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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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cruise-108974_1280

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 1: A Practical Guide

bear cruiseAhoy mateys! (and I sort of hate myself for that). Today we’re going to talk about being a cruise ship entertainer, what the work is like, and how you live on the ocean for months at a time. Of course, every company is different, and I only have experience personally with one certain popular family-themed enterprise, but there are performers here who do have history with multiple cruise line companies, and this is what I’ve learned.

Let’s start with what types of entertainment you will find on a ship. Typically, there are performers who are hired to do “in-house” productions, but you’ll also find stand-up comedians, magicians, jugglers, hypnotists, ventriloquists, musical acts, aerialists, acrobats…sometimes all on one ship! Often you may see an audition notice in Backstage (or any number of audition resources) that will list openings for these kinds of acts, but also many cruise lines use booking agents to find that sort of specific talent. For certain, you will find these companies looking for singers, dancers, and, yes, occasionally actors.

I say occasionally because these companies often produce different themed musical revues, and have little need for legit actors who may or may not sing and dance. In recent years, however, certain companies (I’ll use Norwegian as an example) have begun to produce traditional book shows such as Rock of Ages, HairsprayChicago and Mamma Mia! It may be rare that a non-singing actor would be needed, but I suppose it’s not impossible.

In general, the cruise ship performer is a singer/dancer. Disney Cruise Lines and other companies who produce Broadway-style shows, pride themselves on hiring true “triple threats” (actor/singer/dancers), as well as advanced dancers and tumblers for specific jobs.

“Wait, Rob,” you ask, “if they hire triple threats, then how did you get that job?”

winking jesusI, er, um…moving on!

Auditions for cruise lines are basically like any other audition: nerve-wracking, nightmare-inducing, self-defeating…you get the point. I kid, I kid! (Mostly.) It all depends on the shows being produced. If the company needs powerhouse singers (and many of them do), be prepared to show them your pipes. Though there are companies who do Broadway-style revues, even opera, you’re far more likely to encounter a heavy dose of pop music. Often these shows are dedicated to certain performers or eras in music (say, a Motown revue, the music of Michael Jackson, etc.). The clientele of a cruise ship—well I hate to state the obvious—but they’re on vacation. For the most part, they want to have a week-long party. Fun, energetic music during the day and into the big party nights, with maybe a quieter touch like jazz or standards being sung in a piano bar as the evening winds down. You’re not likely to find a country music review or hip/hop (not impossible, just not likely). So, if you’re auditioning for these jobs, choose your music accordingly, the audition listing will have the instructions.

Now, I’m the last person qualified to give a dancer advice, but here’s my best shot. These dance jobs are heavy jazz, some musical theatre, funk, maybe some hip hop, and contemporary. Not a ton of ballet, definitely no pointe. Also, if you’ve got gymnastic skills or tumbling, show it. The more tricks you can do, the better your chances. Later, when we move to what it’s like on the ship, I have some thoughts on health and maintenance for all performers, but particularly dancers.

Keep in mind that cruise contracts are typically long commitments, averaging 6-9 months in length. There are of course some shorter contracts (like mine currently), but overall, that’s the range.

Let’s now look beyond the audition and get to the actual job. Rehearsals are most often on land at first (it’s just easier, right?), and you move to the ship when it’s time to put it all together. So, you’ve done all you can do on land, now it’s time to do it…at sea!

When I walk to the theatre I perform in on the ship, it looks like a Broadway house. Truly, it’s beautiful, extremely well-maintained, and holds about 1300 people. You’d think it would be located right in the heart of the theatre district, but no, it’s somewhere else…IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.

Photo Credit: Steven & Katherine via Creative Commons License
Photo Credit: Steven & Katherine via Creative Commons License

That’s an obvious statement but think about what it means. We are sailing, the boat is rocking, and there’s often no land in sight (my cruise itinerary alternates between Eastern and Western Caribbean, 7 days each). So when I am on stage, and I take a step toward another actor, the stage is moving underneath me. The floor might not actually be where I anticipate it to be. Think of those old episodes of Star Trek, where the Enterprise is under attack, and the crew is falling all over the place. Okay it’s not normally that bad, but it gives you the idea. And all I do is walk and talk and sing! Imagine if you are a dancer, or a gymnast, and the floor ISN’T WHERE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s a weird feeling, no doubt. But, you get used to it, and unless you are in the middle of a storm (when a show may be canceled anyway), it really is no big deal. All shows have contingencies for rough seas, if something is too dangerous to perform, it will likely not be performed.

