Audition (noun) - A necessary, and often grinding, step to acquiring a theatre performance job, which some actors love, many actors hate, and everyone else is relatively indifferent to
*Warning: This post is geared mainly toward the actor-folk and those interested in the audition process!
Last week I found myself once again in an audition room - this time behind the table, which was a lovely change! Generally speaking, whether or not I am part of the casting team, I’m hearing/viewing auditions on a weird side angle from the piano. So this was a lovely little treat!
Over my years of taking classes and workshops on “THE AUDITION” I have certainly learned many things about the audition process, and particularly about myself as an auditioner. But there is no better way to learn the ins-and-outs, dos-and-don’ts, and [other-cliched-phrases] of auditions than to sit on the other side of the table and observe with non-actor-oriented eyes/ears.
So, here are some of the things I’ve learned about auditioning.
How Many People [Do They] Need?
Auditioning and Performing are completely different skills.
But how can that be? You’re performing something for other people in both cases.
Yes, italics-half-of-this-conversation, but to entirely different ends! And each requires it’s own skill sets.
When you perform in a show, you are part of a living, breathing production. It doesn’t matter how grand or how bare bones that production may be - or how large or small the cast is - a production is a live event in which the artists and technicians have crafted a piece with the purpose of conversing with an audience. And audience who has invested their time and/or money, nonetheless.
Auditions are not a production. The only people helping you out are the monitor and accompanist (if it’s a vocal audition), and they’re really there just to do their jobs and to work with every person auditioning. This time in the room is for you and you alone. And though you are not shutting out the other people in the room, your work is not a rehearsed theatrical piece meant to make them ponder XY or Z about the human condition - that’s not the conversation you are having. This conversation should be “Here I am, this is what I do, and let me know if this fits with what you’re looking for. Thanks!”
So what is step 1 to a great audition? Preparation.
Whether going into a room with an appointment or at an open call, know exactly for what you are walking into the room.
What are the shows? Especially if you’re being seen for a full season.
Who is behind the table and at the piano? Know this please!
What did they ask you to prepare? Do you have that, or are you stretching with your choices?
Did you arrive on time? Did you have time to breathe, fix yourself up, warm up, etc.?
Did you research the theater or production company? Always a good idea to get a sense of who they are and specifically what they might be looking for.
Did you enter the room with excuses ready? The train…I’m sick…Allergies…ehn! Just do what you can today! Excuses are unhelpful.
I am floored by how often it seems as though actors have not prepared before they enter a room. They may make choices that are incorrect for the season at hand, or they make excuses before they begin, or they miss their appointment times, or they treat someone (the monitor, pianist, reader) rudely…all of this is easily avoidable with a little research and time! It’s worth that extra little bit of work - it will make your auditioning life much easier!
*A particular note about accompanists: Please know how to speak to you accompanist about your piece(s) in a way that is professional and efficient. Things to note:
They are not your enemy - in fact, they’re the only help you’ve got!
Treat them kindly - Not only is that good human behavior, they may also very well be the Musical Director. And even if they’re not, they will report rude behavior to the casting team.
Succinctly tell them: 1) What the song is, 2) Where you are starting and ending, 3) Whether you’d like an introduction or a bell tone, and 4) Your tempo.
Speaking of Your Tempo - Clapping, stomping, tapping, and snapping your tempo is highly discouraged. It’s loud and comes off as rude. Simply sing a few bars of the song to them at the tempo you would like.
Thank them…twice. Once as you leave the piano to audition and once on your way out of the room as you grab your book. Kindness is memorable!
I Can’t Imagine What [They Want}
One of the weirdest things about auditioning is that everyone involved wants you to be the answer, to be exactly what they want/are looking for. You’d like that, the auditioners would like that, the artistic team would like that, etc. Everyone would be happy.
BUT…that cannot be on your mind as you audition. Oof. That makes things more complicated.
But why not? What if thinking about what they wants wills it into existence and I suddenly shine with the perfection of the role they’re casting?!
Uh, yeah. Cool. Though, I’m fairly certain it doesn’t work that way.
It should be an incredible comfort to the auditioning actor to know that you have zero control over whether or not you are the right fit. None. Whatsoever. Not a jot.
Then what’s the point of even preparing and trying???
