My husband is a passionate and talented director/designer. He's been directing musical theatre productions for over 6 years now and I can't tell you how much I (as an actress) have learned from getting a glimpse behind the scenes of a directors casting process - and not just from my husband, I have worked on a number of other shows and been privy to the casting process.
So, seeing as how there are a large number of community theatre auditions coming up here in Las Vegas over the next few weeks (and none of them for my husband), I thought I'd share a little bit of what I've learned from my 17 years in the community theatre and my behind the scenes work over the last several years. My observations as I believe there are no steadfast "rules" to auditioning as every actor and every director is different. You need to find what works for you and go with it. So my purpose in writing this is to share MY PERSONAL experience and hope it will perhaps at least give you something to think about in your quest to be cast in community theatre productions. The professional world, well, I'll leave that to the professionals.
I should tell you that while I am often a sounding board and almost always hands on in keeping the audition process organized, I don't get a vote or say in the casting of individuals except in the rare case that I am asked my opinion as a costumer. I do usually know what's going on, though....because when you get those e-mails at 3am, I was usually the secretary behind them.
**Disclaimer - these are only my opinions. And these opinions are not endorsed by my husband. Just my humble observations and experiences.**
#1. READ THE AUDITION NOTICE THOROUGHLY!
I can't tell you how many emails a director receives with questions that are clearly stated in the audition notice. The number one question is "Is this a paid gig?" The answer is almost ALWAYS in the audition notice and if it's not, you should question if you want to work for that company. If you call or email a director with a question regarding information that was clearly stated in the audition, it will probably raise a small red flag for the director. Don't be lazy, read the whole thing and do what it says! The director is telling you exactly what they need from you so use that to your advantage! Which leads to #2.
#2. Prepare. Prepare! PREPARE!!!!!
Now that you've thoroughly read the audition notice, PREPARE for your audition! Follow the instructions given. Show the director that you are capable of doing what you are asked to do. This is a small victory!
When it comes to audition choice, this is where you must learn to make an educated decision regarding what is best for yourself! Some directors like you to sing something from the show you are auditioning for. If this is your decision, please pick a song the character you are auditioning for sings. It doesn't do you any good if you want to play The Phantom in Phantom of the Opera and you come in singing Think of Me. The advice I have heard most often is to have an audition book with several selections - a ballad, an uptempo, something rock, something pop...songs that show off your strengths! I like to have some selections from different composers...say sing something from Oklahoma! if I'm auditioning for South Pacific. Regardless, make sure your selection is appropriate to the casting notice.
Then get your sheet music (or track if asked) and learn it. LEARN IT INSIDE AND OUT! Know it so well that you can't screw up. Find a friend who plays or get an accompanist to play the music for you so that you know it's in the right key! Have them make a rehearsal track so you are used to singing with just piano. There are online services for this as well - cheap! Use Google. I'm not doing the work for you. :) Take into account the accompaniment in your piece. Some composers are notorious for writing very difficult accompaniments. Your audition pianist may be seeing the piece for the first time that day. If you are clueless about this kind of thing, seek out a friend who can help you out. Don't sabotage your audition by picking a piece that even a really good pianist has to work at to learn. Occasionally you will have a really bad accompanist in an audition. This is where you pay attention to #3 and keep going!
Then really work on your piece. Sing it 100 times. Memorize the words and let your voice learn how to sing it so that it becomes muscle memory so that even if you are nervous, your body and mind know what to do. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing that someone is talented but they get so flustered by forgetting words or they can't hear the key because the piano accompaniment is foreign to them. Then do your work as an actor, create a character and commit to choices during the song. It's an opportunity for you to perform for the director! Never ask them to take your word for it, that you are great - you have a video! SHOW them!!
