include:
- A reliable routine for warm up so your voice is ready for the song without pre-singing.
- Frequent practice over time so your song is in muscle memory
- Road testing the song in front of people you trust so the audition isn’t the first public reveal.
- Videoing yourself so you know which elements are not landing as intended.
- Song choice
- A good song should:
- Last around two minutes
- Immediately grab the panel’s attention
- Show as much of your range of vocal quality and skillset as possible
- Be in your vocal range
- Provide an acting narrative
- Be appropriate for you, the actor
- Be appropriate for the character and time period you’re auditioning for
- Allow you to be imaginative and inventive
- Be a song you enjoy performing
- Be a song that makes you feel confident.
- You shouldn’t use a song that:
- Is your karaoke favourite
- Is from the show you’re auditioning for, unless asked to do so.
- Has places where the panel can easily say “stop”
- Makes you aware of technical difficulties
- Is boring or earnestly self-indulgent
- You can’t handle emotionally
- Is too difficult for the pianist
- Is overdone
- You are bored with
- You can’t do on a bad day
- Can not be cut short without ruining the narrative.
- A good song should:
- Key choice
- It is going to be important to know your vocal range for this activity. You’ll also have to write this information into your audition form. Your range should be expressed in terms of your working range, that is the notes you can readily access. It should use the convention of a pitch name and octave number. For example, my working range is D3-A6.
- Download a tipsheet on choosing the key of a song here to understand more about comparing the song’s range and tessitura with your own.
- Learning it
- Prepare a cut of the song that is 90-120 seconds long. A good song cut will avoid the disappointment of having the panel cut you off.
- Follow the deconstruction method to make all your decisions once and then rehearse them into memory.
- Preparing the sheet music
“To begin with, you can put your accompanist at ease by …taping the song pages in such a way that they can spread it easily. Do not expect the accompanist to be able to transpose your song. If you want a particular note to be played,it should read that way on the page. Any tempo changes or other musical variations should be marked clearly on the score and pointed out if possible. It is your responsibility to discuss with your accompanist when she is to begin playing and the exact manner in which you will let her know.”Bruce Miller
- Please have real sheet music, not a chord chart.
- Make sure the sheet music is in the right key.
- Don’t take the music in stapled or as loose sheets.
- Many pianists do not like the music in plastic sleeves.
- Taped sheets is a great way to avoid awkward page turns.
- Telling the story of the song
- After you’ve learned the melody, it is time to do the work of song and character analysis. You will discover choices that lead to expressive singing and naturally recruit your technical tools.
- Here is a tipsheet full of ideas for digging into the story of your song.
You will probably be asked to present one of the following:
- A monologue of your own choice
- An excerpt appropriate to your character (supplied before hand)
- An excerpt appropriate to your character (as a cold read, unseen before the audition).
I recommend that you book some training with an acting coach to assist your development in this area.
Before you go to the audition, choose what will constitute a successful audition.
- Success won’t be what the panel says…it won’t even be getting cast!
- Success will be doing your best effort under today’s circumstances.
- Success will be aiming to enhance just one element of your performance, eg breathing more evenly, or staying in character for more of the song, or even enjoying yourself
- Success will be showing up and staying true to your plan.
- Your self-talk and expectations…make sure you are not invested unhealthily in the outcome of this audition.
24 Hours of Audition
The Day Before
- Don’t stay out late or drink any alcohol.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid foods that cause reflux.
- Drink at least 2 litres of water across the whole day.
- Avoid yelling, long episodes of talking with poor technique…basically avoid any activity that will lead you to huskiness and vocal fatigue.
- If you have to travel interstate, aim to arrive the day before.
- Visit the venue before the day of your audition so you know how long it takes to get there, in or out of peak hour, where to park, walking distances etc
- Avoid making any appointments or social plans within several hours before or after your audition
- Plan your appearance.
- Rehearse in the outfit and shoes you plan to wear to make sure they don’t distract you from your performance plan.
- What do you need to take with you? Make sure you have your gig bag stocked and ready.
- Double check the email details…time, date and venue.
- Print out and complete any paperwork you were given to bring along.
- Local director and performer Jude Colquhoun recommends “…fill out the paperwork with all options and don’t hesitate to change your form after the audition if you want to be considered for chorus or have other changes.”
- Check what you are asked to wear and if specific dance shoes are required. There is often time to change clothes/shoes between the singing/acting and dancing auditions. Pack what you need in your gig bag.
The Morning of the Audition
- Prepare questions you may want to respectfully ask the panel.
- Check you’ve got your bag packed.
- Wake up at least 2-3 hours before you need to sing.
- Eat a good breakfast with protein.
- Shower in a hot steamy bathroom.
- Warm up thoroughly.
We are going to delve into the management of adrenaline and performance nerves in the next blog. For now, let’s just reflect on the thought that you are auditioning the production team as much as they are auditioning you. The “right fit” goes both ways!
In the Waiting Room
Ideas that have come from my students include:
- Keep a handle on your self-talk.
- Use your strategies to manage your nerves.
