In The Room: Helpful Audition Tips, Part II

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

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I’m happy to be adding my “two cents” to David’s blog post on auditioning last week. Here are some further things to consider as you prepare for an audition.

That’s Your Strength

Meryl Streep received an honorary doctoral degree from Indiana University this past March. In her commencement speech she said:

“What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength. Everyone tries to look a cookie-cutter kind of way, and actually the people who look different are the ones who get picked up.”

An audition is your chance to sell your product (you!). Your job as an actor is to figure out a) What you’re selling, and b) How best to package it. This is a necessary reality – they don’t call it show business for nothing.

No one else can be you as well as you. So don’t bother trying to be someone else. Be yourself. Be unique.

Put In A Package And Sell It

In an audition, the people behind the table are making decisions about you the moment you walk in the door. There’s nothing you can do about that. But what you can do is to brand your product clearly and make them want it.

So how do you figure out what’s different about you? What are you selling? This may take some soul searching as well as a good coach (or two). But here are two questions you need to be able to answer:

a) What do I look like? Let’s face it. It’s a business partly based on looks. You must acknowledge what you look like and figure out how to dress to accentuate it. If you’re a short, perky blonde, who looks young — go with that. Don’t try to look older. [when you figure out what this look is, please make sure your headshot matches what you bring into the room!]

b) What does my voice sound like?  Are you a belter? Do you have a big range? Figure out what your vocal assets are and then go about finding material that shows them off.

Once you know the answer to those two questions, you’re ready to pick audition material.

Don’t Sing Just Any Song

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an audition is singing a song you like, versus singing a song that sells you.

And this is one way contemporarymusicaltheatre.com is poised to help performers stand out from the pack.

When David and I were sitting behind the table in auditions all day, performer after performer came in singing the same, standard musical theatre repertoire. Some sang well. Some, not so much. But the ones who were able to make the most of their 32 bars did something very simple:

They sang something new.

So instead of just a “thank you,” when they were done, they heard the people behind the table say:

“What a great song!”
“What was that from?”
“Who wrote that?”

And just like that, those performers got an extra minute in the room with us. By singing something new they were automatically unique and different.

Do Your Homework

Even if you don’t have time to read a whole script before your audition, please have some idea of the scope and style of the piece. If you are given any information beforehand — style of the songs,  comedy/drama, source material — please use that to your advantage. If you are told the show is a light comedy based on Shakespeare and asked to sing 60’s pop, please don’t bring in “Bring Him Home.”

Strong and Wrong

Every director, casting director or music director will have a different take on this, but I am a subscriber to the “strong and wrong” school of auditioning (thanks to actress, Sam Tedaldi for coining the phrase. I steal it with love). What does this mean? It means when you’re given a side to read, from a scene or a song — make a choice. Make a STRONG choice. Many, many actors were given the same side to read on the same day. That means we were listening to it over and over again. Your job is to do something different with it. Sure, your choice might not be completely right for the character, but making a strong choice shows me what makes you different from everyone else and can suggest a flavor of what you might be able to bring to the character. And that’s a way better choice than just reading it to me. The same holds true when you’re given an adjustment. I give adjustments just to see if the actor can listen. Use this to your advantage. Make your second reading very different from your first.

Don’t Make The Choice For Me

And finally, please don’t decide for me whether you gave a good audition or not. Don’t apologize. You may think you gave a bad audition but I might have liked it. Don’t make me second guess myself!

And please don’t be so nervous you don’t get to share a little of who you are with me. I was amazed how many actors ran in and out of the room. Yes, some ‘rooms’ are all about get in and get out, but I always began each audition with “Hi. How are you?” and ended with “Thank you,” so please don’t be so efficient that you forget your manners. If the people behind the table offer you any sort of chance to engage in conversation, use it! I often try to engage with actors I’m interested in as a way of getting to know them a little better.

How Do You Get Good At Auditioning?

Auditioning is an art unto itself and it needs to be rehearsed as much as, if not more than, when you have a role in a show.  Even very established artists still have to do it sometimes. The more you can identify what makes you unique and how to package yourself and sell it, the more jobs you’ll book.

Happy auditioning!

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