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Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?

Performing Arts High School Auditions: Preparation

Audition Blackboard - Are you ready?Your child has decided that they want to go to a specialized arts high school. That’s a big decision. Now what? If they are in seventh grade, going into eighth grade in the fall, then hopefully you have already addressed some of the items covered in this prevous blog on the first steps to take regarding performing arts high school auditions.

So here you are a couple of months away from the start of eighth grade, it’s summer — time for relaxing before school starts, right? Nope. You and your child need to be starting your preparation now for auditions that could begin as soon as late October (yes, that’s soon). For the sake of this article, I will be focusing on the New York City schools preparation, but most of it should apply generally to your local schools.

Once you and your child have narrowed down what schools they are interested in, you need to determine the audition schedules and any other pre-audition testing or requirements. Your middle school/junior high school counselor should be able to help you with some of this, and if you are in a large district like New York that has multiple options for performing arts high schools, there should be information on your school district site like this. Get a notebook or keep a good calendar so you don’t lose track of things. The whole process can get overwhelming, especially with multiple schools, and you don’t want to get any dates mixed up and not be allowed to have your child attend the auditions.

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Once you have determined your choice of schools and the audition dates, it’s time to think about audition pieces. And hopefully your youngster is already studying in the arts. Here we will focus on acting and vocal auditions, but much of the timing and general advice will be the same.

Drama/Acting

Be sure to check for your school’s specific requirements (and they could differ by school even in the same district), but in general an acting audition will require two memorized, contrasting monologues (for example, a comedic one and a dramatic one). They must be from either published collections of monologues for young people, or they can be taken from a play. But the key is that they must exist in some published form. The play that Aunt Susan wrote as a college project or a monologue from a TV show or movie your kid loves does not count. The characters in the monologues should be close in age to your child, and they should avoid classical (ie, Shakespeare) at this stage. Check out the StageAgent monologue tool and our partfinder to start looking up some possible audition monologues. Some school sites will also give you a list of suggested monologues to use.

As a student preparing for auditions, finding a monologue isn’t just a matter of picking something off a list and using the first one. You must try a few out, see how they feel, see how you like the character and how comfortable you are with the language. You shouldn’t just decide to perform the first ones you pick. I have had students work through half a dozen monologues or more before settling on the final two pieces; then we have to work out just the right cut of it to fit the time requirements, generally a minute long. As a parent in this process, try to find someone to coach your youngster; often they are just too self-conscious to work with mom and dad, and then they won’t really be prepared. Your school’s drama teacher, local conservatories, or private acting coaches all will have experience that will help your child feel really ready to audition.

Starting this process is not something you want to do a mere few weeks before the auditions. Once you’ve found monologues that seem interesting, your child needs to read the plays they come from (where possible–many of the monologues in anthologies may not come from full plays). Your acting coach will work your child on creating a character, understanding what makes that character tick, working on their diction and projection skills, as well as keeping them on task with memorization. Coaches will help a student work on additional skills like how to confidently walk into the audition room and introduce themselves, “cold” reading (performing a scene or monologue without benefit of extra preparation), or improvisation or theater games.

Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.
Photo credit: Tammy Ayala via Creative Commons License.

If a student is auditioning for a straight drama/acting program, this will be the general run-down. Students auditioning for musical theatre programs will need to perform song selections as well, which we’ll address next.

Vocal/Musical Theatre Auditions

Vocal programs could be either classically based or musical theatre. Once again, check the specific school’s requirements, and more specifically, understand the types of vocal classes offered. If your child only wants to do musical theatre, you want to be very clear that you are not auditioning from a more operatic/classical program (although the skills learned in either are going to serve them well down the line). Musical audition pieces should be chosen with the same care as monologues. They need to be age-appropriate and show an understanding and relation to the lyrics being sung. Lyrics need to be acted; singing pretty isn’t the only option here. I believe that an auditioning singer needs to read the libretto for the musical they are singing from just as the actor doing a monologue would read the play.

Two contrasting pieces should be prepared: an uptempo and a ballad; a comedic and a more dramatic song; or a musical theater piece and a classical piece, which might be in a foreign language for more classical programs. Once again, the StageAgent Partfinder and our audition songs database are a good place to start looking for material. The pieces must be memorized and fit comfortably in the student’s range. It can be better to choose an easier song that your child can perform really, really well than a more showy piece they might struggle with. And as with monologues, the process of choosing these pieces should be started months before the auditions! Hopefully, for singers, they are already in choirs or musicals or are working with private vocal coaches to develop their skills. At the auditions, students may be asked to sing scales or listen to rhythms or pitches and repeat them back to show facility with musicality in an improvised, unrehearsed setting.

