Musical Theatre Auditions: What You Are Doing Wrong and Right
Auditioning for musical theatre can be a daunting, stressful, enjoyable, exhilarating, adrenaline- inducing experience all rolled into one short bid to secure yourself work as a performer. Dedicated musical theatre performers are always looking for ways to improve their auditions as singers, actors, and dancers. Having been on both sides of the table as an actor and a director, I have looked at this issue from two perspectives. Having consulted with other casting directors over the years, a pattern has emerged in what we directors most-want actors to be ready for when they enter that audition room. Here are some items that focus on the singing and acting do’s and don’ts you may (or may not) have thought about, but that will hopefully lead to a more successful audition experience for you.
1. Have an understanding of the musical theatre that came before Rent
The one item that I hear directors complaining about more often than anything else, especially in regards to younger performers, is the lack of knowledge about musicals that came before Rent. It’s an easy trap to fall into. You are going to gravitate toward the contemporary musicals of your generation. You should keep in mind, however, that classic musical theatre such as pieces by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Jerry Herman, Lerner and Loewe, and Kander and Ebb is still very much done in this country. In fact, in summer stocks especially, classic musicals are what sell tickets. As a professional, you have a responsibility to yourself, and to the people for whom you hope to work, to have at least a basic knowledge of the styles, songs, and durability of these classics. I’m as big a fan of Jason Robert Brown as the next guy, but if you can’t grasp (and articulate) the importance of shows like Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Finian’s Rainbow, or Cabaret, it comes across as if you lack initiative to truly understand your craft. Do some research. See what came before 1996. I guarantee you that you will find yourself awed and delighted by some of what you find.
2. Do not sing that song from Broadway’s latest hit
Chances are, if a musical is still running on Broadway or in New York, everyone has heard the performer who originated it sing it on Good Morning, America or the Tonight Show. Unless you are confident that you can sing “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen more memorably than Ben Platt is currently knocking it out of the park, file that song away for down the road when time and distance will be kinder. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad song for you, it just means the time isn’t right for you to shine with it.
3. Pick a song that allows you to show versatility and that show’s off your acting abilities
The more-generic the song, with the less of a range (musically and dramatically), the less-opportunity to show your mettle and abilities to a casting director. Think about it: your audition song is not just an exercise for demonstrating your vocal talents, it’s a chance to further display your acting range and skills. Pick a song that gives you an opportunity to emote if that’s your skill, or a song that shows-off your comedic timing if that is your strongest suit. The best choices will offer a real opportunity show variety, and even though 16-bars is not a very long time, it is certainly long enough to make thoughtful and interesting choices that will sell you as more than just a singer. Make the most of it.
4. Have a healthy grasp of the roles that you are right for.
Auditioning is not always the kindest world and understanding your “type” from early on will shield you from a lot of heartbreak. It may not be fair, but when you walk in the door for an audition, the people behind the table already have a physical picture in their mind shaped from their perceptions of reading the script. It does not mean that you can’t and won’t change their minds occasionally, but it will serve you well (and increase your chances of securing work) to walk into an audition prepared to give an audition that will show them how you fit the “types” they are looking for. The secret to breaking this trend is knowing how to sell yourself as a range of types and knowing which one to bring to that particular audition.
5. Find out everything you can about the show for which you are auditioning.
This may seem trivial to you, but if you audition for a theatre company’s upcoming season and you see they are producing South Pacific, it might behoove you, before going to the audition, to familiarize yourself with the music from South Pacific and, if possible, read the script and research the show for any historical significances. You never know where conversation will go in an audition setting, but having done a little homework on the show for which you are hoping to secure a role will show that you went a step beyond to be ready.
6. Pick a song that show’s your comfortable range
If you are auditioning for musicals, it is a pretty good bet that you have had some vocal training and are aware of your “comfortable” vocal range. What is that high note that you can hit every time and always land it? If a high C can only be achieved fifty-percent of the time, this is not within your comfortable vocal purview. By all means, pick songs that are dynamic and that reach up into your higher range, but don’t put your eggs in a proverbial basket over vocal pyrotechnics that you aren’t securely capable of. And have a few (honest) friends listen to you first. If a few of them say that you sound uncomfortable or pitchy, BELIEVE THEM!
7. And, in the name of all things holy, show us that you can project!
Due to advances in and availability of theatre sound technology, many professional venues can mike most (or all) of the actors in a production. The reality, however, is this: there are also hundreds of professional companies across this country that do not have the budgets for that luxury. Your college theatre program, or your vocal and/or acting coach, or someone along the way should have taught you to project (fill the room with your sound). If you can do that, show it off. If you cannot, make it a point to learn how. It will make an impression and demonstrate your employability in even the most acoustically-challenged venues.
And remember: always be warm, energetic, enthusiastic, and to bring the best of who you are along for the occasion. Those of us who are making casting choices want you to succeed. We want you to help us see in three-dimensions, how you can fill a role that, up until auditions, we’ve only been able to imagine. Break a leg!