Laura: David and I were recently invited to a wonderful event run by our friends at B-Side Productions (if you haven’t heard of these fabulous people — definitely check them out. They’re creating an awesome community of artists). The day was billed as an extension of their New American Musical Award, a chance for performers to sing in front of over 100 new work artists, including composers, lyricists, book writers, directors, music directors, dramaturges, & artistic directors. Performers were given 4 minutes of performance time and told they could perform “songs, monologues… whatever you do best!” They were also given a directory of the writers and artists in attendance, including what music/books they liked, their influences, what they are up to in the future, and how to contact them personally.
In the audition world, 4 minutes is a good amount of time. And because it was a general situation (i.e. not auditioning for a particular show), it was fascinating to see how each performer decided to present themselves. Some chatted with us first. Some chose a monologue and song that together seemed to tell a story. Some chose two contrasting songs. What they chose sometimes told me as much about them as their performance.
I had a wonderful audition teacher in college named Fred Silver. He wrote a book called Auditioning for The Musical Theatre which, though almost 30 years old, is till a great resource. On the first day of class he had every one of us walk into the hall and then back into the room to “audition.” As the first person walked over to the pianist to begin telling telling him about her song, Fred yelled, “Stop!” He then asked the class what they thought she was going to sing? Is she an ingenue? A belter? What age would you cast her? How is she dressed? Then he told the class, “What we just did is what any director or casting person will do. Your job as a performer is to finish the picture they just created — not confuse it.” Fred told us that as artists we needed to think of ourselves as products, and then think about how best to market that product.
Figuring out what your product is can be tricky. Often it takes the objective eye of a coach or a a friend. There is a difference between what material you are ABLE to do and what you SHOULD do. First auditions are not where you should stretch. Do what you do well and make sure it’s from something you could be cast in.
And here’s something else performers need to know: The people sitting behind the table want to get to know you as much as they want to get to know your talent. As a director, I need to know if I want to be in a room rehearsing with you for four weeks. So part of your time in an audition room has to be presenting your best you. Be present in the room. Trust what you have to offer. And know that just because you don’t get a callback or book the job, you will be remembered.
David: One of the best ways to present yourself well is to do your research. Because of our frequent blogs about audition technique, we get a lot of questions about what repertoire to sing for a particular audition. “Can I sing something from HAIRSPRAY for a THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE audition?” I suppose you can, but that doesn’t show you’re a smart singing actor.
We live in an age where we have so much research and repertoire at our fingertips. Within minutes, I can look up a composer or show, get a sense of the show’s musical style, then go to the library (the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library is the most brilliant resource for any performer living in New York City) musicnotes.com or (dare I suggest?) contemporarymusicaltheatre.com to get an appropriate song.
And it’s not just the musical style you want to try to match. When I’m behind the table, I want to know the performer has a sense of who they are in the world of the show. And as Laura said, complete the picture you’ve initially presented. And then, if you have a trick up your sleeve, show it. But I’ve seen so many performers audition for my show clearly not knowing anything about the musical or dramatic world. That’s disappointing. Am I to hope they’ll make a more concerted effort when hired? That’s a risk I’m usually not willing to take.
It’s not surprising to say contemporary musical theatre is currently made up of such a wide array of musical styles. And each style of musical – whether it be a 60’s jukebox musical or contemporary rock musical theatre piece – has its own stylistic markers. The challenge, for the performer, is not only knowing what style of music to bring into an audition, but how to sing in that style. Sheri Sanders has brought such light to the musical theatre community when it comes to pop/rock musical theatre auditions. Her new website rocktheperformance.com is a must for anyone who’s serious about singing in a pop/rock style (not a musical theatre singer version of those styles). What about other styles of music? Check out Popular Singing: A Practical Guide to Pop, Jazz, Blues, Blues, Rock, Country and Gospel by Donna Soto-Morettini. It’s an amazing resource with listening examples and a wonderful chart of articulations, outlining the different markers for each genre.
This kind of intelligence and forethought goes a long way in an audition room. Want to present yourself in the best way? Do your research, know where you fit in the world of the musical and understand the stylistic markers of the genre in which you’re singing. That’s when people behind the table will really start paying attention.
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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 160 contemporary musical theatre writers and 500+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.