- Run songs and lines through your head.
- Remind yourself that just about everyone else auditioning is as nervous as you are.
- Remember that it’s common for auditions to be running behind time – so be prepared for this.
- Also you could be asked to go in early if you arrive to find the person before you didn’t show up. You have the right to say no if you don’t feel ready.
In the Audition Room
In an interview, Casey Nicholaw (Broadway choreographer) was asked if there is anything in particular he looks for in an auditionee.
“I just want people that are present, who aren’t putting it on or mugging. I want someone that has warmth to them.”Casy Nicholaw (Choreographer of Spamalot and Book of Mormon)
When you enter the room, you will either first be introduced to the panel or to the accompanist. Do not offer to shake hands with anyone, just smile warmly as you look them in the eye.
- Talking to the panel
- You can expect there to be anywhere between 3-10 people in the room, depending on lots of factors.
- Don’t offer explanations of illness or whatever reason you think will make you sound sub-par.
- Remember that the panel wants you to do well and are looking for a reason to cast you or give you a callback.
- Remember to thank the panel for the opportunity to audition for them.
- Talking to the accompanist
“Because we can help you sound your best OR really make it not a fun time…we follow you for tempo. If you drag, the song will get progressively slower. Keep going, we’ll find you if lines are skipped.”Hannah Richardson, Canberra-based accompanist
- It should take only a moment or two to set the tempo and point out any cuts, repeats or other changes.
- Indicate the opening tempo to them by singing the opening phrase or two…if it changes tempo, also sing a fragment of that new tempo.
- Thank the pianist and collect your music from them on your way out.
- Individual Vs Group Call
- An individual audition means you have a private audition with the panel.
- A group call means that other auditionees will be present and you will take turns in presenting your songs/readings.
- Don’t be surprised…make sure you know which one to expect!
It is good form for the audition panel to give you the chance to present all of the elements they asked for. However, occasionally due to time constraints, this may not happen. Try not to take it personally or construe extra meaning from this.
As you are singing, don’t make constant eye contact with the panel. Consider them to be the first row of an audience. Use the space above their heads to visualise the world of your story.
Outside the Audition Room
Plan ahead whether you will linger to talk to friends or leave promptly to avoid over-analysing with others, second guessing yourself, or overhearing the people auditioning after you. I recommend leaving the building and having an activity to do or a place to go.
Key #3: Balance
In the days (or hours!) following your audition, reflect on your audition in a constructive way. This could be as a journaling exercise or with a trusted friend, mentor or teacher.
Note the things that worked well alongside what you want to remember to try differently next time.
Waiting for a Call
“I want to see you at your best. I don’t want to see you doing what you think I want you to to do. Be yourself, because you are only right or wrong for this particular show this time. Just present yourself at your best. That’s all you can do.”Christopher Gattelli (Broadway Choreographer, Director & Performer)
It’s hard to remember, but important to learn. Not everyone who auditions for a show can get into the show. The production team have something in mind as they put the cast together. One time you might be the right fit, the next time you might not be. For better or worse, that’s theatre.
Learning to value yourself as a performer independent of casting outcomes is vital to your survival.
I recommend that you set yourself a new project to start exploring even before you’ve done the audition, and certainly before you’ve heard the outcome. Some examples include:
- Learning a new monologue to add to your audition folder.
- Doing a stocktake of your audition folder…does anything need replacing or repairing?
- Doing a stocktake of your repertoire…does it represent a wide range of eras, genres, composers and character types?
Where possible, avoid gossip or checking in with other members of your theatre community. People will talk about their audition, their speculations, and ALLLLL the rumours. Keep your head out of it. It won’t help you wait. Try planning social occasions with friends to keep you distracted and engaged.
Well, if you get into the show, it’s time to organise your life to accommodate the rehearsal and performance schedule. Some of the tips about sleep and food in the production week blogs (What is Production Week; Preparing for Production Week) might be useful here.
If you didn’t get into the show, get stuck into that new project. Learn from this experience and take that learning into the next audition situation. Look for other music-making or performing opportunities that might be around you.
By and large, it is very difficult for the panel to supply feedback. They will see a lot of people and may or may not have detailed notes. So if you do ask for feedback, be prepared that it may not come.
Never underestimate the grand achievement that booking and attending an audition is. Celebrate it, make it important, don’t go home with regrets. Your voice and your manner of story telling is right for somewhere. I wish you much joy as you progressively work out where.
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Conversation with Derek Walker during production of “Legally Blonde” (2014).
Correspondence with Jude Colquhoun, Hannah Richardson and John Whinfield.
Cramer, L. (2013). Creating Musical Theatre: Conversatoins with Broadway directors and choreographers. Bloomsbury, London
Hammond, M. (2009). Thank you – tha’ts all we need for today…: A practical guide to musical theatre auditions. Edition Peters, London
Kayes, G. & Fisher, J. (2002) “Successful Singing Auditions.” Routledge, New York
Laster, J. H. (2001) So You’re the New Musical Director!” Scarecrow Press, Maryland