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As a director, I’ve auditioned oodles of actors and singers. And as a performer, I’ve auditioned for everything from local nightclubs to professional musical theatre. Here are some tips I’ve gleaned through the years, which I hope will help you:
1. Be In Good Voice. If you haven’t sung in a while, you can’t expect to go into an audition and perform well. Singing every day (or very close to it) is essential for keeping your voice healthy and strong. It’s a great idea to look over the score (if you can find it), or listen to the cast CD, and start singing the songs from the show several weeks ahead of time. (Just realize that what ends up in the particular production that you’re doing may vary considerably from the CD...be flexible!)
If you’re so sick you have a fever, or can hardly sing, don’t put yourself (and everyone else!) through an audition. If you just have a cold or allergies, you may decide to audition anyway, especially if it’s for a show you’re dying to be in. You may tell the director ONCE that you are sick...but only once! Don’t tell everyone from the front desk to the pianist. Just tell the director before you sing...ONCE! Don't use your sickness as an excuse...it gets old really fast.
2. Know the Show. In musical theatre, there’s no excuse for not being familiar with the show you’re auditioning for. Remember that the better you know it, the better you'll audition for it. Hop online and find a synopsis, listen to the cast album (buy the CD, or find a copy of the album at a library...sometimes theatres even have copies they’ll loan to you), and read the script (again, look online for it, or ask the theatre if they have perusal copies available). If there’s an available movie of the show, watch it. Some people strictly warn against this, but as long as you bear in mind that the stage version is often quite different, and as long as you remain flexible in your understanding of the characters and the story, there’s no reason not to watch the movie once. It will give you a basic idea of what the show’s all about.
3. Prepare your audition material. If the theatre asks for a prepared monologue, and you don’t already have several in your memory banks, find one AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Do not wait until a week or two before the audition. Learn that monologue ASAP.
For your audition song, never sing something from the show you’re auditioning for, unless you’re specifically asked to. Directors get tired of hearing the same songs over and over again, and often have very specific ideas about how they want songs from the show sung; if you don’t live up to those expectations the first time around, you may never be given another chance. On the other hand, choose a song that's similar in style and range to the character you’re auditioning for. If you want the comedy role of Meg in Brigadoon, for example, sing a comedy/belt song...something like “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys & Dolls might work well. On the other hand, that song would be a very poor choice if you're auditioning for Oklahoma’s soprano ingénue role of Laurie. A better choice in that case might be “My White Knight” from Music Man, because it has a similar range and is in a similar style.
If you’re auditioning for a show written by one of the more “difficult to sing” composers (like Sondheim), you might sing a song by that composer, or by someone who writes in a similar style. Unless you are actually auditioning for that composer, in which case it’s probably best to avoid something he or she has written (for the same reasons you don’t audition with a song from the show you're auditioning for).
Always give yourself plenty of time to learn your audition material; a week or a few days just won’t cut it. Rehearse with a pianist; don’t rely on a recording of your song, since that version may be considerably different from the sheet music you have. Never audition without sheet music! Take a little time to track it down; it’s not that hard! If possible, bring your own audition pianist, but make sure he or she knows your song well and has rehearsed it with you repeatedly. If you make a mistake while singing, do not stop! An audition is like a performance; just keep plowing ahead, and do not let your face or body language reveal the fact that you’ve made a mistake. Never glare at the pianist if he isn’t playing the way you think he should; it’s difficult to play something cold, and he's doing the best he can. The musical director will be able to tell if the fault is yours or the pianist's.
Never sing a cappella. Don't choose a song that's very difficult for a pianist to play, unless you're using your own pianist and you know she or he can play it!
Know your lyrics and your music; do not hold a cheat sheet or the sheet music, and don’t look over the pianists shoulder.
If the audition notice requests a song of a particular length, don’t sing anything longer than that. Have the section of song you want to sing picked out in advance. Even if there are no restrictions on length, don’t sing a long song. Something 2 to 3 minutes is just fine; any longer, and you may get fidgety directors.
Although this may seem obvious, choose a song that suits you. Many singers do not. Record yourself singing the song long before the audition, so that you can say to yourself: “Gee, this up tempo song just doesn’t show my ability to dramatize,” or “Hmm, this ballad doesn't show off my range.” In general, weak singers tend to do better with an up tempo song—as long as they have decent rhythm. Strong singers will usually do best with a ballad, because it will show off their musical and acting ability. (But just because it’s a ballad, it doesn’t have to be all “soft.” In fact, at an audition, you want to energize the directors and get them enthused about your singing. It’s difficult to do this will a song that is sung softly the entire way through.)
