Tips for Nailing a Musical Theater Audition
The Des Moines Playhouse's production of "Curtains"
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Got an audition coming up soon for a musical theater production? Maybe just a singing or a dancing audition? You're not alone! I moved to the Des Moines area last year and have auditioned a few times with the Des Moines Playhouse. During the first audition I did with them, I did my best, but I realized that my few years outside of the performing arts (spent in the Army) had taken their toll. I was woefully unprepared. But you don't have to be!
This Hub is going to be geared towards music theater auditions, which normally have both a singing and dance audition. Certainly those with upcoming individual singing and/or dance auditions can make use of the respective tips in their categories. If you're looking for advice on monologues, you've come to the wrong Hub. Sorry!
Disclaimers out of the way, so let's get started!
Before Audition Day
Do Your Research
One of your most important objectives after making the decision to try out for a musical is to do some research on the show. It's not only common sense, but it's very much frowned upon to waltz into an audition not knowing anything about the show. Google the musical's synopsis, listen to the album (iTunes is particularly helpful here), learn about the characters. If available, watch a movie of the show. Some may disagree here, as movies and stage productions of the same musical tend to differ greatly. But if you keep that in mind, as well as stay flexible with the characters and their roles, there's certainly no harm in watching the movie once.
Find out early where and when the auditions will be held. Plan your route, as well as a backup route in case of traffic or unforeseen emergencies. If you're taking public transportation, check the schedules carefully. Make sure you read audition instructions scrupulously, if they are available. You don't want to miss a critical part of the audition process and then feel a fool when you realize it too late.
Choose Your Song
Decide well in advance what you will be singing for the audition. If you have time, this is a great opportunity to learn new songs. If you don't quite have that much time, choose one you know well and will feel comfortable singing under any circumstances, even acapella. Steer well clear of anything from Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music, Wicked, or other shows with overdone songs. Directors are sick of hearing them. Try to avoid brand new musicals on Broadway as well. Also beware of songs that "belong" to their singer -- "Over the Rainbow" is Judy Garland's, for example. Comparisons will abound, and unless you're a mega-superstar singer, you will fall short.
Pick songs that mesh well with the musical you are trying out for. If it is generally upbeat and fun, choose a similar song. If it's very dramatic, go with a dramatic song. Make sure the song is within your vocal range and will best demonstrate what you can do. Weak singers may want to lean towards faster songs, so long as their sense of rhythm is strong. Strong singers can attempt ballads if they can make the song work in their favor. While directors get tired of hearing "yet another slow song", if it makes them sit up and pay attention to your voice, go for it!
Be sure to keep accompaniment in mind. If one will be provided, pick a song that is not very difficult for him or her to play by sight. Have it transposed in the correct key, as not every pianist can transpose on the fly. Have everything clearly marked -- tempo, cuts, repeats, codas, etc. Red pen is very handy for this. If using a CD or tape, make sure the accompaniment is of the best quality it can be. Avoid lengthy instrumental intros.
Also be prepared to sing your song acapella. The sound system may be malfunctioning, or the accompanist may not show. The directors simply may want to hear how you do without instrumental backup. Make sure you know if you are going to be singing the full song or only a certain amount of bars. A good rule of thumb is to stick to two minutes, not to exceed three. Ensure that what you are singing is the best part of the song for your voice.
Choose Your Outfit
What you wear to an audition is just as important as your singing and dancing abilities. Perhaps the number one rule is to never audition in costume. You may wear something that is slightly suggestive of a costume, though. Ladies auditioning for Oklahoma! might consider wearing a fuller skirt, for example. Be sure that your outfit allows for comfort and freedom of movement, particularly for dancing. It's equally important to be comfortable while you sing. If you aren't, not only will your body show it, but your voice will too.
Be classy. Dress for the audition as if this were a nice date or a semi-professional job meeting. Avoid jeans, sweatpants, sneakers, flip-flops, etc. Unless you are able to move gracefully in them, skip the high heels. Make sure your dance shoes are in presentable, working condition.
If you're stuck for ideas, read on for an example. My typical audition outfit consists of: a solid-colored, somewhat dressy top with a patterned tank top underneath; a knee-length ruffled black skirt with black capri leggings; low-heeled open-toed black dress shoes; and I bring my character shoes with low-cut white or black socks. I keep the leggings rolled up during the singing auditions and let them down again for dancing.
If you have long hair, be sure you bring a ponytail or other method of keeping it out of your face for dancing. I made this mistake my first audition and my hair ended up looking like a hot mess by the time I was to sing. Guess who didn't get a callback?
Day Before and of Auditions
The day before your audition is nearly as important as the actual audition. There are several things you should do to ensure that you will succeed as much as possible.
Take Care of Your Voice
Make sure to warm up, sing, and talk moderately whenever possible. Some performers will begin whispering days before an audition, but this actually puts more stress on your vocal cords than normal speech. Avoid shouting, oversinging, or otherwise straining your voice. Also, I cannot stress enough the importance of not clearing your throat. It puts such an unnatural stress on your vocal cords, and once you start, it's hard to stop.
Rehearse, but in Moderation
Go over your audition song a few times, especially any parts that are giving you difficulty. On the day of your audition, warm up once or twice and go over your song again, but take extreme care not to oversing. When you're not singing, it, go over the song in your head and save your voice for the real audition. It helps to visualize your audition going perfectly as well.
Watch Your Diet
Avoid milk, as it will increase the mucus in your membranes, and who wants to hear your sing with a clogged throat? It will also encourage throat-clearing. Water is the absolute best thing for you and your voice, so make sure you drink plenty the day before and of your audition. Also be sure to bring a large bottle of water with you to keep yourself hydrated, especially if you will be dancing. Stay away from foods that may trigger gas or acid reflux. Eat small, frequent meals so that your blood sugar remains at a constant level. Just before you leave the house, grab an energy-boosting snack, such as some grapes or a mini Snickers bar.
The Big Day!
When the audition day comes, be sure you leave the house early. Give yourself plenty of time to get there, stretch, warm up, and center yourself. Keep your talking to a minimum. You'll certainly want to be friendly, but avoid extensive chit-chatting. During your actual audition, be sure you give off an aura of confidence. Nothing but positive self-talk here! It's amazing what the human mind can do when there isn't any negativity to pervade it. Speak clearly, and perform to the absolute best of your ability. Give it your all without going over the top. When it's over, no matter how you think you did, be sure to focus on what you did well. Save your critique for tomorrow, and don't beat yourself up when you do.
After Audition Day
Try to be as patient as possible and follow the guidelines provided about callbacks. If they clearly state not to call the company to ask about the casting, then by all means, do not! No matter how badly you're tempted, this will be a great exercise in patience for you. Try to remain as upbeat and positive as possible. If you receive a callback, congratulations! Usually, those at callbacks make up half or less than those who were at auditions. If not, you still shouldn't completely flip out. Sometimes directors make casting decisions based on initial auditions, and they will let you know in their own good time.
If all else fails and you aren't cast, don't get too down about it. Each audition process is a great chance to grow and also to get your name out there to the theater community. Keep trying! Volunteer to be on the crew, if it's possible, to become even more of a familiar face. Directors will certainly appreciate the extra help and may remember you at your next audition.
Now go break a leg!