This is the first post (sort of) in a series about how I prepare for auditions. I actually enjoy auditioning now, but for years it caused me much stress. Was I doing it “right”? Why was I so nervous? How do other people do it?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides of the table, as it were, and I’ve really relaxed into the process. While that isn’t to say I don’t ever get nervous (I absolutely do), I am confident that I am now doing my best. There is always room to grow. I want to push myself to take big risks in both my selection and interpretation of material.
So, in the interest of transparency in a particularly elusive and hidden world (shut doors! OOooooo) I’m going to share my experiences in an effort to learn and hopefully calm down anyone like me. Please chime in with advice or if you think I’m *gasp* wrong about something, or if you have had any experiences in the past that taught you something about auditioning, or if you have any sage philosophies. I truly believe we aren’t all cut throat competing against each other, even though it might feel like it. There are so many mitigating circumstances around casting that we may as well share what we know.
Today I want to talk about musical auditions. I’m curious about other people’s audition strategy. I’m always trying to improve my game, and streamline the process. There are entire thick volumes written about the subject of auditions, so for a mere blog post, I won’t go into too much detail. In the future, I will get into the nitty gritty of things, but this post is more general and about preparation.
As a little bit of background, I am an actor. However, I have been a musical director several times. I’ve also directed and I play the piano. The following is garnered from my experiences in those offices.
So, this is a bird’s eye view of how I prepare for musical auditions here in Chicago. (I chose musicals to cover first because I’m preparing for a musical audition at present. I will cover that specific audition in detail once it’s over.)
- First, I sign up/submit for the audition. Then I note exactly what the posting asks for. While I may take a risk with the material I use or my interpretation, I always follow the time limit or requested bars to a t. I like to show the director and musical director that I’m responsible, professional, and I pay attention. That’s the first thing I can do to demonstrate that. At it’s heart, an audition is a job interview. I treat it as such. No, I don’t wear a suit and bring references. But I show up on time, if not early and follow directions.
I’ll do another post about general auditions in the future, but let’s assume this audition is for a specific musical.
- The next thing I do is get familiar with the show. I download the original broadway (or off-broadway, what have you) cast recording if it’s available. I almost always go with the original recording. The reason for that is that likely the composer was involved in the process and the material is presented as originally intended. I like to know how things originate. I can put my own spin on them later. Sometimes I will rent a movie version. This isn’t my favorite way to learn about a show, however. Movies do massive amounts of editing to make stage productions film-friendly and they sometimes lose essential elements in the process. While I love the movie Chicago, you’d never know Mary Sunshine is traditionally drag by only watching the movie. (Jokes aside). If the musical in question is an original piece (and that is really exciting if it is!) I get as much info as I can. What is the style? Does the composer have anything out in the ether I can read or hear? Do I know anyone that has worked with them? Is the score available to puruse? Typically the posting will have some indicators. I prepare my best contemporary piece, and I make sure I have a couple more ready to go. Once I get to the audition, I might learn more that may inform my choice. Having a few pieces under your belt can be really freeing in those situations.
- Once I get a feel for the show, I select my audition song. (I wrote a couple posts last year about my sources for material. In an upcoming post, I will show what my “book” looks like and how I use it.) I initially pick 3-5 songs that feel right. They may be by the same composer as the show, they might take place in the same time period, or the subtext might be similar to a role I want. One piece usually sticks out to me initially and I try to remember what my first instinct was. Then I sing through each of these songs. Usually, in that process, 1 or 2 will be eliminated right away. This could be for myriad reasons including the range, the subtext, or just a feeling. Then I will try and make the appropriate cut in each of the songs. Sometimes you just can’t find a good 32 bars, or 16 or even 8. If I can’t get the song to match the length or time requirement, it goes. That usually leaves me with 2 choices. I mull these over for a couple days, sing through them, and then decide on the piece. (If the audition calls for 2 songs, the process is basically the same, just expanded. I look for one piece initially, and then use that piece to find a nice contrast.)
Sometimes a musical audition asks for a monologue, sometimes a cold read, sometimes nothing at all. I always default to my favorite comedic monologue unless they ask for something specific.
- Then I rehearse. Quite a bit. I dig into the text of the song and pack with objectives and action. It’s a monologue, at it’s heart.
- If I really care about the audition and the project, I will shell out the cash to hire an accompanist to run the piece with me a few times.
As I get closer to the day, I do a few things.
1. I up my hydration. Theatres can be dry, dry places. Good for a hairdo, but yicky for the chords. I will never stop drinking coffee in the morning, but I try to lay off the afternoon diet cokes for a couple days (key word: try) and I drink more tea, along with good ol’ H2O.
2. I start to think about what I’m going to wear.
3. I try to get a little more sleep than normal (sometimes this is possible, sometimes it isn’t).
4. I really nail down where I want the accompaniment to begin, and what I will say to the accompanist. I make sure the music is marked clearly. (Recently, a musical director friend of mine returned from New York and taught me never to begin with a bell tone and always to have an introduction, even if it’s just a bar. )
The day before the audition, I run the whole thing (all songs and monologues as requested) as much as I can in the shoes I’m planning on wearing. I keep up the hydration and try to get some sleep. (Again try is the key word.)
This brings us up to the day of the actual audition, and I will save that for another post.
In the meantime, what is your process? What are your rituals?
The books I like the best for musical theatre auditioning are Auditioning for the Musical Theatre by Fred Silver and Charles Strouse and On Singing Onstage by David Craig and A Performer Prepares by David Craig. (Audition by Michael Shurtleff is also grand but I will talk about that for non-musical auditions.) Some of the information is dated, and of course, New York centric. But preparation is preparation and these books are chock full of great advice. Musical Theatre Audition.com is also a friendly and informative site to check out. Great for initial show research.
The other thing I recommend is finding a way to observe auditions from the other side of the table. It is the best learning experience aside from actually auditioning.