How to Nail a Musical Theater Audition
7 Tips to Stop Being Afraid and Start Conquering the Casting Room
If you're like me, hearing the very word audition makes your palms sweat and your heart race. After all, what does acting have to do with standing in a room full of strangers, trying to convince them to hire you based off of a three minute song? I've been to many musical theater auditions, and along the way, I've gathered some tips and tricks that can help you gain some confidence.
1. Choose the right song for you.
This seems like a no-brainer, but I cannot tell you how many times in an audition holding room where I've heard people sing songs that are completely out of their range just to impress a casting panel. Trust me, it will impress them so much more if you pick a song that suits your voice, is in the correct genre for the audition (if you're auditioning for RENT, don't pick a piece for Oklahoma), and that showcases you at your very best voice. Sounding good singing a song you're comfortable with is a much better choice than picking something with the sole purpose of showing off your chops. A word on "overdone" songs... I've gotten some great advice over the years to choose something you're good at, something you've rehearsed and not worry about it being overdone, unless you're auditioning for school and you've been given a specific list of songs not to do. Pick something you like. Love even. That's more important than worrying about whether or not a song is done to death.
2. Don't worry if you pick a song against "type."
I am not an ingenue. Never have been, never will be. Would it stop me from singing an ingenue song if it was in my range and I sang it well? No way. Casting directors will or will not typecast roles for the show, no matter what type you portray in your audition. Some already have a preconceived vision of the show. The really amazing thing is, an auditioner who comes in and blows them out of the water singing a song meant for a character actress or an ingenue may get them to see who they're looking for in a whole different light. Don't let what you "think" is your type stand in your way.
3. Do choose your cut wisely.
In standard musical theater auditions, you'll be asked for a 16 (or sometimes 32) bar cut, which is about 20-30 seconds of music. It is extremely important to choose where you are cutting wisely. Again, it doesn't have to be a show stopping, belt your face off until you pass out moment, but it should showcase your best vocals and tell some of the vital parts of the song. Many people choose to sing the last 16 bars, simply because the ending often builds to a "big moment." I personally believe any cut that tells the story you're trying to tell and will not bore the casting people to death is acceptable. Do be sure you clearly label where your cut will begin and where the cut will end for the accompanist.
4. Choose an action and apply it for the entire cut.
Speaking of telling a story... choosing a singular action to play is vital. You're only getting 30 seconds to show that you are amazing and deserving of a role, or at the very least, a call-back. If your action is unclear, it will show. What are you trying to do in those 16 bars? Who are you singing to? Why are you trying to do said action? These are questions you need to know the answer to. There are people who believe that auditioning for musical theatre is different than auditioning with a monologue because as long as you sound "good," it doesn't matter. This is simply untrue. You should apply the same principle of a single, clear action as you sing. It will not only make a difference to the quality of the song, but it will give you much more confidence that you know what you're doing.
5. Treat the accompanist like they're a friend.
You should be friendly and kind to every single person in the building, including monitors, fellow auditioners, janitorial staff, and the casting people. That's just common courtesy. However, if there is one person you want to be extra kind to, it's the accompanist who is literally walking into the fire with you. They have the ability to save you if you mess up or push you to your death. You want them on your side. Introduce yourself to them, greet them, kindly go over exactly, and I mean exactly, where your cut will begin and where it will end. Do not assume they will know just from marks on your music. Then briefly go over what the tempo will be. This does not take more than a few seconds and trust me, it will be the most important seconds of your audition. There are a few things more heart attack-inducing than singing at the wrong tempo during your audition, either too slow or fast. A good accompanist will correct this, but that isn't always the case. Please don't assume your accompanist can play anything. There is no need to make everyone's life more complicated and give a pianist a Sondheim piece they can only look at for ten seconds and attempt to play. There's little doubt things may not end up how you'd rehearsed them and the accompanist will not be fond of you. If you do mess up, DO NOT BLAME THE ACCOMPANIST. Mistakes happen. They do. But to call the person who is playing for you out because you messed up isn't cool. And trust me, he or she will NOT forget it. The theater community is much smaller than one might think.
6. Don't make the casting director the enemy.
They want you to be good. They want you to be the answer to their prayers, everything they were looking for and more. It makes everyone's life that much easier if you are amazing and they don't have to see a thousand more people for one role. Believe me. They've already been sitting behind a small table in a room with no ventilation with cold coffee for three days and they want you to be good. It's okay to smile at them. It's okay to make eye contact. They will not turn you to stone or eat you alive. They're silently encouraging you to kill it because they're on your side.
7. Have fun!
At the end of the day, remember why you're doing this in the first place. It isn't to end up crying on your therapist's couch. I know it's very difficult to lose sight of how you fell in love with performing when you're on your 100th audition that week and all the feedback you get is "thank you" only to never hear from anyone ever again. But you can do this. Take a deep breath. Go in prepared and confident. Do your best. And then walk out the door and forget about it. Go for a walk, grab a coffee, grab your best friend and go shopping. Just let it be what it is because you can't change it anyway. Enjoy the journey.