Once again, any coaching outside of the family setting is a huge help. Having someplace to go and sing other than their bedroom will encourage exploration and better practice skills where your child isn’t worried about people hearing mistakes as she learns her music or if he is singing too loudly and bothering the neighbors. And a professional vocal coach will make sure that your child’s music is prepared correctly for the accompanist and work with your child on how to make their entrance and speak appropriately to the accompanist as well. Anything you can do to boost your child’s confidence is key.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

One last note about musical theatre auditions. Those students will need both songs and monologues prepared, and they will need to be ready for a dance audition as well. They don’t need to be ballerinas or amazing tap dancers to get accepted (that’s why there are dance-specific programs), but they need to be able to demonstrate an ability to move well and keep count with the music. They need to demonstrate that they can make the effort to learn the dance movement and sell it and show their character and personality! Overall, schools are looking for potential.

So, here are your summer homework assignments that you need to get cracking on now (sorry about those summer plans):

  • Reread the First Steps blog for a few reality checks/reminders.
  • Determine audition dates.
  • Choose audition material with your child and an outside arts professional.
  • Encourage and support your child to practice daily now and consistently for the next few months and not wait until the last minute.

These next few months will fly by. Create a plan and help your child stick to it so that they will be well-prepared, confident, and be able to nail that performing arts high school audition!

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NO!!!

How NOT to Audition: Five Key Mistakes to Avoid

There is a lot of advice out there on auditioning. A great how-to is even right HERE on this website!

But there are a few things that a ton of performers do which impede their auditioning. Here are five of them, and how to flip them into something positive:

1. THE BLITZKRIEG

Perhaps it’s mid-January to April, which means “audition season.” There are literally hundreds of shows being cast by theatres around the country, all at the same time. So on any given day, there may be five or six major auditions. And you try to hit them ALL.

I understand the “throw all the darts at the dartboard at once and hope ONE of them sticks” mentality; believe me, I’ve been there. But it just doesn’t work. You need to find the roles and shows for which you are truly competitive, and focus on those. Otherwise you will spread yourself too thin, and not give the more book-able auditions their due. In addition, you run the risk of showing yourself to casting directors as someone who doesn’t know his or her niche – which will make them dismiss you, rather than think of you for a different project.

Honestly, this even goes for when times are slower – choose projects to audition for that a) you’re really, truly right for, and b) you really, truly want to do. This will make you happier, and likely result in a higher audition-to-booking ratio.

2. THE UNIFORM

This is mostly one for the musical theatre ladies: DO NOT WEAR A JEWEL-TONE/FLORAL DRESS AND NUDE PUMPS. Or your LaDucas. (Unless you’re actually at a dance call.)

NO!!!

You know the look I mean – you think it makes you appear like a blank slate the director can project the image of the role on to. In reality, it’s the opposite. It’s a fairly universal truism that a casting director has decided whether or not to call you back THREE SECONDS after you walk into the room. That’s even before you hand your book to the accompanist.

(This applies to non-musical auditions as well; I see a lot of flowy dresses for Shakespeare seasons. But casting directors for plays make the same decisions the moment you open the door.)

Sure, what you do with your next two minutes and fifty-seven seconds can change their minds (both ways!), but they’ve already made a judgement call about whether or not you’re right for the role after three seconds. So a “blank slate” look will not help your chances one bit. They’re seeing a bazillion people –help them out! I’m not saying come in costume, far from it.

ALSO NO. Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Creative Commons License
ALSO NO.
Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Creative Commons License

Echo the role, and don’t be afraid to show your personality and your individualism so they can get a sense of you from that first moment. And that goes for the fellas as well.

3. THE LENGTH

When theatres ask for 16-32 bars or “a short selection” for a musical, or a brief 1-2 minute monologue, they mean what they say. As referenced above, your auditioners don’t need to watch an entire character arc in song to decide if they want to see more from you. Initial auditions are like speed dating, seriously. Pique their interest. Then when you get the callback, you can luxuriate. At a packed chorus call when they cut it down to eight bars, you should hear the cacophony of groans. But it doesn’t matter! They really will see what they need to see to decide in that short chunk.

You should make it a priority to find short cuts of any song you put in your book. And time your monologues, with pauses, and get them to a minute. These long days of auditioning are pretty brutal on auditioners. (I’ve also spent some time on the other side of the table, so I can attest to it!) You will curry a lot of favor with short, intelligent choices. Less really is more.

4. THE NITPICKING

The accompanist was bad. The room was hot. You lost your place in the monologue. You gacked on the big note. The director asked you a question and you fumbled the answer. You were rushing from another audition and didn’t have time to catch your breath. You heard they already cast the role. You saw the person who snatches jobs away from you ahead of you in line.