Well, you always want to be prepared to showcase your best self. And if you want to work in theatre, then you have to keep trying (or else you won’t get jobs…). But this idea should be freeing to you!
It’s not about how well you feel you sang your cut that day, or how you didn’t like the way the pianist played your music, or that you had some flyaway hair you didn’t notice, or that the casting personnel barely looked up…these are all things that happen all the time and have no bearing on the outcome of an audition.
So what to do?
What Should I Try To Be?
That’s it. Just be you. Show us what you do best and what you enjoy doing.
If you’re possibly what we’re looking for, awesome! We’ll give you a callback and explore who you are a little further. And if you’re not what we’re looking for then there are several possible outcomes:
We enjoyed you and you made the day of auditions a little less terrible. (For let’s remember, sitting through auditions is rarely an energizing and lovely experience!)
We put you on file because you were great even though you’re not right today.
You’re right for another project someone in the room is working on and you will be kept in mind.
You actually were potentially right for the role, but we had to be stingy about callback time and made some cuts.
And you may never learn any of this, but it happens all the time. There is a gigantic machine of thought and consideration that auditioning performers never get the opportunity to experience. You just have to trust that your work - if it was genuine and good - got you noticed and considered in ways you may not hear about for weeks, months, or even years.
So how to be yourself?
Make sure your pieces are things you enjoy performing. Auditioning with your own, chosen material should be fun for you. It should not stress you out. Don’t choose something where you’re unsure that you’ll hit the high note on a given day, or where you haven’t gone through the acting moments yet, or just because it’s been in your book for a while, or because it booked you that one gig five years ago. What do you enjoy doing now?
What shows you off the best? Know the styles of material that work best for you, your voice, your acting ability, your style, your type, etc. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Play you your strengths.
Keep your audition book thin. Relieve yourself of the burden of songs you don’t perform any more or any other excess. Accompanists will absolutely look through your book, which means that anything in there is fair game to be asked of you to sing. So only keep the 10-12 song cuts that you can whip out at any time with confidence!
Be a human. This one may seem obvious, but people get weird when walking into audition rooms. Read the room on when to say hello. Try not to interrupt if they’re talking behind the table when you enter, but definitely say hello before slating your pieces. All of the rules that apply to general polite conversation apply to the audition room as well!
Treat the casting team as fellow humans before you perform, then ignore them. Look people in the eye and be yourself as you say hello and tell them what you’re going to do, then perform to a point that is not their eyes. It’s rarely a good thing to make people feel uncomfortable.
Hold the last moment of your piece! Don’t break the moment too soon, for this can ruin the effect of your audition piece - especially if you created a captivating moment.
Say thank you to the room, and then to the accompanist. It shows that you’re done with your audition, you appreciate their time, and it’s also just polite.
Walk out of the room. Sounds silly, but sometimes people run out, which can feel abrupt. Also, if you run it doesn’t give them time to potentially share glances and ask you for something else! On the flip side, don’t saunter expectantly out of the room either. That’s uncomfortable for everyone involved, and if they want to see more from you they will let you know!
God, I Really Blew It
Nah, you probably didn’t.
We are way harder on ourselves than anyone else is going to be. Let’s not forget that the people who are casting you are trained professionals who know how to spot what they’re looking for - the potential to be the right fit.
If you mess up a line or a note, they don’t care. They’re taking you in as a whole human and performer. We can easily hear around the errors to find what we need.
So don’t be so hard on yourself.
Treat auditions like another part of the day. It’s a job. You come in, you do your thing (and enjoy doing it), and then you leave. On to the next!
It’s easy to put large amounts of stock into an audition, especially if it’s a job you really want or if you haven’t been cast in a while, but those pressures aren’t going to help anyone - and least of all you. No one audition is make or break, so be kind to yourself.
God, I Think I’ve Got It
I know that’s a lot of information, but like any other set of skills it will become second nature with practice.
There will be good auditions and bad auditions. You’ll be thrilled with your work at times and bummed at times. You’ll get callbacks, you’ll get ignored, you’ll meet some great people, you’ll have (too many) terrible MTA experiences, and you’ll do it all over and over again. But that’s the gig!
Auditions are not monsters, they’re just your stepping stone to the jobs you want. Work on them, trust your skills, and be yourself. And hopefully, you’ll then be…as the kids say…#BookedAndBlessed.