The Audition, what to do and what not to do...

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!

Here's a secret peek inside Northwestern Theatre major Jon Toussaint's rep book. "It's thicker and more comprehensive than the one that I would usually bring to auditions. For each song I have the full song followed by various cuts (all marked up so the accompanist can easily follow the flow of the song and any stylistic markings - and with as few page flips as possible).  Ideally, I would also have side tabs to organize my songs by type (ballad, uptempo, pre-1965, etc.)" This is the 32 bar cut of "Larger Than Life", as you can all clearly see.

Here's a secret peek inside Northwestern Theatre major Jon Toussaint's rep book.
"It's thicker and more comprehensive than the one that I would usually bring to auditions. For each song I have the full song followed by various cuts (all marked up so the accompanist can easily follow the flow of the song and any stylistic markings - and with as few page flips as possible).  Ideally, I would also have side tabs to organize my songs by type (ballad, uptempo, pre-1965, etc.)"
This is the 32 bar cut of "Larger Than Life", as you can all clearly see.

And this is the end cut marked.

And this is the end cut marked.

And this is a 16 bar cut where Jon cut and pasted an extra line of music onto the page to eliminate an unnecessary page flip.  I know.  He's a total overachiever and would be completely annoying if he wasn't such an awesome guy.

And this is a 16 bar cut where Jon cut and pasted an extra line of music onto the page to eliminate an unnecessary page flip.  I know.  He's a total overachiever and would be completely annoying if he wasn't such an awesome guy.

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.

DON'T mark.
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 and I'll answer you in a post!
Happy auditioning!



Scary Stage Mom Stories: Episode One

Several years ago, I was directing a middle school production of an obscure but wonderful Shakespeare comedy.  I had directed at this school the year before and assisted with the play the year prior to that.  I knew the kids very well and was excited to be back there.  
One of my students, a very talented 14 year old who had been one of the leads the previous year, spent the auditions laughing and chatting with her friends, creating quite a distraction.  She did not seem invested at all in her audition and so when it came time to cast the show, I cast her as a featured ensemble member with the rest of her friends.  The lead roles went to some fabulously talented and dedicated students, one of whom was a tiny little sixth grader who blew us all away with her ability to grasp the text.  I felt very happy with my casting decisions and slept soundly after emailing the cast list to the parents the night before our first rehearsal.

I awoke to an email from the parent of the 14 year old girl who I had cast in the ensemble and it was epic.  Printed out, the letter is 19 pages, though to be fair the last 7 pages are Shakespeare Mad Libs.  No, I'm not joking.  The mother spends 12 pages eviscerating me then suggests that I might want to use these Mad Libs in rehearsals!
In this letter, the mother criticizes my abilities as a director, she refers to her daughter as a "star" more than once, and demands that I take the lead role away from that "12 year old with no talent or experience" and give the role to her daughter.  That's a direct quote.
I read through the letter several times.  I began writing a response several times but was unable to fully articulate the complex combination of dismay and exasperation I was feeling.  Eventually, I passed the letter on to my boss who told me not to address it at all. 
So I didn't.
And the mother pulled her daughter out of the show and I never saw them again.  
But I still have the letter.  I keep it as a reminder that working in youth theatre means that I am working with young talented children as well as their determined parents.  We cannot forget about these mostly awesome and at times terrifying individuals that have chosen to support their children's wildest dreams.  They are often wonderful and the best ones can make my job so much easier.  There are also the parents that write 19 page letters.  But I don't hate these parents.  They are usually the ones who didn't realize their own wildest dreams and are hell bent on helping their children do better, whether they want that dream or not.
So, parents, we understand that when your child is heartbroken over casting decisions you want to advocate for them but please, wait 24 hours before hitting send on that email.  Otherwise you might find yourself the subject of a scary stage mom blog post!

Audition for the show, not the role

"Audition for the show, not the role" - Stephanie Maysonave, to thousands of parents and students over the past decade.

This post is mostly for my students.  Professional actors can be a bit more choosy when it comes to their projects but in the world of youth theatre, it's best not to hang your hopes on the lead role.  And here's why.
There's only one Annie. Or Elle Woods.  And there are often times 50-100 kids auditioning for that role.  So heading into that audition determined to get the lead will most likely have disastrous results.  There are tears.  There are friendships ruined.  There are uncomfortable conversations with parents who demand that the director recast the show...
DIRECTOR:  Let me get this straight.  You're telling me that I should call the 3rd grader that has been cast as Alice and tell her she is no longer cast as Alice because I've given that role to your daughter?  That's what you're asking me to do right now? 