I have seen people walk out of audition rooms and burst into tears. My heart goes out to them, because, again, we’ve all been there. But the BEST piece of advice I can give is to quote Elsa and say, “Let it go.”

Frozen GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

If you obsess over all the tiny things you think went wrong, you’ll never get out of your head, and that’s a death knell. Here’s the deal – NONE OF THAT MATTERS. If the accompanist was bad for you, he was bad for everyone. Auditioners know that everyone gacks on a note now and then. And so on.

There are fifty things you don’t have control over, but you have control over how you handle them. Shift your mindset – it’s not, “Please, oh please, give me this job,” it’s, “Hey, I’m an awesome person and a great performer and don’t you want to hang out with me for six weeks?” Going back to the speed-dating analogy; if you’re totally into someone, and he spills a drink on you, you will still probably go out with him. So don’t freak out over the little stuff.

5. THE COMPARTMENTALIZING

One job will not make a career.

There are a lot of folks out there who think they’ll come to New York and book a Broadway show, and it will be gravy from then on. For a rare few – a very rare few – that might happen. But for most of us, after each gig, we’re kind of back at square one.

Yes, you’ll have another credit, you will have networked with more people, you may have grown as a person and performer – but that may not translate into a string of bookings. So you can’t live and die over one particular job.

It’s startling how many actors don’t think of their work in terms of a career. If you do, I promise everything will be more fulfilling. Rejections won’t matter as much (because you’ll have been brilliant and so they’ll want to work with you eventually). You won’t get jealous over friends’ successes (because that’s THEIR career, not yours, and we each have a path). Your day job will be less of a struggle (because it’s just a temporary means to an end).

If you think in terms of a career, in-between bookings you’ll create your own material–because you’re an artist, and that’s what artists do. You’ll get those creative juices flowing, and maybe also come up with something that fills your soul as well as your bank account.

#          #          #

Avoiding these five mistakes might not guarantee bookings, but you’ll be a much happier and polished performer. Break legs and be brilliant!

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Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License

Choosing the Audition Song That Lets YOU Shine

So you’re going to audition for a musical. You’ve got an appointment (or the strength and spirit to wait in line), and you are going to do your best to make your musical theatre dreams come true. You have your headshot and resume all ready to go and now all you need to do is to choose a song. Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to help along the way:

What show am I auditioning for?

It’s important to tailor your material to the specific audition at hand. You wouldn’t sing the same song to audition for Carousel as you would for American Idiot, would you? Think about the style of the score and make sure that you are showcasing your voice in a way that shows those casting that your talent would be an asset to this production. Pick out three to four songs in the right style so you have a couple to choose from.

Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.
“You’re a queer one, Julie Jordan.” Maybe more than we’ll ever know. Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.

What question can help you narrow down your three or four songs to one? What character am I auditioning for? Think about the qualities of the character you want to play and figure out which song best brings out those qualities in you. Is this character sexy? Meek? Loud? Quiet? Stylish? Clumsy? For example, if you’re auditioning for an nerdy, meek character, you might sing “Grow for Me” from Little Shop of Horrors. If you’re auditioning for a seductive character, you might sing “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees.  Choosing a song that highlights your qualities that liken you to the character will make it easier for the folks behind the table to see you as that character. You can find hundred of audition songs to choose from on the StageAgent Audition Song Database!

Next is a crucial question that many overlook: Do I like this song? If you don’t like the song you won’t want to practice the song and you probably won’t do your best job performing the song. It’s that simple. If you don’t like a song, don’t sing it. Nobody wants to see you feeling bored or uninspired while you’re performing. We want to see you singing your heart out and living your dreams. That’s what inspires someone to hire you and want to collaborate with you to create theatrical magic.

Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.
Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.

So you have a song that you love in the right style that feels like the character for which you’re gunning. Now we come to a more difficult question and that is: Does this song showcase me? If you are a classical soprano and you’ve chosen a to sing a Beyoncé song, you simply aren’t setting yourself up for success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work on material that stretches you. It’s great to set goals and to work on broadening one’s skills, but those songs should be in a separate binder from your audition material. Maybe one day you can “Run The World” your way into the audition room, but today is not that day, boo (I can still see your Halo, though).

Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.
Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.

Remember that people want to get to know you during an audition. If a song doesn’t quite fit the style or make sense on paper, but you have a gut feeling that it’s the right song and you love it with all your heart, take a chance on that love. Originality and creativity go a long way and have the chance to help you stand out and make a lasting impression.

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homework

Auditioning: The Actual Job of an Actor

Greets, dear reader!

