As a musical theatre performer, you want to be prepared for any audition, but the one mistake many young performers make is trying to “find a song” rather, “the perfect audition song” at the last minute.
So they scramble around, asking everyone’s advice until they finally find the 16 or 32 bars (“thanks, grandma!”) that they must learn, memorize and perform brilliantly in two or three days. And, unsurprisingly, the audition goes about as well as all the other times they found the perfect audition song at the last minute – which is, not very.
As singers, we should know and be able to sing hundreds, if not thousands, of songs. In a nightclub setting, I can sing for four hours without repeating a song.
But in an audition setting, we need to carefully choose quality over quantity. We need “tried and true” over the new. It is through trial and error that we find five songs for our audition toolkit that pretty much guarantee a callback if we are even remotely right for a part. This can’t happen if we’re always learning a new song for every audition.
Basic: For your auditions, have an uptempo song and a ballad that you know like your DNA. You don’t even have to try to remember the lyrics as they are a living part of you. Make sure these songs represent positivity – that you’re a winner or at least a person who sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t sing a song about how disappointed you are or what a big loser you are as you will run the risk of us sharing that dim opinion of yourself.
Advanced: Five songs in your back pocket. You know them backwards and forwards and you’ve sung them for a very long time. You could read a magazine, practice yoga and still sing them without missing a note. Every song has a “money” note in it. Something that absolutely shows off your best high note. Have an uptempo and a ballad from shows in the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Have an uptempo and a ballad from shows in the 1990’s to the 2020’s. Have a high-energy rock or pop song that is fun and shows off your range. In an audition, you and the song are one. Show us you’re a winner.
Now that you have practiced your points of focus: start Center, look Left, look Center, look Right, look Center, etc. (always coming back to center between Left & Right), you want to make sure that you “maintain an even plane.”
In other words, don’t let your eyes go over the audience’s head and don’t let your eyes look down at their shoes, either. In an audition, you might have three people sitting at a table. Not a problem. When you perform, don’t look your auditioners right in the eyes, that can be fairly uncomfortable for everybody. Better yet, create/imagine a friendly face right next to the face of the person in the middle. Imagine your new friend sitting at that table. Look them in the eyes. This will be your center focus.
Now imagine a friendly face just next to the face of the person on the left at the table. Left Focus.
Now imagine a friendly face just next to the face of the person on the right at the table. Right Focus.
There you have it. Three simple points of focus that don’t invade the casting people’s space, but that share the same eye plane for all to see and feel your vocal performance.
This works for all singers from the stage whether it be Pop, Rock, Cabaret or Broadway.
Another issue for those of us watching you; if you close your eyes to show us how moved you are by your own performance, you’ve lost us.
Next: WHEN to change your point of focus.
I talk about this all the time….
But it does bear repeating.
In an audition, many things are out of our control. We usually don’t control who our scene partner is when we get paired up to read for a musical. Today’s economics pretty much dictate that we don’t hire and bring our own accompanist to a musical audition anymore. We certainly can’t control whether or not a production team sees us as having the right look or image for the characters and matchups they have in mind (even if we do wear an original sailor’s outfit from Dames At Sea to the first audition — btw, don’t do that…).
But we can certainly control whether or not we are “present” when we audition. “Present” means simply being there. When you walk in the audition room, be there. If they say hello, say hello back. Don’t prepare a speech or a witty line for when you first walk in — that moment of inspiration is long past and you might not have their immediate attention if and when you do say it; you may unwittingly appear controlling or just loud and obnoxious, possibly interrupting their conversation about the singer who auditioned just prior.
We flip the switch when we are asked to perform. At that point, we must let go of all self-observation as it is most important that we are present and focused on not just how we sound, but what we are saying, who we are saying it to, why we are saying it and thinking all the thoughts that go along with the freedom of being present.
When you can walk away from a vocal audition and honestly say, “I felt present when I sang,” then you truly did your work as an artist.
Music has some very magical properties. Magic happens in my studio quite a bit, mostly because I push my singers to “remove the emotional distance” between themselves and the song.
We don’t ever want to fake ourselves or our audience out of the real energy that is present in our being. That would not only be inauthentic, but, ultimately, pretty boring.
Of course, we don’t need to be a serial killer barber in real life to pull off the lead in Sweeney Todd on stage, either.
Our job within the context of a song or a musical theatre role is to find the through-line of humanity and spirit, which makes all things “relate-able.” Let the sets, lights and costumes do their part. Let the orchestra do theirs. Let us choose to be the vessel of informed energy, armed with words, pitch and emotion, and, having burned said information into our DNA, let us become full energy in performance; concentrated and free, focused and present.