But most importantly, getting your hopes up for one role is a sure fire way to suck the joy out of the situation.  Auditioning for lead roles is exhausting!  No matter how talented you are, there is no way that you're the right actor to play every lead.  The same actor should not be playing Tevye, Usnavi, Danny, and Tommy (Fiddler, In the Heights, Grease, and Tommy for the newbies).  So heading into an audition dead-set on getting the lead role can lead to total disappointment.  And that's no way to start rehearsals.  So here's what I recommend.
Parents, do what you can to promote the idea of the "show" over the "role".  "This show is so amazing with such great ensemble parts!",  "Any part will be so much fun" or "If you get a part in the chorus, you'll be dancing in almost every scene!" are all good ways to pump up your kid for auditions.  This is a really big deal.  For people outside of the theatre, the idea of a chorus part seems like it's less important than a lead role.  "My kid is playing a villager in Beauty and the Beast so what does that mean?".  That means your child is responsible for creating a character on their own - they often don't even have names.  These kids need to come up with a story.  So they are the baker in the village where Belle lives.  Awesome! How do they feel about baking? Do they like Belle? Do they secretly wish they could give up a life of baking to become an artist?  Encourage your child to think about their parts this way.  In the chorus your child will be responsible for learning complex harmonies.  For filling scenes with life without using their words.  Your child will be silent in most scenes but still have to push the action forward.  They will sing and dance and grow as actors.  But more that that, as chorus members, they are essential to the story.  So if your child sees their name on a cast list next to a chorus role, you tell them they are in for a lot of work! And they should be so proud of what they get to contribute to the story.
"I only want to play the lead" - thousands of extremely talented kids I've encountered over the years.  
And I ask them, "Why????".  Most of the kids I get to work with are incredibly talented.  They all play the leads in their school plays and they all intend to go on to win Tony and Academy Awards in the not too distant future.  But to get a Tony Award on Broadway, you're probably going to have to act in the chorus on Broadway for awhile.  Very few people get swept up from high school to star in a movie or a show and go on to fame and fortune without paying some dues.  So these kids that only perform as leads in their youth miss out on learning the very important skills one needs to be in the chorus.  They often don't have to dance as much or come up with character choices on their own.  They lack the ability to give focus on stage because they're so used to taking focus.  Being in the ensemble, or chorus, of a show also helps these young talented performers learn about humility.  They understand what it's like to share a dressing room with a dozen kids, what it's like to bow first in the curtain call, what it's like to support your fellow cast members as they receive the standing ovation.  These are very important experiences and they are best had at a young age before their performer ego grows to an unhealthy size.  I honestly cannot stress the value of humility enough and will probably dedicate an entire blog post to it soon.
And lastly, if a young performer auditions for a show and doesn't get the lead role, then they were not the best person for the role.  Thems the breaks.  Either they didn't sing or act the part as well as someone else, they were too tall to play Annie, or sometimes, they were such a great dancer that we needed them to play another role!  But by dropping out of the show, they are missing an opportunity to GROW!  I worked with a young actor who auditioned for several productions that I directed and every time she didn't get the lead, she dropped out of the show.  Her mother told me that she didn't want to waste time/money if she wasn't a lead in the show.  I finally told the mother that this young girl, while talented, did not have the acting chops she needed to play a lead role.  And by dropping out of the shows, she was missing a great opportunity to grow as a performer!  That's how you learn to act/dance/sing!  By being in the chorus.  So it always seems so silly to me to drop out of a production because you didn't get the lead.  Do you think next year you will have improved on your own and will magically get the lead role??  Probably not.  Better to learn on this production and show that you're a hard worker and a team player and try again next year - after wowing your director with your excellent work ethic (another topic that will be discussed at length at another time). 
And that idea of working hard to get better is kind of true for life, not just theatre.  If you're not where you want to be in sports, academics, work, etc, then you work harder and try again.  Letting our children audition for shows and drop out when they don't get the part that they want sends a really bad message.  It says that the lead role is the only one worth having - which is ridiculous - and that if you don't get your way, you can quit.  Many of the parents who let their children drop out of shows would never think about letting their child quit soccer or baseball if they weren't playing the position they wanted.  Because they understand that there is a commitment to the team in the world of sports.  
Well, there's a commitment to the team in theatre.  A huge commitment.  These kids are being asked to take risks and be incredibly vulnerable on stage in front of an audience.  That is so brave!  So we need to support them. And help them understand that every role is important.  And by auditioning for a show, they are entering a commitment to their fellow cast members.
I, myself, am a chorus performer.  I spend most of my time directing, but when I do occasionally appear in a musical, I am a member of the chorus.  Mostly because I'm terrified to sing by myself!  So as a chorus performer, I can tell you that it is one of the most rewarding and challenging roles out there.  The chorus is the heart of the production and anyone should be proud to call themselves a member of that ensemble.
I hope that I've helped inspire some young performers to look at auditions differently and some parents to encourage their performers to consider the "show", not the "role".
Dream Big,