Other than the venue, it’s no different from doing a show on land. But what about life on the ship? For answers to that and more, check out Part Two of this entry next time!

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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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Casting Director Alison Franck

The National Tour: More Conversations on Casting

Last time around we had an opportunity to hear from Casting Director Bob Kale on the specific challenges of casting a National Tour.  That conversation bled into the much broader topic of auditioning for just about anything, with many more stones to be turned. I reached out to Alison Franck CSA, head of her own casting office (Franck Casting), for another perspective and further conversation on the casting process.

Alison has been casting everything from Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theatre, National Tours, Television, and Film for more than 20 years. She began as an assistant for the legendary casting office Johnson & Liff, where she worked on such modest successes as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, and Miss Saigon (insert wry emoticon here). She took her formidable skills to the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse, where over a span of a decade she cast more than 50 shows, including the Broadway transfer of I’m Not Rappaport starring Judd Hirsch, Anything Goes with Chita Rivera, The Full Monty with Elaine Stritch, and The Importance of Being Earnest with Lynn Redgrave. Her work has been seen on TV in the critical hit Freaks and Geeks, in commercials (as a partner at Liz Lewis Casting), and the children’s TV series Peter Rabbit.

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This series is focused on the National Tour, so we start there. I ask, “What should an actor consider before even auditioning for a tour?”

The main thing is, are they ready to live out of a box, a suitcase. And in my honest opinion, I think women have it tougher than men in this aspect.”

“Do you think it’s harder for women in general to be on a tour?”

It seems to me that guys adapt to tour life easier than girls do, but that’s certainly dependent on the individual. And it’s just my opinion, though I did tour for 2 years when I was still acting.”

“Any advice for people on tour for the first time?”

Go out and explore the area. When I would first get to a town, I would go walking by myself, see what was there, how safe I felt. I would see the country. Then I’d come back and work out, and prepare for the show. I was better about this process on my second tour than I was on my first. I just felt that I should use the tour as a real opportunity to see places I’d never been.”

“Some actors go out on tour, make potentially a substantial amount of money, but come home broke. Were you able to come back from your tours with some savings?”

“I was. I wouldn’t say that I was great with money back then, but I learned quickly. And sometimes you have to be willing to pay for your comfort. Do I need a single room this week? Yes. Yes I do. Sometimes you spend more money than you should, but you need that comfort. I would also say that you need to be aware of what is coming, like an unpaid layoff, which can happen frequently. Don’t let those things catch you by surprise.”

“How often does someone turn down a tour offer?”

“We do a lot of casting in advance, and by nature that results in losing people to other work. So we have to go to our backup files 2, 3, 4 times. Sometimes we need to have more auditions, and occasionally that’s the best thing we can do, get some fresh blood in the room.”

“How do you feel about the current practice of self-taped auditions?”

This is my soapbox moment. You need to know what to do and how to do it. Yes, you can use your iPhone. You shouldn’t do it yourself, however, get a friend to help. Don’t procrastinate, do it when you don’t have a job so you can learn. Take a lot of selfies. Take a class if you need to learn the technology. Find a big, blank space to shoot, don’t do it in front of your messy kitchen. Practice by taking selfies, then videotaping yourself with your phone, to know your best angles and where the best lighting is, then start working with friends, having them shoot you, etc. Our smartphones really are a tool to improve how well we do on tape.”

“For theatre, we want to see a full body shot. For TV and Film, a ¾ shot is normal. And make sure that even your self-taped audition is authentic, that it’s not the fifteenth take and you’re a little too polished.”

“How often do you actually look at websites or reels?”

“A lot. I look at it if I’m not sure who a person is, or what they can do. If you are a singer, have a website with some song clips. If you’re a gymnast, a dancer, same thing. Have a reel with shows you’ve been in, so you can show your work. Reels are important for TV and Film, but I will say you can’t throw commercials on a reel (for rights-related issues). Maybe if it’s a non-union commercial, but you have to be very careful about using them.”

“If you are a writer, and you are interested in creating and producing your own work, then I say go for it. It may not go anywhere, but at least you’ll have some material to show people.”

Casting Director Alison Franck
Casting Director Alison Franck

“What kinds of auditions do you remember most?”

“Auditions that make me laugh or excite me. Also, when people truly make me cry I remember them But I don’t think people should use sad material for everything and it shouldn’t be the starting point, but as a contrast to something that shows humor or joy. Someone just made me cry last week and I was blown away. But she had already wowed me with something legit and fun.”

For more information about Alison, please visit www.franckcasting.com.

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