Also, a word on measures...usually in an audition notice, you are asked to sing 16 or 32 bars or something like that. This is a guide! If your piece is fast and it takes 20 bars to get through a chorus, than don't stop it short. Don't get so literal and make sure that you have plenty of piano intro to establish your key and starting note. Mark CLEARLY on your music where the selection should start and stop. GET help if you need it so that you can direct the pianist as needed.
#3. THE AUDITION
Start with the basics. Pick what you are going to wear ahead of time. Something flattering and neutral is generally a good idea. I like to pick something inspired by the show itself - if I'm auditioning for an ingenue, I like to wear a feminine dress or skirt and top. A sexy role? Well, I'm going to wear something more fitted with a little cleavage maybe. I prefer bold colors to black (my preference) and something slightly memorable. I guess because I've heard so many times at an audition table "What about that one girl...she sang..um...you know, the one in that fabulous orange dress!"
Take a minute to calm yourself. My biggest audition ever was an invited audition for Cirque du Soleil! On the first day, after waiting a nerve wrenching 6 hours to audition, my nerves were so bad I hardly recognized the voice coming out of my mouth! By some miracle I was called back for an extended audition the next day. I KNEW I had to get control over my nerves. So that was my only focus that day. I had prepared my songs well so I made the decision to trust myself. I decided that nailing that audition was more important that letting my nerves win. I spent the whole day doing calm things, getting ready early so I could take my time with my hair and makeup - things that calm me. I gave myself a pep talk, reminded myself to breath and chose to believe in myself. And...I NAILED IT! Yes, I was still a little nervous, especially when they were chatting with me, but my vocals were truly my best. And while I was thrilled that I was "accepted to the Cirque du Soleil database", I think I was more satisfied that I was able to overcome my nerves and do an audition I was proud of! It sure made up for that time that I was so nervous at a callback I went into the bathroom and CRIED between every time I was called into the room. I like to pretend that never happened. And I didn't get cast, either. I'm sorry, where were we?
So take time before you are called to FOCUS. Calm your mind, put your eye on the prize and choose confidence! Confidence (when you can back it up with talent and skill) is hugely attractive to a director. Directors want to work with actors who will bring something to the table, not timid but talented actors who will need constant coddling. The director/actor relationship should be a partnership - show him or her that you are a willing to meet him/her halfway in creating a character!
So this is important - BE NICE to the audition staff! The people signing you in, calling numbers. Be as professional and courteous to them as you are to the director. You never know when his wife will be sitting out there and that attitude you gave her about auditions running behind and that your life is more important than everyone else waiting there will probably get back to the director. And that's not a good thing.
In the audition room, let the director/stage manager/AD (whoever is running the audition) take the lead. Yes, that means speak when spoken to. There's nothing wrong with saying hello as you enter the room, but even if the director is a friend of yours, which happens a lot in the community world, treat it as a professional experience. A job interview, if you will. BE NICE to the pianist! Even if you don't know music that well (and if you don't, run right out and find a basic theory class if you wish to pursue any more public performance as a singer), know what you need from the song. Point out any key changes, tempo changes. Sing a few bars so the accompanist can get a feel for the tempo. Be as brief as possible but thorough. The pianist can be your ally! And you never know if they might even be the musical director. And I have seen directors ask pianists for their impression of a singer before.
As you start your audition, it's important to remember that those evaluating your audition - whether it's 2 people at a table or 12, they truly want you to be good. Amazing. Perfect for the role! A directors decision is hard as it is, please give them your best to choose from. I always feel so bad when I hear a director say - well, I'm not sure they can do this role - and often times it's because a person wasn't confident in their audition or made a poor choice of it.
Choose an imaginary subject to sing to just barely above and behind the auditioners' heads. Making eye contact can make both of you uncomfortable. I remember a musical director saying how he/she really wanted to take notes on an auditionee but they were so intently singing the song directly to the musical director that he/she felt like she couldn't look away and it was uncomfortable. I don't necessarily believe that this is a tried and true rule - some songs might call for you to look around a bit, but the imaginary person rule is a pretty good jumping off point.
