The audition is hands down the most stressful part of an actor's life. Well, after paying the bills. I've compiled a list of important things for actors to remember before entering the audition room. This list comes from years spent as a casting director as well as feedback from accompanists, choreographers, and music directors that I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. Even if you're a veteran who's been auditioning for decades, it never hurts to get a quick refresher so take a peek and see if you're unintentionally breaking any of the rules.
For the newbies: A typical musical theatre audition will ask you to prepare 16-32 bars of music (about a minute, sometimes 45 seconds, sometimes 30 seconds) and occasionally they'll want to see a short monologue as well. You'll most likely also be asked to a dance call. To prepare for a standard musical theatre audition, here are some audition dos and don'ts.
DO Dress appropriately.
For a musical theatre audition, you want to wear something that you feel confident wearing and that allows the casting team to picture you as the role you want. This does not mean wearing a costume! If you're auditioning for Grease and you really want the role of Sandy, a dress and flats would be a great audition outfit. If you'd love to play Rizzo, black pants and a red lip would be a perfect choice. If there is a dance component to your musical theatre audition, you'll need to bring dance clothes and shoes. Throw all of your dance shoes in your audition bag - you never know if they'll ask you to tap or you may feel more comfortable doing the combination in your character heels. It's better to be safe than sorry.
PRO TIP: If you change clothes for the dance audition, make sure you are in the same color that you wore for the vocal audition. We want to be able to recognize you from one audition space to the other. The people who stand out for me are the ones who are able to maintain the same look throughout the whole day. If you're wearing a yellow dress for the vocal auditions, try a yellow top with your leggings for the dance call. Those small details can make a huge difference.
DON'T get lazy.
I don't want to put anyone on blast, but I know some veteran actors who can get a bit lazy when it comes to auditioning. They figure, "Hey, this director knows me and they've worked with me before. It's cool to wear jeans to the dance audition or forget my jazz shoes at home." It's not okay. And we see this as a lack of respect for our audition. We love you but don't be that guy.
DO remember your headshot and resume.
Your headshot should be a recent photo that is printed in color on 8x10 photo paper. You can easily print them out individually at any Walgreens or Costco. Your resume should be on one sheet of paper, single sided. If you've been in so many productions that you need two pages, it's time to make some edits. Maybe we don't need to know that you were the Third Donkey in your Sunday School's Christmas Pageant in 1987. Also, only list applicable special skills and be prepared to demonstrate. It is commonplace for directors to ask to see random skills listed on a resume in the audition room and if they are done well, it's definitely a check in the pro column.
PRO TIP: Trim your resume down to 8x10 as well. That way it's the same size as your headshot and it's easier to file with all of our paperwork. I've seen casting directors toss resumes just because they weren't trimmed.
DON'T be a diva.
I worked as a casting director for a small theatre company in San Francisco many years ago. We were such a small company that sometimes I was running auditions alone, which meant I would check people in at the front desk in our lobby then walk them back to the black box and ask them to perform their monologue for me. It wasn't ideal but I managed. I can't tell you how many times people assumed I was just "some assistant" or volunteer. One man stands out in my mind as a prime example of what not to do. He came in to the lobby in a huff and was very rude when he checked in with me, acting annoyed when I told him to fill out the paperwork then snapping at me when I told him we didn't have a water fountain. I suggested he could fill up a water bottle in the bathroom and he rolled his eyes at me. He muttered rude remarks about the neighborhood under his breath, changed shoes, sniffed his armpits, basically acted as if I wasn't even in the room. When it was his audition time, I told him to follow me into the theatre. We entered the empty room and I crossed to the audition table and sat down. His eyes widened and his mouth actually dropped open.
"Are you the casting director?" he asked.
"Why yes! I am, " I replied with a smile, "Now, what are you going to perform today?"
He didn't get a callback.
Remember that EVERYONE is important. The assistants and volunteers deserve your utmost respect. Many of them are donating their time to make sure you have an opportunity to audition. It speaks volumes about a performer when they don't make the time to treat everyone they encounter in the audition with respect and there are too many talented people out there to waste our time on the divas.
PRO TIP: Send thank you notes. Real ones. On paper. Address them to the theatre and send one to everyone you encountered at your audition. If you're like me and you completely blank on the names of everyone in the audition room the moment your audition is over, then ask the assistant in the lobby for their names as you exit. The assistant will be more than willing to help. Also, get their name and send one to them. It makes a difference.
DO organize your audition binder.
This is a big one folks. If you're planning on auditioning for multiple shows a year, you need an audition book.
Audition Book - this link is a good resource for what exactly should be in your audition book.
If you're brand new to the audition process, you might not need a full audition book. You will, however, need to bring sheet music to the audition.
Finding Sheet Music - here's an article that addresses JUST the sheet music part of the audition.
You'll need to put your sheet music in a three-ring binder. Mark your music so it's clear to the accompanist where you'll begin and where you'll end. If you're doing any fancy cuts, go through those ahead of time with your accompanist. Make sure your sheet music is copied in a way that makes for the least amount of page turns for your accompanist. If you're not able to print your sheet music double sided, taping your pages together so they are easier to turn is a great idea. You can also use sheet protectors, though many accompanists are annoyed by the glare so make sure they are the anti-glare sheet protectors.