Acting isn't about being pretty


As actors, we are required to use our bodies as our instruments and this can lead to some major insecurities and an unhealthy obsession with our looks.  It's a hard thing to be able to separate yourself as a person from the actor in the audition room.  If you are too tall to play Annie, this doesn't mean that you're too tall in real life.  In a world where we are scrutinized and judged by our physical appearance, it can take its toll on our self esteem.  In my work with young actors, I am very aware of the messages we send our performers about their value.  I can't tell you how many times one of my young performers will come to me in a state because their costume isn't cute or they don't want to wear that wig because it will mess up their hair.  Young performers are so worried about looking good that they often times sacrifice their performance because they're concerned about their appearance on stage.  
Actors usually posses a certain amount of healthy ego and vanity.  The fact that we have to get up in front of a room full of strangers night after night means that we have a natural concern for our appearance.  But the best actors understand that not all characters are pretty.  Acting isn't always about being pretty.  Sometimes we're downright ugly.  And that's okay.  Because we are not defined as people by the characters we play on stage.  And once we realize that truth, we are free to explore a whole variety of quirky characters without worrying about how ridiculous we look.  
When I approach a character, I try to ignore that annoying little voice inside my head that points out all of my physical flaws.  It never goes away completely because, hello, still human.  But when that voice tries to deter me from making a character choice, I ignore it.  And I know that sometimes (much of the time) I look ridiculous on stage.  But that's okay.  Because most of the time, these characters are ridiculous.  Delightfully so.  And to portray them as anything less than that would be an injustice.  

An example of me looking ridiculous on stage.

An example of me looking ridiculous on stage.

So to all of my young performers I just want to tell you that I get it.  I remember being in middle school and high school and being completely concerned with how I looked at all times.  It's really hard to get on stage feeling anything less than beautiful.  But I encourage you all to take risks and embrace your flaws.  Because it's our flaws that make for dynamic and beautiful characters.  And frankly, the more that we ignore that voice in our heads on stage, then the easier it gets to ignore that voice in real life.  And maybe eventually, that voice will shut up for good!  
Dream Big,

My kid wants to be an what?

Parents often ask me what they can do to help their child get work.  It's actually pretty simple and I've outlined some specific things you can do right now to begin getting professional performance opportunities for your child.  
When your child expresses interest in acting, dance, singing, or performance of any kind, get them in classes.  Training is INCREDIBLY important.  Many times kids will want to audition for show after show and never take any classes which can be fun, sure, but they are not really growing as performers.  Too often we equate experience with education and while experience is great, it does not teach our performers the skills they need to hone their craft.  I had learned tap for several productions but it was only when I started taking a tap class that I realized what it meant to tap dance.  Show choreography is different from a combination in a dance class. Often our choreographers will choreograph for the level of talent they have in their cast so in reality, the dancers aren't learning many new skills.  It's in the classes that they truly grow.                    
Okay, your child is taking classes and growing as a performer - yay! What's the next step?  Find a youth theatre production in your area or at your child's school and have them audition.  Get them involved on a local and fun level.  Most young performers will really shine with a combination of classes and youth theatre productions.  If your child is happy and enjoying herself, then relax. You don't need to take another step.  However, if your child is dying to do more, and wants to branch out and do some professional theatre or even film and commercial work, then you can look at some websites that will help you move beyond the realm of children's musical theatre.
Locally, here in the Bay Area, there are some amazing resources for you as parents and for us as performers.  First of all, sign up for Theatre Bay Area.
This is a great resource for new actors and seasoned professionals alike.  If it's on stage in the Bay Area, it's in Theatre Bay Area.  Here you will find audition listings as well as recommendations for theatre to see.  

And you can get yourself a shiny new bumper sticker!

And you can get yourself a shiny new bumper sticker!

Also, for local Bay Area parents, check out SF Casting.
This is a great resource for actors looking to get some film or commercial work.  There are tons of auditions posted, including student films, which is a wonderful way to get some experience.
Theatre Bay Area and SF Casting require a cost to participate, but it's completely worth it if your child is serious about pursuing performance as a career.  There are performance opportunities listed on Craigslist and I have gotten work from them in the past, but searching through the classifieds are not something I would recommend for parents new to this professional performance game.
Another thing your child will need is theatrical headshots.  These usually run about $300+ so they are an investment.  Your child needs to look their age in the shots and look like their true selves, so no prom hair or Sunday school clothes.  For this reason, you need to hire a photographer that specializes in theatre headshots and not use your family's portrait photographer (unless they have experience in this sort of photography as well). 
For most auditions, your child will also need a resume.  You'll need to list their hair and eye color, height and weight as well as any previous acting experience or training.  List their most recent roles at the top of the list and go in reverse chronological order.  This can seem like a small detail but it's one that makes a huge difference.    
You may be thinking about seeking representation for your child.  That's a step we take only when we've had some success on the local level and finding an agent is something that I'll cover in another post.  For now, just know that getting representation can be a long process and not a necessary step for your child to take to get professional acting work.
This one might go without saying but make it a habit to take your child to live performances!  Go out to Orinda to see some Shakespeare or to San Francisco to see the Ballet.  Don't just see the big National Tours when they come to town but find your local community theatre and become a patron there.  That leads me to my final point:
Make connections to local theatre.  Get to know the artists that perform and see their shows. Friend them on Facebook and join their theatre community.  Don't just do this with the intention of getting your child in with the company, but begin to cultivate real relationships within the theatre community!  Connections are truly your best resource for getting your child some professional performance opportunities. 
Hope that helps and happy auditioning!