So it is your first audition for the school or youth summer musical. You have your song and sheet music ready, but what now?
1) Prepare Your Sheet Music (If it is required.)
In another post I discuss how to pick your song and where to get sheet music. In this post I assume that you are all set on that front. Once you have your sheet music copied, make sure you mark where you will start and where you will end. Bright colored pencil is best. Also be sure to circle any key changes, ritardandos, accelerandos or other unusual things in the piano part. Hole punch the music so the accompanist will not have to turn pages and put it in a 3-ring binder. Do not use the clear plastic sheets as they are hard to see through when lights glare on them, do not use single sheets of paper outside of a binder as they can easily blow away, and do not use a music from a book if the accompanist will have to turn pages (they are more likely to play wrong notes when they have to turn the page) and if the book will not stay open by itself. Make a copy of the music you need and put it in a plastic 3-ring blinder.
2) Dress for Success
Treat the audition like a job interview. Dress professionally, do your hair, don’t wear too much jewelry, don’t wear a hat, don’t wear clothing with holes or stains. Dress to suggest the part you would like to have or are most suited for. Do not wear a full costume. If you are auditioning for Cinderella wear a skirt, do your hair and if you are allowed to make-up, wear it. If you are auditioning for Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls wear dress pants and a button up shirt, a tie is optional. I love bright colors because it helps the casting directors to remember you, but do not wear the same color top to bottom. For example, do not wear a red shirt with red pants and red shoes. Do not wear a t-shirt with a slogan plastered across it or a lot of patterns as they are distracting from your performance. If you are a girl, a shirt with sequins around the neck always looks great. If you are a boy, a brightly colored button-up shirt is always a good choice. If there will be a dance audition, make sure you can dance in the same outfit or only have to change the bottoms. Again this helps us to remember you; if you completely change your outfit it is confusing for the casting directors. Be sure to always wear or bring other shoes that you can dance in. Practice in your audition outfit doing your audition in a mirror to make sure you can breath and move properly. Also to make sure your dress doesn’t raise to high when you raise your arms, your shirt is so tight that your bra can be seen through the buttonholes, etc.
3) Your Special Secret
Before your turn to audition, try to keep calm by thinking about your special secret. It could be anything. Some of my students think about the special treat they will get to eat after the audition is over, some read their favorite book, some pray and remember they are singing to please God, some put baloney in their shoes or wear their lucky underwear. Whatever helps you to stay positive and calm. Before I audition, I particularly like to remind myself that the beautiful thing about singing is that every voice is different; you are the only person in the whole world with your fingerprints and your voice. There will always be someone better then you and someone worse, but there is only one you. Forget about those other people. Use them for inspiration but not as a measuring stick. You are on your own journey as a performer, comparing yourself to others, especially during the audition, will only hurt you so don’t do it. Focus on doing the best YOU can at this moment in time, and improving the next time you audition.
4) Keep Calm and Do What You Practiced
Especially in youth theater, the directors are not looking for perfection, we are looking to see if you have abilities we can work with. As a director I will be spending all my free time for three to five months with the kids we cast, if an auditionee is an amazing singer but has a bad attitude (or sometimes a bad stage parent) I will not cast them as a lead because I don’t want to deal with the stress. On the other hand, if the auditionee has no training but is very enthusiastic and is willing to work hard, I would much rather cast them as a lead. How can you show your enthusiasm? By the way that you introduce yourself before you sing, by your attitude when you are given a direction, how you treat the accompanist and the people who help with the sign-in and paperwork, and especially how you deal with making a mistake. Stay positive and keep going, always smile. Other than that, do what you have practiced for your audition, even if the person right before you sang your song, don’t change it last minute. Always do what you practiced. Also I want to add here that you should try to do one gesture for each sentence in your song that shows your personality. Do not make the gestures too indicative (for example pointing at your wrist for time). Make your gestures conversational. When in doubt find a YouTube video of a professional performing your song and copy some of their movements. Do not sit down, turn around, or move around off you mark when doing your gestures. Stand there and sing to us like we are your best friend.
5) How To Introduce Yourself
After you have gone over your sheet music with the accompanist, find your place to stand. There may be an X on the ground, if not find the middle of the space. Not too close to the audition table where the casting directors sit, but also not too far away from them. Wait for one of them to look at you and give you a nod. If you are nervous, a trick I like to use to control the hands is to touch just the middle finger of your hand to your thigh so you are glued to yourself. If will make you appear calm. Also take a good wide stance with your feet under your hips, not with your feet next to each other, so you have a good base to your posture. This will also make you look more confident. Look directly at the casting directors and clearly state your name, your age, the title of your audition song, the show it is from and the composer. For example you would slate, “Hello, my name is Kristina Ivy, I am 16 years old and I will be singing ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz.” Then take a deep breath, give the accompanist a nod, and sing your audition song! When you sing look directly above the casting directors. It makes me uncomfortable when auditionees look directly at me. It’s like breaking the fourth wall on stage.
6) What You Can and Cannot Control
You can only control how your audition goes by how you practice. When you make a mistake, KEEP GOING, in a real show you cannot stop and go back. Only in extreme circumstances should you ask to start again. Remember you control the tempo of the music, if you want the pianist to play faster or slower, simply sing faster or slower. They will follow you. Don’t take it personally if the casting directors are writing, have their heads down, are eating, or drinking. Audition days can be very long for us. As a professional performer in LA, a successful booking rate is 1 out of 10 auditions. As a performer you will be rejected all the time. You have to learn not to take it personally. Usually it has 40% to do with things you can control and 60% to do with a million other things you cannot control. I cannot tell you the number of times we do not cast the most talented auditionee because they are too tall, too short, too young, or too old to play against other cast members, the wrong size for the costumes that were already built, or have too many conflicts with rehearsal times because of other activities. Also I have been cut from an audition, only to get a call from the same people a few years later who booked me for a job. Just because you are not selected this time, doesn’t mean they won’t remember you in the future. When in doubt, take lessons to improve your skills.
7) Be Ready For The Callbacks
Sometimes the callbacks for leads is the same day, sometimes a few days later. In either case be prepared. Study the show you are auditioning for by watching a DVD and as many different performers on YouTube as possible. Pay special attention to anything particularly hard to do: an extremely high or low note, an accent, a song that is especially tied to dance moves like “Show Off” from The Drowsy Chaperone. Practice those things so they are already in your body. You will ahead of the curve at the callback if you are already familiar with the songs from the show.
8) Learn From Your Mistakes
After your audition make a mental list, or even an actual list, of the things you did well, the things you did not expect, and the things you want to improve upon for next time. Refer back to it before your next audition. It might look something like this:
Things I Did Well
Sang all the words to the song correctly
Introduced myself well
Did the gestures I practiced
Things I Did Not Expect
The audition location would be so cold (bring a hoodie next time)
The audition would take four hours (bring water and snacks next time)
I would physically shake because I was nervous (need to practice a few more weeks in advance next time)
Things To Improve
Start practicing at least three weeks before the audition every day for 20 minutes
Be more confident (even if I am not confident, I am going to pretend to be)
Work on my upper register notes to gain more control and tone quality there
Please leave a comment if you have a tip that helps get you through auditions, and break a leg at your audition! (It’s a theater saying from the Old English meaning to bend a knee aka take a bow.) Have fun and keep smiling.