Make sure it's the actual sheet music and not copied from the libretto. The accompanist will not be able to play that sheet music.
Your audition book should contain sheet music for your full song, in addition to the cut piece you'll use for auditions. Many times the casting team will ask to hear more of your song. Additionally, if you only have part of your song in your binder, you might be missing important information that the accompanist needs, like the time signature, so having the full song will solve that problem. The casting team may even ask for another song so having three or four of your go-to songs in your binder is a great idea. They need to all have the same 16-32 bar cuts and you need to have them well rehearsed and ready to go. I'll cover how to pick the right song for your audition in another post.
PRO TIP: Fold the bottom corner of your pages to allow for easier page turns. And if your song is three pages long, you can tape the final two pages together to create a fold out third page and save your accompanist a page turn. They will love you!
DON'T neglect your accompanist.
The accompanist. That's the incredibly talented person playing your music, often times saving your ass by plunking out the melody a bit harder than necessary to get you back on track. Introduce yourself. Calmly go over the cut you'll be using and sing through the tempo. Some accompanists really dislike clapping through your tempo, others don't mind it so much.
Professional musician and all around badass Lauren Bevilacqua says:
"Some alternatives might be tapping gently on the piano or tapping your chest as you sing the first part of the song. Take a breath before doing that too. Sometimes nerves impact the tempo you give! Yes. Introduce yourself. Even ask how the accompanist is doing. Be friendly and be yourself. We know you are nervous and focused and deep down we want to support your performance. I, personally, always marvel at how un-normal auditions are. It's not real life. Being positive and professional, prepared and knowledgeable about your piece (including cuts, ritards or accelerandos) will help you communicate with your accompanist in that short time."
I find that as long as you connect with your accompanist, are respectful, spend time making sure they understand your selection, then you'll make a good impression. As a director, I often turn to the accompanist after an audition and ask for feedback. Their opinion is incredibly important so do not neglect them. And if for any reason, you lose the melody or the tempo isn't what you wanted, do not, I repeat do NOT look over at your accompanist with an annoyed look on your face. Even if the mistake was the fault of your accompanist, do not let it register on your face that a mistake was made. It draws unneeded attention to the one flaw in your otherwise lovely performance! If your accompanist actually makes a mistake (which happens occasionally since, unlike you, they haven't been practicing this song for months ahead of time), the room will know and they will award you extra bonus points for staying in character and being a true professional.
PRO TIP: Learn your accompanist's name. You will most likely meet them again in an audition room and it's always nice to see a friendly face there!
DO time your monologue.
Most of us will time your monologue performance. If we say a one minute monologue, you will be cut off at one minute. Practice with a stopwatch ahead of time.
DON'T give us the hurt puppy dog look when we cut you off.
Say "thank you".
PRO TIP: Make cuts in your monologue so all the juicy stuff is included and it still comes in under the one minute limit. You don't just have to cut the beginning or end. Often, making cuts from the middle of the monologue can let you keep the important information and include the climax.
DO have fun!
This is especially true for the dance call. We can tell immediately who has had years of training and who is more of an "actor that moves well". There is usually room for a variety of dance ability in the show, so what we need to see is if our dancers can have fun and sell it.
PRO TIP: We will not look at the mistakes your feet are making if your face is selling your performance. And that's the TRUTH! It's also the only reason I've been asked to dance in musicals myself.
Ever. In a dance audition, in rehearsal, ever, unless granted permission by your choreographer. You may think that you're hiding your lack of dance ability behind an aloof facade of "I don't really need to put much effort in, I can do this combo in my sleep", but really it looks like "I have no interest in being here and zero respect for this choreographer." So if you're not sweating during a dance call, you're doing it wrong.
DO know your conflicts.
Be prepared to give any and all conflicts for the rehearsal period at the audition. It literally can mean the difference between getting a role or being passed over. I auditioned for a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and I was cast but I had one conflict a week - I was going to be absent on Monday nights - and they had to recast due to the other actors' schedules. Lesson learned. Always arrive with conflicts for the director!
DON'T take it personally.
I realize this is easier said than done. Getting rejected is hard but if you follow all of this advice AND perform your best and still don't get cast, then trust that there are other opportunities coming your way soon. It helps to have a thick skin (which I'll cover in another post) as well as a solid understanding of your type (also a topic for another post); but I can honestly tell you that not being cast in a show does not reflect on your talent! I can't tell you how many amazing people I would see for every audition that just didn't fit the needs of our season. I kept all of their headshots and resumes and refer to them when I need to find talent for a new show. (Yes, I still have a bunch of old headshots and resumes in my garage - don't judge.)
I realize there is a lot of information lacking from this post - we haven't even begun to cover the material you should use in auditions! But this is a basic overview of the dos and don'ts every performer can use when preparing for an audition.
If you have any questions or want some audition advice, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll answer you in a post!