Dealing With the First Private Audition
You’ve just heard about your first musical theater audition. You’ve not auditioned for musicals before, so you don’t know what will happen. What should you aim for?
First, let’s explore what an audition is for. For the casting panel, it’s an opportunity to see new people, or to remind themselves of familiar people. It’s a chance to see who and what is out there, to make decisions about casting, and to match up different actors to make a company. For you, it’s an opportunity to let the casting panel get to know your performing ability, hear you sing and see you in your choice of character.
Now let’s explore what the first audition is not. It’s not a ‘real’ performance. There’s no applause or feedback, the panel hasn’t paid to see you, there are no sets or lighting, and you don’t have costumes or make-up (except what you are wearing). It’s not a complete show either, as the panel will expect to watch you come in as you, then change into character in front of them. And finally, the first audition will not get you the job. That may seem odd, but Broadway and West End auditions can drag on over several months with up to 9 recalls. And with the larger musicals you definitely would not be cast on how good your first audition was.
Remind yourself that the panel wants to know your level of skill, how good you are at staying in character, whether you look comfortable on stage, and if you are the right professional level for their production. So the key points are to appear professional, well-prepared and confident with your material. And for the first audition it’s vital for an actor, singer or dancer to use song material that’s suitable for their casting, voice and abilities.
Let’s look at some of the more usual mistakes made by auditionees. Singers might be confident of how they sound, but don’t think about character or story. In musical theater, this is a complete no-no. Yes, you might have a lovely voice but we’re interested in your character’s journey through the song. Musical Theater differs from opera or song recital in that the music serves and heightens the text, and characterisation is vital. Actors on the other hand may be quite confident of the subtest and character, but may have a less than solid vocal technique. Although strong characterisations can carry you through any unfortunate vocal mishaps, remember that in musicals you usually have to perform 8 or more shows every week for a year. For your own sanity (and the sanity of those around you), it’s imperative that your vocal technique is strong and clear enough for you to sustain and repeat what you are doing accurately and without strain. If not, a single cold can knock your performance sideways. For dancers who are used to expressing themselves in movement, using words and music can be a real challenge. And since many dancers start very young, learning a solid technique in a new discipline can seem like a mountainous task. It’s important for dancers to find voice, text or singing teachers who are able to adapt their teaching styles to the dance-trained body and mind. Pick songs that you have a real connection with, pieces that you think you can have fun with. And don’t be afraid to move during an audition – you don’t have to stay rooted to the spot!
If you’re a singer dancer actor in a coaching session for a first audition, the focus is usually on finding suitable songs for your physicality and energy. Then the coach can help you find and maintain the best performance you can give. We’ll also focus on the different problems of using your own songs in an audition. How to give the pianist YOUR version of the piece in less than 15 seconds, how to grab the focus of your song and become the character straight away, whether you should interact with the panel, and even how to change your performance of your favorite songs to suit the musical style of the show you’re auditioning for.
Sometimes you can alter the subtext or storyline of a song to fit the show that is currently casting. If you are singing a cut version of the song, or doing a 16bar cattle call, the storyline will be different for both – it’s not really possible to play the song journey for the complete song if you’re only singing half of it! You might focus on the one aspect of the character that appears in that extract, or impose a journey on the music, or bring an event that happens later in the full song into that particular musical moment. If you are planning to use the same song for the cattle call and the first private audition, you will probably need more than one mind map of the song journey.
Once you have found good songs, a session from a qualified coach can help you find your own version of the material, and lead you to create living, sustainable characterisations that use your best talents and assets. You will definitely be noticed if you have songs to match your casting, strong performance skills and a professional attitude.