I am of the school of thought that when it comes to being an actor, auditioning is the real work. While I continue to hone this skill, I now recognize that performing is the reward for those seemingly endless hours of work. Rather than approaching them as job interviews, I think of auditions as a unique, albeit brief opportunity to perform for a crowd of few. After all, what more does entertainment require than the actor and audience? Dare to treat them with a touch of levity and you might just find that auditioning can be rewarding and, dare I say, fun.

Preparation

What frays the nerves more than being ill-equipped for an audition? You go up on your lyrics, get that deer-in-the-headlights look, and next thing you know, you’re hearing, “Thank you, that’s all we need to see today.” Nothing is more irksome than blowing a genuinely awesome audition. Preparation is the first step in putting your best foot forward.

homework

I look for songs that are type-appropriate and written for relatable characters. My go-to piece is “Free” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. As I identify with the larger-than-life style, the role of Pseudolus is right in my wheelhouse. “Free” is an up-tempo “I am/I want” song that showcases both a wide vocal and comedic range, which is an ideal choice for my type. Alas, being a one-trick pony doesn’t do me any favors, so I’ve got several different songs from various genres to meet my audition needs.

The night before an audition is my time to review. I look over my music, making sure I’ve marked it legibly. I double-check the casting notice to ensure I’ve prepared everything. If there’s the possibility of a dance call, I pack accordingly. And, I always make sure I’ve stapled my headshot and resume. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone pesters me for a stapler. They are $6 on Amazon, and that includes staples and a remover. If you can afford headshots in New York, you can afford to prepare.

The Holding Room

For the majority of us at the audition, it’s business time. We’re there to work. There’s always one lone goober, though, who gloms on to whoever will placate them, prattling on about what they’ve done, where they’ve been, or who they know. I’m not sure if this is just how some people’s nerves manifest themselves, but this has got to be one of the most annoying things imaginable. It’s all I can do review my materials, calm my own nerves, and focus on the task ahead without dodging a Chatty Cathy.

I won’t argue that a good warm-up is essential to belting your face off, yet here we find another major holding room no-no. In NY, most studios will rent smaller spaces on the cheap, a service I’ve taken advantage of when those extra fifteen minutes of scales make all the difference. It’s ideal because you’re able to warm up in the privacy of your own studio, and everyone else gets to maintain their focus. I believe it was Aretha who said, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” And, as I know all too well the trials of the regional/community circuit, you have no better studio in which to belt those last-minute riffs than your car. My go-to method of warming up is a BeltBox, a device that is gaining in popularity amongst performers. As it cuts my volume about thirty decibels, I’m able to warm up full voice in the hall or bathroom without disturbing anyone. Ultimately, it all comes down to taking care of our voices while still respecting the holding room space.

In the Room

Just before I walk in the room, I tell myself, confidence is key. I drop all the mental baggage of the day and am completely open to whatever may occur. After a warm greeting and quick chat with the accompanist, the room is entirely mine for the next minute and a half. The spotlight will never be more yours than it is at this moment.

Photo Credit: Chris & Karen Highland, Creative Commons License
Photo Credit: Chris & Karen Highland, Creative Commons License

Prior to walking in the room, the three questions I ask are: Who am I talking to (relationship)? What do I want? What are the stakes? The more detailed your answers are, the more clarity your performance will have. I try to stick to the “16 bars” rule, but if you’ve an up tempo song like “Free,” you’re allowed to cheat it up a bit. I take a deep breath and ground myself, which is crucial because it establishes the firm foundation on which the rest of the audition is built. Most callbacks will require you to prepare sides, which are great because they add some spontaneity to the process. If given ahead of time, I’ll usually be 90% off book after reviewing them into the ground. The pro: you have the luxury of time to experiment and play with different choices. The con: the more set your choices are, the harder it is to be flexible in the room. With a cold read, you’re lucky if you’ve time enough to read the sides twice beforehand. That said, I prefer these! The pro: cold reads allow for a genuine sense of discovery in which the team and I experience the text together. Trust your gut instincts as they are often the most natural choice. The con: heightened nerves from not having worked the text often lead to rushing and fumbling.

From beginning to end and everything in between, an actor’s greatest asset is confidence. Rather than a cocky bravado, it’s a cool conviction that illuminates your work and holds attention. It’s the confidence that comes from choosing the appropriate material, making informed acting choices, and having fun! Be your best you and the rest is in their hands.

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Happy Days

Audition Material That’s Right for YOU

I have found, both in my life as a creative and in my career in casting that there are two kinds of people: those who love auditioning and those that would rather eat glass, but know they must audition in order to work. Either way, auditioning is a necessary evil, if you want to be a professional actor. There is just no way around it. If you are a person who loves auditioning, consider yourself blessed.

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