5. Have properly prepared sheet music. Make sure it’s written out in the right key, and that any tempo changes, repeats, codas, etc. are all marked clearly (red ink works well for this). Never give a pianist sheet music in the form of a music book. That makes it too difficult to turn the pages. Make a photocopy of your song, and tape the edges together, accordion fashion. When you hand the pianist your music, make sure you smile and say hello. Give him a good idea of the tempo by singing a few bars quietly for him. If there are tempo changes, codas, or other important things he should know about, point them out. Under most circumstances, it's not a good idea to hand an audition pianist a “lead sheet;” give the pianist a piano score.
6. Enter with confidence. Believe it or not, the way you walk on stage can either make a great impression on the director, or a very bad one. Keep good posture (shoulders back!), your chin at a natural level, don't stare at the floor. Walk with confidence, even when you’re terrified.
7. Don't apologize. This goes along with having confidence. Never tell them you don’t know the song well, or the show well, or that you're not in good voice today, etc., etc. Because what that really tells them is that you don't care enough about your craft—or about their show—to prepare properly.
7. Dress Well. Dress for an audition the way you’d dress for a nice date. In general, avoid jeans and sweatshirts, and don’t dress in an evening gown, either. Don’t wear clothes that are so big and floppy nobody can tell whether or not you have a beer gut. Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes, or something that’s too tight; that’s the last thing you need when you’re already nervous.
Don’t come in costume, but don’t miss the chance to “dress the part” a little, either. For example, women auditioning for Oklahoma would do well to wear dresses with fuller skirts, and men auditioning for the role of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady should wear slacks and a jacket. If you’re auditioning for the role of a floozy, don’t wear overalls. (At the same time, don’t go overboard with cleavage or legs—you should still be in good taste.) If you’re auditioning for the sweet young thing, dress modestly, but attractively, and don’t wear a black leather mini skirt.
If there’s going to be a dance audition, make sure you have appropriate shoes and are wearing something you can move in. You may not be given time to change clothes. If you’re not sure whether there will be a dance audition, call ahead of time and find out.
If you’re called back, wear the same outfit you wore the first day, and wear your hair and makeup the same way, too. They liked what they saw...don’t change it! In a large audition, wearing the same outfit also makes it easier for the director to remember you. (Carol Burnett tells a wonderful story about her big break: She wore an orange dress to the audition, and—because she had no other “good dress” to wear—wore the same orange dress to the callbacks. It was a good thing, because the director couldn’t remember her name—he just asked the stage manager to bring out the “girl in the orange dress.” If she’d been wearing another outfit, she may never have landed the role that became her "big break.")
8. Be friendly. You don’t want to be overly talkative (auditions take a long time, and everyone wants to be done as soon as possible), but you shouldn’t be antisocial, either. Smile and be personable. The director wants to know he'll be spending the next few months (or weeks or months) with people that are easy to get along with. Although you want to be friendly with the other auditionees, avoid conversation in the auditioning room, and don’t get so engrossed in chit–chat that you end up having no time to center yourself and concentrate before you audition.
9. Sing out Louise. When you sing, just stand there and sing. Never do choreography or blocking to accompany your song. (An exception to this might be the pop singer who has dancing as an integral part of their act.) Don’t wander around the stage. Use hand and arm movements only if they are natural. This is no time to be shy, so sing out, as if you were giving a performance. And, just like a performance, don’t forget to feel your song. Good acting is vital to good singing.
10. Never Snap your fingers or clap your hands at the pianist. Even when you’re just “trying to help them with the tempo.” Many musicians take deep offense at this.
11. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
12. Turn off your cell phone, pager, watch alarm, etc.
13. Be flexible. Don’t complain or make apologies; just try to do your best when the director asks something of you. If you’re asked to sing a different song, or the same song with a different attitude, take just a moment to consider how you’ll do this, and then go for it.
14. Be patient. Auditions are, unfortunately, a long grueling process.
15. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t make yourself a pain in the behind, however.
16. Audition as often as you can. Even for shows you know you’ll never get cast in. You’ll get better with practice.
(c) Copyright 2002 by Kristina Seleshanko.