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Student Blog: Hack that Callback (Tips from a High School Senior)

Callbacks can either be the scariest part of an audition process, or the most fun. The choice is yours!

By: Jun. 18, 2024
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Today, I attended callbacks for a local production of Hadestown: Teen Edition. This was my first foray back into the world of regional theatre in several months, and it reminded me of several distinct differences between the practices of my high school theatre program and the industry at large. So, with that in mind, I decided to compile my tips and tricks to acing a callback in every aspect. My qualifications to be giving this advice? I have worked with dozens of directors, done countless auditions/callbacks, and worked across theatre, film and modeling in the Phoenix area for over a decade. Do with that what you will. I am still only seventeen, and a few of my perspectives may be biased. This blog, by the way, is a younger sister of my previous blog, The Art of the Audition, so make sure to check that out first if you have not had the chance to! The latter covers more general audition guidelines with a greater emphasis on the initial audition as opposed to the notorious callback. Without further ado, let me show you my secrets to hack that callback!

As soon as you receive the callback…

Congrats! Whether by phone, email, actual mail (ew), or some other means, you have received word that the creative team of a show that you auditioned for has progressed you on to the next stage of the audition process. You have either been asked to attend a dance call, vocal call, chemistry read, or a combination. These callback types cover all three disciplines that make up musical theatre, and you may have even been asked to read/sing/dance for a specific role(s). Time is most likely not on your side, so it is time to get to work. 

You need to make sure you know the material. Whatever has been sent to you, whether it is a video of a dance combination, sides, or sheet music, you need to know it like the back of your hand by the time the callback rolls around. A whole assortment of other factors will be intervening, such as nerves and more, on the big day, and the least of your worries should be how well you know the material you will be performing. Besides, the team cannot evaluate your skills as a performer or your possibility for a role if you do not even know the material they sent. On top of that, a lack of preparedness does not bode well for future opportunities with members of this team or even your fellow auditionees.

So, how do you make sure you know the material well enough? For acting and music materials, memorize it. It is that easy. Even if the team says it does not have to be memorized, memorize it. But don’t worry, you’ll still have it on hand during your actual audition in this circumstance (more on that later). Of course, if the team explicitly tells you to memorize it…memorize it. Whether or not you will actually have the materials on hand during your audition, I find it helpful to annotate it. Musicality markings, breath marks, dynamics, tempos, tricky rhythms and melodies, beats, action words, tactics, subtext, you name it; you can annotate it. This will give clarity and depth to your character, effectively showing the most sped-up version of what you would be able to do with the character if given the entirety of a rehearsal process to develop them. When doing dramaturgical work on the character and show, make sure that you do not expose yourself to just one interpretation. Find as many videos as you can of different portrayals and infuse into your performance what speaks to you. If the team wanted to see you perform exactly like Idina Menzel (which, first of all, you probably cannot), they would have reached out to Idina Menzel. Instead, they want to see you. By all means, see what other performers bring to the character, but make sure that you are only using this dramaturgical work to enhance your performance, not as ammunition to produce an off-brand replica.  

The day before the callback…

It’s the day before the callback! Are the nerves kicking in yet? Today is the day that the mental game takes a step aside and the physical game comes into play. Make sure you are preserving your voice and body, because they are your storytelling instrument! They are what you are selling to the panel! Today is not the day to push yourself at the gym, or go on a hike. Whether you will be dancing at the callback or not, your body is still the instrument by which you act, which you need to be doing in any of the three disciplines. So be kind to it. Save your voice as well. There is no need for a full vocal rest, but the only singing you should be doing is running your songs a few times if applicable. Mark them if it makes you feel better, but definitely no belting your favorite showtunes in the shower. You can do that to celebrate after your amazing callback. But not now. Make sure you are drinking water by the bucketload as well. It takes several hours for water to actually take its full hydrating effect on your vocal chords, so you need to start drinking it today. Not the day of the callback, not on your way there, not in the room, now. For your callback, you’ll want to be high-energy without the fear of an untimely caffeine crash. How is this accomplished? Sleep! Sleep is like bug repellant for performers. We like to stay away from it. However, a good night’s sleep is the best physical preparation you can give yourself. It gives you all the rejuvenating benefits of water, vocal relaxation, and physical rest combined. So sleep! If you ignored my previous advice and do not feel comfortable with the material, that’s what the drive to the callback is for. An all-nighter of trying to learn music or sides is not going to save you, friends.

The day of the callback…

Whether your callback is at 8am or 8pm, you need to get ready! Make sure you are nice and warmed up. Stretch your body, do some cardio, do whatever works for you. Especially if your callback is in the morning, you don’t want to walk in with stiff, fresh-out-of-bed joints. Warm up your voice as well! Gently work your way through your range, ideally over the course of 15+ minutes if you have the time. Use the restroom before you leave! You should need to, with all that water you’ve been drinking!

