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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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Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006

How to Prepare Your Music and Talk to an Accompanist

Whether you’re auditioning for a regional production of South Pacific or the pre-Broadway workshop of the next Hamilton (Hamilton II: Peggy’s Revenge), you need to prepare your music and be able to confidently speak to an accompanist.

Let’s start with your sheet music. Sheet music is a wonderful tool as it allows you to communicate with the person playing the piano clearly and efficiently. Sheet music is also a coy and dangerous mistress because there is potential for disaster!

Step 1: Find the sheet music for the song you are going to sing. Just because the accompanist knows “Younger Than Springtime” by heart, doesn’t mean that s/he will be able to play it from memory (in your key) after four hours of playing auditions. Set yourself up for success by having the things you need.

younger than springtime
Tabitha is literally younger than springtime.

Step 2: Make sure your music is incredibly clean and legible. It’s best to keep separate copies of each song for a 16-bar, 32-bar, and full song audition. If you have more than one cut marked in the same piece of music, there’s potential for the pianist to misread the cut and start or stop in the incorrect place, leaving you looking unprepared. If you start your cut in the middle of a song, make sure to write the title of the song at the top of the page. If I know what song it is, usually I can be ready to start right away. If I can’t tell, my instinct is to flip pages back until I see the title, which eats up time. When copying music from an oversized book, make sure to reduce it. The magic ratio here is usually 93%. Telling the copy machine to reduce the image by this ratio ensures that all the notes on the page will copy.

Step 3: Put the song in the key for you. If you don’t sing the song in the key that it’s written, please transpose it or hire someone to transpose it. Once again, just because the accompanist can transpose on sight, doesn’t mean that they’ll want to be your best friend when you ask them to play “Astonishing” in C-flat major.

Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006
“Did you say C-flat major?” Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006

Step 4: Make sure that your binder is clean and organized. Most of the auditions I play are those that I’m also musically directing or casting. If you are someone I don’t know, I’m unlikely to consider you for a role if your binder has ripped pages and candy wrappers popping out of every nook and cranny. What I love to see are dividers between songs, a clearly marked table of contents and extra resumes and headshots in the front pocket of the binder so I can learn more about you while you’re doing your monologue or talking to the people behind the table.

Once your sheet music and binder are at their best, and you’ve gotten up early and dreamed your musical theatre dreams, it’s time to get to the audition and talk to the accompanist.

First off, the pianist wants you to be good. The pianist is your friend. The pianist wants you to be the person they are looking for. The pianist wants you to be a fantastic singer that is a joy to collaborate with. The pianist wants to dance with you on the opening night party of your big hit show. Okay, some pianists don’t care either way, but there will always be one jaded person lurking in the corner with their thumb in a pie. Your job is to be kind to them anyway because this business is small and theatre people talk!

The goal of your conversation with the pianist is to convey the necessary information in a pleasant, succinct, and efficient way. Say hello, introduce yourself, put your binder on the piano and open your binder to the page you’re singing from.

Now it’s time to give a tempo. Here are terrible ways to give the tempo and annoy your new musical collaborator: clap, snap, hit the piano, hit the wall, or hit anything within reach. Even if you are a conductor, don’t conduct at the pianist. First off, you’re too close in proximity and it’s uncomfortable and not the most efficient way to win here. Simply sing a line or two of your song. If the pianist has questions, they will ask. Remember, unless it’s brand new or a secret the accompanist probably knows the song. Even then, we might know it because most of us are nerds who can’t help ourselves.

brick wall
This is my tempo!

If there’s anything unusual in your cut, i.e., huge stops in the music, rubato sections, etc., make sure to explain that to your pianist before you sing. Then take the room, slate, and nod to your pianist when you’re ready for him or her to start playing. Sing your song, be brilliant, say “thank you” to the room, and thank the pianist and leave. Seriously. Even if your pianist had pie plate hands and played your song like a drunken baby, you need to politely say thank you before leaving.

Finally, here’s the number one mistake I see in the room: You forget your binder! Please remember to get your binder from the piano. It looks bad when you get halfway out the door and then say, “Oh crap, I forgot my binder…why do I ruin everything OMG!?” Especially after you’ve had a lovely audition and everyone in the room is considering where they can put you in their season.

 

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audition blackboard

Performing Arts High School Auditions: First Steps

audition blackboardApplying to get into some high schools these days is like applying for college. As an acting coach here in New York and part of the faculty of a small arts conservatory, I was flabbergasted at the process of getting into high school here, especially performing arts schools.

Here in New York in the first few months of the 8th-grade school year, there are weeks of competitive auditions at various arts schools across multiple disciplines such as drama/acting, vocal, or musical theater (note: while I am focusing on the student actor/singer, much of this applies to the dance, instrumental, fine arts, and film/television students). Some schools in other states begin the process with online applications after which audition appointments are granted. But regardless of where you live, you need to deal with applications, audition preparation, rehearsal, and lots of time visiting campuses for open houses and sample showcases to meet students and staff before the actual auditions. It’s a pressure-filled several months that can lead to big smiles or lots of tears when you get that all-important decision letter. But how can you prepare your child – and yourself — for this process?

