An Interview with Broadway Performance Coach Kimberly Vaughn

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at


by: Lorene Phillips, Contributing Editor

Kimberly Vaughn
Kimberly Vaughn

It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with Kimberly Vaughn, Broadway performance coach, director, dramaturge, writer, Tony Award-nominated producer, and performer.  She is the founder of Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio and formerly an adjunct professor at PACE and NYFA. On the faculty of Circle in the Square, Vaughn has taught for The Network NYC and Actors Connection.  You can also read her column in Backstage.

Now that we’ve introduced our members to so many new songs and writers through The Directory, we thought it would be the perfect time for Kimberly to give us specific tips on how to prepare a new song.

How does one best prepare a new song for their book?

I love the question because your preparation will make the difference between you feeling at one with your material or simply going in to “sell the song.”  So let me speak to the difference and how the work at Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio helps to guide the students to achieve and to differentiate.  When we are studying the text of the song, we are giving ourselves permission to enter the lyricist’s story.  So until we actually do that, I suggest that we are more or less bumping up against the story; perhaps entering it a bit here or there.  And then you’ll notice there is a lot of generality between the specific moments.  One of the tools I recommend to musical performers is to translate your lyric. What does that mean?  “Como esta amigo?” means “How are you, my friend?”  I learned that in high school, but I don’t speak Spanish.  So I need to be certain that I understand the true meaning of the language and interpret it in my own vernacular.

An example, “If I loved you, time and again I would try to say all want you to know …”  Well  — I don’t talk that way —  but that is English isn’t it?  So, I would immediately ask the student, “How would you say that in your own words?”  And the moment they invest in figuring out their relationship to someone else’s story — their entire performance changes.  Their breath changes, their rhythms of speech change – even within the context of the composition – how they breathe, how they phrase… it all changes.  Their physical life actually becomes something organic and natural as opposed something that is a consideration in the back of their mind,  i.e.  “Should I have moved by now, is it ok if I lift my hand here, should I look to the left or the right?”  We could spend the entire interview delving further into this piece of the puzzle.   I would suggest in closing that one of the most important things we can do is to translate the lyric and make it our own.

What does it take to be truly heard in an audition today?

I want to briefly remind each and every one of us about the most intrinsically significant aspect of our audition process – and that is to show up as yourself. The bottom line is, “Who are you inside your audition process?” And when you figure that out – which is what we do at Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio – everything else will fall into place.  It’s about expressing who you are inside of someone else’s story.  It is never about impressing.  There is a whole section in my book having to do with outwardly motivated “to impress” work and inwardly motivated “to express” work.  The “to impress” work has the casting directors leaning away and the “to express” work has the casting directors leaning in.  We want them to enter our stories don’t we? How can they do that when we are pushing ourselves at them, working so hard to impress them?  I empathize also being an actor/singer; I understand how much we wish to be liked and cared about in this business.  The bottom line is to like yourselves and to trust that who you are and what you bring to your audition process is unique, authentic and one of a kind.  And I truly believe, as sure I am breathing right now, that this is the truth.  Over and above the brilliant sound coming out of your body, over and above the five Broadway shows on your resume, if you allow either of those things to lead your audition process and lead your story in your audition process, then who you are has just been relegated to the back seat of the car.  And I don’t think we drive very well from the back seat of the car do we?  So I suggest that you get into the front seat and into the driver’s seat and drive yourself through your stories – bringing your unique, profoundly authentic, natural, organic selves to your storytelling. And that will be so memorable that one of two things is going to happen, I suggest. Your resume is going into the callback pile for the role for which you auditioned or it’s going to be filed for their next project because “we love him/her but they’re just not right for what we are casting right now.”

Tell us more about Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio and your newest project.

Kimberly Vaughn performance studio is dedicated to the actor and singer.  I offer musical theatre performance audition technique classes which are geared to get you the call back and get you the job.  My clients are working on Broadway, in national tours and regional theatre.   Getting to the final callbacks is what Kimberly Vaughn Performance Studio is about — to move your career forward one class at a time, one audition at a time.  We also offer strategic industry classes with major casting directors who are dedicated to meeting, interfacing with and working with singing-actors toward increasing their value in the marketplace.  I am also so excited to be writing about all the work that inspires and transforms at the studio.  I do enjoy being a conduit to the process and hope to better serve my clients through writing a book about my teaching techniques and tools.  This book will be published in 2013, so please do stay tuned and check my website.

To find out the answers to other questions, like How do you know if a song is a good audition piece?  Are there any songs I should definitely NOT have in my book?  What skills do young performers need in preparing for the audition room? and How do I self-assess after an audition or performance?,  watch the complete video of Kimberly’s interview by logging into and clicking on the media tab.


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