Now for getting dressed. Everyone has their own idea of what is acceptable audition/callback attire. Some people are objectively wrong. But, there is a wide range of clothing that does work for this process. My go-to dress is as follows: broken-in sneakers that I can dance in (jazz shoes or character shoes work well, too), black jeans (leggings, a skirt, etc.), and a muted solid-color tank top (or fitted tee, or something like that). This suits the dance call well, but here is the hack. More often than not, you will be singing, acting, and dancing in the same timeframe. To make the transition from dancing to the other disciplines easier on myself, I like to bring an additional piece that I can layer over my dancewear to (neutrally) dress it up for those portions of the audition. I like to bring a matching button-down that I can wear unbuttoned over my tank top, just to give myself a crisper look at a moment’s notice without having to run to change. No matter what, do not forget your specialty shoes! Whether it is tap shoes, pointe shoes, or something else, make sure they are packed and ready to go. You never know when a choreographer could ask to see something that requires them.

When you get there (at least 15 minute early)…

First off, don’t be intimidated. After you’ve signed in, walk your warmed-up body around the space and make some friends! Avoid people who look like they are intently focused on reviewing their material and such, but this waiting period is a great opportunity to network. Your networking may even pay off as early as today, if you get asked to read/sing with someone you chatted up before the audition. Also, make sure to use the bathroom again to minimize the amount of times you have to go during the actual callback.

Tips for reading and singing…

This section is going to focus on the reading and singing portions of the callback process. For starters, make sure you use the resources that the team is allowing you. You can reference them as little as you’d like, but it is always a good idea to have your sheet music or scene in hand if the team says that is okay. It looks much better on your behalf if you hold a scene in your hand without referencing it too much than if you try to go without it and drop a line. Even if you are allowed to use the materials in the room, you still need to be confident in them. Under no circumstances, except a cold read, should you be just reading off a page; and even then, you still want to give it as much “oomph” as possible.

Go big or go home! You are not the only person called back for this role, and you have been given a limited amount of time to show your strengths and potential contributions to the project as well as make yourself memorable! You may not know how many people the team is seeing that day, and you want to stand out. Of course, all things in moderation: do not defile the integrity of the character or circumstances, but bring something bold that is uniquely yours to any callback.

Anticipate what the team is looking for! Absorb any information that is provided to you in your receipt of the callback and amplify it with your own dramaturgy. Then, in the space, implement every word that is given to you. If the director tells you that they are looking for potential actors to play to a character’s innocence, play to the character’s innocence. Even if you entirely disagree with the director’s interpretation, it is still your duty to follow directions.

Give your all to every callback! You may be called back for multiple roles. Even if there is one that you would prefer to another, you still need to give your all to every callback. Attempting to “throw” an audition to increase your chances at your desired role is wildly unprofessional and does not provide you with any benefits in the casting process. Trust that the director will place you in the best spot for the production, even if that may not be the best spot for you. 

Boundaries! When reading/singing with a partner(s), make sure to keep professional boundary practices in place. If the scene might require physical contact, quickly ask for consent prior to the read. This will make everyone in the space feel more comfortable and make everyone’s experience smoother. 

Tips for dance calls (from an “intermediate mover”)…

Dance calls are my least favorite part of any audition. I never am able to pick up all the choreography, I struggle with movement improvisation, and I always feel like a weak link in the room. But, there are a few tricks that I have picked up to uphold strong performance and etiquette-related values in a dance call.

Place yourself strategically! Dance calls can be crowded, and you may not think too much about where you stand, but for a “mover,” it can make all the difference. Do not immediately find your way to the back of the room for lack of confidence. Even if the choreographer switches lines semifrequently, you still could miss a significant amount of choreography depending on the size of the room and number of dancers. That’s not to say you need to head for the first row, either. The middle of the room is generally your best bet, since you are close to the choreographer while still having plenty of people to look to around you. Plus, if the choreographer does switch the lines every so often, you will hopefully stay in the front half of the room for the most part. If the opportunity arises, I like to find someone who is dressed appropriately, moves through the space with confidence, and looks like they know what they’re doing. Then, I position myself right behind them. I can watch them the whole time for additional guidance without ever even knowing their name.

Once the choreographer starts splitting the dancers into smaller groups for observation, you might have some time off to the side before you are called to the floor. Use this time to drink water, catch your breath, stay grounded, and mentally run yourself through the choreography. Emphasis on mentally. Unless explicitly encouraged by the choreographer, do not use this time to run or even mark the combination. It can be perceived as giving you an unfair advantage over those who did not get additional opportunities to run their combination, and is just generally frowned upon. So keep it all in your head!

Shoes, shoes, shoes! Make sure you have proper shoes! Come prepared with any shoes you feel comfortable using, such as tap shoes, pointe shoes, jazz shoes, etc. If the callback receipt requests a specific type of shoe, make sure you wear it if you have it. In general, character shoes or jazz shoes are solid bets for dancers, while most movers can get away with sneakers. The point is that you feel comfortable and confident dancing in them for an extended period of time, and that you have options if needed!

After your callback…

You did it! You survived your callback! Now, it is crucial to “leave it all on the floor.” At this point, you’ve done everything you can. The situation in its entirety is out of your control, and stressing over your performance is only going to bring you down. Nothing can be changed now, so just relax and leave it behind you. You may get cast, and you may not. You may receive a rejection letter if you were not cast, or you may just never hear back! That is the theatre industry in a nutshell, but as long as you did the best you could in that moment, you have done all you can. 

As for my Hadestown callback, I heard back this evening and was offered the role of Fate 1 (Clotho). I am beyond ecstatic to begin work on a piece that is incredibly near and dear to my heart while also exploring the nuances of portraying a role written for a female-presenting performer. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time!


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