Listen to Your Kid
If your kids are like most tweens, they might not be the most forthcoming in stating or even knowing what they want to do right now – even those who are already gravitating toward the performing arts. They might not realize that these magical, artistic school options even exist near them. Your youngsters may not feel like they are good enough or understand that they could actually go to high school to learn to act or sing operatically at this age. They might feel that you wouldn’t want them to do it. If you hear the subtle, or not-so-subtle hints, like an obsession with the Broadway Cast Recording of Wicked or Hamilton or anything written by Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown, talk to them about their dreams.

kid singing hairbrush

Now, maybe you don’t want your youngster to go into the arts; it’s a tough business and making a living is not easy, but attending an arts school doesn’t mean they must pursue it in the future – this is just high school after all, and they will be studying English, science, math, foreign languages, etc. Many performing arts schools have excellent academic records, and there are many other careers where an arts study is great training. Companies these days are always on the lookout for creative thinkers –and seriously, an acting background would come in handy for a lawyer or anyone who needs to speak in front of crowds, right?

Start Preparing for Auditions Early
Performing arts schools don’t necessarily want stars; they want kids with promise, a glimmer of something special, and a hint of talent with room to grow. They want a kid who will help fill out an existing troupe of characters in the Drama or Musical Theater departments or those who will round out a vocal ensemble, filling in the Alto or Tenor gaps that will be left by graduating seniors. Realistically, they want kids with good grades and who have good attendance records –7th grade is not the year to oversleep or miss class as those are the records that will be pulled for the 8th grade auditions. So watch for the signs that you may have a talented or driven kid and start preparing for these auditions in 6th or 7th grade; don’t wait until only five or six weeks before the auditions. Unless your child is extremely gifted, you’re very likely too late at this point. There are songs and scales to be memorized and polished, cold reading and a capella singing skills to be honed; kids need to be taught how to talk to an accompanist and even how to clearly introduce themselves. It’s possible, but difficult, and who needs that added pressure? START. EARLY.

Talk to Others Who Have Been Through the Process
If you are on the path with your child to pursue performing arts high school auditions, find other parents to talk to about the process. It isn’t for the faint of heart, especially in New York. Talk to your middle school counselor; they are often responsible for helping with audition appointments. If you already have your child in private voice or acting lessons or dance classes, the instructors could advise you on the appropriate preparation and put you in touch with students and families who will be willing to chat with you. And start planning as soon as you even think it might a possibility, because even if you’re not quite sure, you have a lot of research to do on schools. And know that while it may seem to be a terrifying project to tackle, once you have begun, the process will become clearer, especially with other folks to talk to.

Hope for the Best, but Prepare for the Worst Reality
Every year thousands of kids compete for a limited number of spots at these specialized schools. The odds are not great. And not getting in can feel like the end of the world to a kid. It isn’t. It’s not a crushing of dreams and, although it stings, it’s just the odds. This isn’t anyone saying, “You’ll never be a serious actress,” as Diana Morales is informed in A Chorus Line; it’s just not now, not here. And it’s nothing personal – this is the hardest thing to learn, even for adults. Plus, if your kid truly wants to go into the performing arts, they will hear “No” far more often than “Yes” and will need to learn how to handle rejection now. Your job is to support and encourage your dreamers, but with caution and guidance about the possibility that it won’t work out every time. There are still many, many training and performing opportunities to come in another high school, private lessons, or college programs.

And the even harder reality is that regardless of dreams and desires and drive, the timing may just not be right for your child. Maybe their voices are just not agile enough right now or their acting skills need time and maturity to develop. Talk frankly with your child’s various coaches and teachers—without your youngster present—for their honest assessment and advice on attending auditions.

So start listening, talking, researching, and preparing now for the not-so-far-off day when you drop your youngster at a strange school teeming with hundreds of kids, give them a hug, tell them you believe in them no matter what, and call out “break a leg” as they are enveloped into the auditioning throng of kids.

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Helen Benedict / CC BY

New Monologue and Song Recommendation Tool

The importance of choosing strong material

When it comes to casting, much is uncertain.  One thing, however, is guaranteed:  if you want to land your dream role, you need to come to an audition prepared. As the saying goes, you truly never get a second chance to make a first impression. This rule is never more true than during the audition process.  Learning about the show in advance and choosing an appropriate audition outfit help, but it’s in the selection and preparation of your song and monologue that you can truly shine.

Helen Benedict / CC BY
Helen Benedict / YouTube

What kind of monologue and song to prepare

In our earlier post on how to prepare for an audition, actor Danielle Frimer notes that it’s worthwhile to have at your disposal both dramatic and comedic contemporary monologues, dramatic and comedic classical monologues that show off different colors, and a few audition songs (uptempos and ballads) in various musical styles that show off your vocal range. In NY-based actor Becca Ballenger’s post on how to choose the perfect monologue, she points out that actors should constantly read new plays to discover monologues, because the most unique pieces are discovered by you, not a coach or a book.

