Picture this: you just walked into an audition with a casting director and creative team you don’t know. As you say, “hello,” and walk over to the piano to speak with the pianist about your first song, the people behind the table take note of how you walk, what you’re wearing, your physical type, and have decided which role(s) you might be right for. In your first 30 seconds in the room, they will have already created a picture of who they think you are before you even open your mouth. It’s your job as a performer to complete the picture they have created with audition material that is in line with what they see. If it’s not, you will only confuse them and make it harder for them to cast you.
We see it happen so often in auditions: performers bring in material that doesn’t match their age, sexual identity, ethnicity, physical, voice, or character type.
You shouldn’t be singing “I’m Still Here” from Follies at age 17. As Elaine Stritch would have said to you, “Where have you been?!” Likewise, if you’re a cisgender male, singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, is a no-no. A young, blonde soprano should not bring in “Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime. And while it may be great that, as a 16-year old girl, you think you can nail the title role of King Lear. Great! Do it for your school’s talent contest — not for an audition.
Loving a song or a monologue is not enough of a good reason to perform it. These kinds of mistakes are a big deal because they suggest that you, as a performer, are not a literate theatre artist. There is plenty of great material out there for you no matter your type. It just takes a little work to find it.
What is my sexual identity? Perform material that is in line with your sexual identity. If you identify as a transgender or non-binary young artist, we recommend you present material that feels most appropriate to you. We recognize you will probably not find many songs or monologues that reflect your personal experience. Know that contemporary cisgender, transgender, and agender dramatists are changing that. In the meantime, seek smart teachers and coaches who will help you find material that allows you to feel most comfortable as a performing artist.
What is my ethnicity? Cultural misappropriation is a big no-no and raises a big red flag for casting professionals. If you are not a person of color, do not perform material written for that ethnicity. Period. If you ARE a person of color, feel free to perform repertoire that has initially been performed by white performers when the role doesn’t identify. If you do not “look” like the race you identify with — that is ok. If it is your true self then you should feel completely comfortable performing that material.
What is my physical type? What is your body type? How do you walk? What is your hairstyle? Understanding your physical type and dressing to accentuate it will help casting folks help picture you in a role. If you look young and ingenue, don’t dress like a goth girl. Dress to complete the picture.
What is my voice type? As a singer this will be one of 5 answers: soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, or bass. But casting folks will also be listening to your speaking voice. Is your voice gruff? Smooth? High pitched? Know that they will be listening to this as they chat with you between your performances.
What are my personality traits? Outgoing. Generous. Loyal. Determined. Why do your own personality traits matter in an audition? You are only going to have a few precious moments in an audition room. If you can choose material that lines up with your own personality traits, it will help the people behind the table get to know you a little which will, in turn, help them figure out how they can cast you.
If you’re not sure about the answer to any of these questions, ask (trusted) teachers and friends. This can be quite helpful even if you think you know the answers, since other people rarely see us the same way we view ourselves.
Sometimes actors tell me, “I know what my type is, but I want to choose material that goes against my type to show that I have range.” I say, “It’s great to have those options in your book, but don’t make them the first thing you perform.” When the material you bring in doesn’t match the type the people behind the table are seeing, it can be an issue.
RJ Magee, NYC-based talent manager and owner/founder of RJ Magee Casting, shares this, “Whenever I am meeting an actor for the first time and they are performing material for me from their own repertoire, the first things I evaluate are how they look, the way that they dress, and the audition material that they present, compliment one another. It is most important for an actor to have a strong sense of identity, brand, and type. When an actor doesn’t posses this self awareness and clarity, their ability to properly interpret the vision of a director, composer, and playwright is immediately brought into question by professionals like myself. I often abhor the limitations that are put on actors when it comes to their castability and type. However, in terms of the concept of type, the framework and foundation must be fully explored and solidified before the actor comes into the audition room. Otherwise, it can be difficult for a creative team or casting director to see the entire breadth of what an actor might be able to contribute to the project in question.”
It can be challenging work to find your type, and guess what? It is not a one-time exercise. Every few years you will have to check back, because as we age, so does our type. Voices change and so do our bodies. Frequent reassessment is needed for every performer. But doing this work will help you to hone in on appropriate audition material which should then convert to more booked jobs. And that is well worth the work, right?!
Our updated version of “Mastering College Musical Theatre Auditions: Sound Advice for the Student, Teacher, and Parent” is now available on Amazon.
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