IF you screw up...KEEP GOING! Don't stop. Even if the piano is clearly screwing up, which happens, don't stop! Let the director stop you if that's the case. If you forget your words...make them up! Sing on La or na na na or do be do be hey! Repeat words you just sang! It's not a lyrics test. They really aren't even listening to the lyrics...they're listening to your tone, interpretation. In fact, if you forget the words but can emote on ahhh on the same level, that's pretty impressive! Now please don't go forgetting your lyrics on purpose, but even the most prepared person may get lost in the moment and lyrics escape them. Just keep going! I can't emphasize that enough.
For scene work or cold reads, MAKE CHOICES! Even if they are unusual or don't fit what the director is looking for initially, show the director that you have the ability to make choices. And then make new ones if directed to do so! Take a breath and make sure you aren't speaking too fast (something I almost always do in cold reads) Use your imaginary person again if you need to. While waiting for the audition, read over the material enough times to be familiar with it. Memorize a few words so you can look up from you paper from time to time! Jump into a character who isn't nervous!
Following your audition, listen to what you are told regarding callbacks/casting. Make sure you say thank you! And then be classy as you leave. Whether you are on cloud 9 because you nailed it or you are super bummed because you blew it, just be calm and don't turn it into a lot of drama in front of the other auditioners/staff. Remember, you are always being watched! Directors want to work with positive, focused people. Wait until you get to your car or even your bedroom to turn on the waterworks or dance it out!
Pretty much just follow the same rules. Be prepared and focused. Keep going and be confident. Have a positive attitude!
Attitude is probably most important in callbacks. I have heard so many times "Well, it's clear that actor only wanted the lead because when he read for the character role, he really didn't try very hard. Disappointing!" Or "All I can remember from her audition is how many times she apologized for screwing up!" In the callbacks, you have the opportunity to show a director your work ethic and your talent and skills. Be focused, don't goof around, be willing to try something new! Sometimes a director will throw something at you just to see how willing you are to go somewhere new! Be flexible and be positive. Even if you feel like getting this role is the most important thing ever in the universe, don't let your desperation show. If you and 3 other actors are auditioning for the same role and the other one's are clearly really talented, take that as a compliment that you were included in that group of talented people and show the director that you have a great attitude and work ethic to match your talents. So many times I've heard of an actor/actress who got more and more down in a callback audition as others thrived. It's like I tell my kids all the time - worry about yourself! And be positive and supportive of the other actors. Remember - attitude counts!
Also, don't make assumptions! I remember one particularly broken hearted actress who assumed she had the role because she was the only one called back at a certain time. She failed to recognize that there were other callbacks held at another time and while she had an excellent audition, the role went to another actress who was more suitable for the part. Yeah, that might have been me. :)
#5 THE WAITING GAME
I know this is the hardest part, but when you know you were prepared, had a great attitude and were able to show your skills and talent to the best of your ability, this part will be a little easier. Because even if you don't get what you were hoping for, you will be able to rest easier in the confidence that you did your best and more than likely the casting decision was based on something out of your control.
Don't hound the director. If all of your friends got emails/calls and you didn't, give it a little more time and then contact the director. When there are 100's of people auditioning, sometimes people do fall through the cracks. A simple email will suffice. Don't make a big deal out of it. And even if you feel your audition wasn't up to par, resist the temptation to email a director and explain. Give them some credit - they can usually see through sickness, nerves and other obstacles. We all have days we aren't on our game and most directors are actors who've been there as well.
We'll cover casting next time. :)
Hopefully someday I'll actually get to audition again and put all these things I've learned to good use! In the meantime, I'll continue to support my husband and be the best DivaMommy I can be to my little munchkins.
Oh. And guess who will be singing in a back up choir for JENNIFER HUDSON next weekend at the Smith Center Gala? Yep. Me. Oh, did I mention that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting? And lots of other famous people will be there? LOTS? Yeah. Kinda excited.