Auditioning For A Musical

Auditioning For A Musical

Voice teacher and musical theatre performer Jennifer Peers says poor preparation often ruins the chances of success in the audition room. She says the more homework you can do the better.

“I love auditioning!” said no-one (ever).

Let’s face it, it’s stressful to walk into an audition room facing judgement, comparison and frequent rejection.  

As a voice teacher, I spend countless hours helping performers prepare for auditions and yet I still see so many sabotaging their chances for success with poor preparation.

Yes, it takes time.  I know you’re not paid for your valuable preparation time.  I know you had to work late and you had a cold and you’re tired and it’s easier to just watch Netflix.  I know you’re scared all your hard work will be a waste of time if you don’t get the job anyway.

I know. But trust me.  People notice when you do your homework.

You are an adult. No one is going to scold you for not doing the work.

However, successful performers prioritise their time so they can do more than the bare minimum level of preparation required.  They are armed with as much knowledge as possible so they can make informed choices. When you’re down to the business end of the final casting process, this could even be the factor that tips it in your favour.

Research

It’s vital to do as much research as you can in order to understand the style and palette of music that the show lives in. 

Please welcome the internet.

• Watch the show. If that’s impossible, find clips on YouTube. 

• Listen to the cast recording.

• Read the script, take a look at the score and watch the movie if applicable (www.scribd.com is a fantastic resource for scripts and scores). 

• Make a Spotify station or Apple Music channel for similar song suggestions.

• Google search production photos for wardrobe inspiration.  You’re trying to suggest the same world that the show lives in, but don’t go as far as dressing up in costume!

Choosing material

• Is it in the show? Never sing material from the show you are auditioning for unless specifically asked.  Your aim is to sing something “in the style of”.  Imagine it could have been the long lost cut song from the show.  You could start by looking at other songs by the same composer, songs in the same era or style and songs with the same essence of the character you’re auditioning for.  

• Is it overdone?  You don’t need to be super obscure either, but steer away from the obvious, eg. Les Mis, Wicked.

• Is it age and look appropriate?

• Is the accompaniment playable? Beware in particular of Sondheim, Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown for fiendish accompaniments.   

• Does it show range?  That doesn’t just mean screlting high notes, that means it shows a variety of colours and dynamics.  They want to hear your whole voice.

• Is it an appropriate length?  In Australia, the standard is generally 32 bars, or sometimes 16 bars (on Broadway, 16 bars is standard or occasionally 8 - count your blessings Aussies!)  You don’t need to be exact with the bars.  A better guideline is 32 bars means under 90 seconds and 16 bars is around 45-60 seconds.  Time it.

• Is there a clear story in your cut? Do you have an emotional connection to the text and does it have a good scope for acting through song?

Preparation

• Make sure your photocopy is good quality and without any edges of the music cut off. 

• Present your music clearly in a glare-free display folder or neatly taped together.

• Try to minimise and optimise the page turns for the accompanist.

• Make sure all cuts are clearly marked and easy to follow. 

• Check the key and the arrangement.  Often what is marked as the “original key” on Musicnotes isn’t.  Double-check.

• Make sure you’ve heard the written accompaniment on the piano.  Backing tracks are brilliant to practise to, but if you’re used to hearing a whole band and the piano arrangement sounds different, you could easily be thrown.

Communicating with the accompanist

• Say hi. They’re a human being and have been playing all day.  Don’t take them for granted.

• Tell them what you’re singing and give them the road map of the music, eg. “once straight through, then to the coda.” Point out anything that needs special attention or might be a surprise, eg. a sudden key change.

• Set the tempo. Sing them a section and communicate the feel with your voice and your body.  For rock/pop sing them the hook first (the catchy bit).

• If you start and the tempo isn’t quite right, sing at the speed you want.  A good accompanist will follow you if you lead clearly.  If it’s agonising, you can always stop, reset the tempo and start again rather than suffer a slow (or rapid) death.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the panel are on your side!  They want you to be great and hope the next person who walks in the door is going to be exactly right. Then their job is done. 

The key word here is right.  Ultimately they will cast the right person, not necessarily the best person. Sometimes you can do an incredible audition and still not get the job.  That sucks.  If it’s any consolation, we’ve all been there.  This business requires an incredible amount of resilience and grit.  But you can leave with your head held high knowing that you prepared like a boss.  Plus you will get serious brownie points for knowing your stuff.  Think of it as an investment in your reputation.

There are so many things that are out of your control in the audition room.  But you are in control of your research and preparation. Now, get to it!  After your audition, treat yourself to something nice as a reward for your hard work.  Chookas!

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