Your monologue and song should be in a similar style and genre for the show you’re auditioning for — but not from the actual show for which you are auditioning.  The risk in doing material from the show itself is that your notion of the role will be at odds with the preconceived notion of the director.  Instead, you can help coax the director’s imagination in the right direction by finding material that showcases similar skills and traits to those demanded by your dream role.  Researching the characters for which you are auditioning ahead of time allows you to select appropriate audition pieces that make it easy for the casting director to envision you in your target role(s).

Actors are busy

Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay / CC BY
Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay / CC BY

We get it — actors are very busy people! You have voice lessons, dance classes, acting classes, rehearsals, and the number of auditions can pile up at a moment’s notice.  It’s not always possible to read every play in its entirety before a last-minute audition, — not to mention read hundreds of new plays to select and then learn a brand-new monologue perfectly suited to the role, and pour over thousands of scores to pick the perfect new 32-bar excerpt.  You should certainly build a repertoire of diverse material, but when it comes down to the wire and you need something perfectly suited to the character for which you’re auditioning, it’s easy to come up short.

Our new monologue & song recommendation tool

At StageAgent, we are on a quest to make actors’ lives easier. You already know that StageAgent is best place online to find quality theatre character breakdowns. Now, when you look at a breakdown, we take it a step further and display specific recommendations for audition monologues and songs based off of that character’s attributes.

For example, if you are auditioning for Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors you can now see recommended audition monologues and songs when you scroll down through Seymour’s character breakdown.

Seymour audition song

If you’re auditioning for Seymour, you might want to look into singing “I’m Not That Smart” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for your audition!

Or similarly, if you have an audition for Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie, you now know by looking at StageAgent that you might want to consider Blanche’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire.

Conclusion

Of course, this recommendation tool is only a starting point.  Only you can know for certain whether an audition monologue or song is right for you — but this time-saving feature is a great place to start!  

Note that this recommendation feature is only accessible to StageAgent PRO members.

We hope you find our new recommendation tool useful. If you have any suggestions for improvement, please let us know!

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Young Actors Camp

Acting Students Learning About Online Promotion Tools

There was a time when the only way for actors to get in front of casting directors and agents was to pound the pavement, day after day, dropping off paper resumes and headshots to countless offices. Today, the internet has changed casting forever by condensing information into one place; your computer. With the right knowledge and training, any actor can advance their career by finding opportunities in their local area without ever leaving their home. That’s why Young Actors Camp (YAC) offers a course specifically tailored to teach young aspiring thespians how to use online promotion tools to their benefit. YAC calls the course “Technology for the Actor,” and upon completion of the class, students will be armed with the skills for their personal gain. 

YAC students
YAC students

“Unfortunately, many actors, especially young actors, don’t know that the internet is the gateway to auditions in the modern entertainment industry,” says YAC founder Nichelle Rodriguez. “We wanted to offer a class that emphasized the importance of self-marketing, in addition to the acting training we offer. Technology for the Actor was the answer.” The course takes students on a tour of the most important websites for actors including IMDb Pro, StageAgent.com, and actorsaccess.com. Besides the major national and international websites, YAC also focuses on local web resources like state/country film commissions and local call boards where youth can find roles in their area.

“Unfortunately, many actors, especially young actors, don’t know that the internet is the gateway to auditions in the modern entertainment industry” – Nichelle Rodriguez, YAC

Technology for the Actor is just one of the core acting courses offered by Young Actors Camp at their campus in Claremont, California. Along with an education in technology, YAC offers workshops for kids and parents, film screenings, and experience on a real set. In one of their most popular courses, YAC allows campers to act in a sitcom in front of a live studio audience as a professional film crew captures the scene. It is this dedication to developing well-rounded young actors that sets Young Actors Camp apart from most other youth-specific acting camps. However, as camp director Dakota Lupo puts it, “Even the best actor in the world won’t get cast in anything if they don’t know how to find the auditions.”

Young Actors Camp was founded back in 2000 and over the years has perfected its curriculum; Technology for the Actor was an important part of the development process. “In this present day of technology, if actors know the right sites for auditions and to gain access to executive’s contact information, there is no reason an actor reach can’t be broader,” says Rodriguez. “Obviously, IMDb Pro is great for finding local shoots, and StageAgent.com is the number one site for theatre auditions, but we also preach the importance of having a personal acting website.”  

“StageAgent.com is the number one site for theatre auditions” – Nichelle Rodriguez, YAC

When asked what the most important skill for a modern actor is, Lupo responded, “Without a doubt the ability to network and market oneself. The internet is a huge part of that. We see plenty of talent in our camps, but who are the ones working? It’s the actors who are most proactive about their careers.” YAC wants to see all of their actors go on to great success and they know the best way to help their students is to give them the experiences, knowledge, and skills to perform.

YAC student film
YAC student film

Times have changed and actors must change with the times. No longer is it enough to be well-trained and professional, actors must also be internet savvy businesspeople. Technology for the Actor at Young Actors Camp is a relevant education for today’s actor that will pay great dividends for years to come.

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News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.