Student Blog: The Art of the Audition

Tips and Tricks from a Teen Performer

By: Jan. 16, 2024
Student Blog: The Art of the Audition
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Nearly every great performance was preceded by an audition. As an actor, I’ve been through more audition processes than I can count. For many, an audition is one of the scariest parts of the whole process. However, I’ve picked up a few tricks that help me put my best foot forward in every audition. Auditioning is not an exact science, and comes in all shapes and sizes. For many companies, in-person primary auditions are a thing of the past, and stage actors are expected to be just as comfortable in front of a camera as in an audition room. The process itself will vary from company to company and director to director, but is also a unique experience for each performer involved. Even something as simple as the order of a musical theatre audition process can affect a performer’s outlook on it. For example, a competitive dancer dipping their toes into the world of musical theatre for the first time would much rather the dancing section of the audition come first, so that they can show the panel their strengths and not be disregarded based on disciplines that they may not be as comfortable in. 

I have found that the ideas I am going to share in this blog most closely align with my artistic values, but, once again, the audition process is a unique beast. My career also only spans twelve years and one geographical area, so take everything that I am about to share with whatever grain of salt you deem appropriate. I am by no means an expert, but definitely do feel as though I have some insights worth sharing. I’ve compiled my ten key tips and tricks for auditions, as well as some examples from my experience that I hope you will find helpful!

1. Be Friendly with the Panel

When you walk into an audition room, any number and variety of people could be sitting behind the table. The directors, casting managers, producers, choreographers, stage managers, music directors, accompanists, associates, assistants, and more could all be there to watch your audition. I’ve auditioned in front of just two people, but also in front of twenty. This is the panel. They will all likely be taking notes on whatever discipline they oversee, and will be responsible for casting whatever it is you may be auditioning for. Many performers get so overwhelmed by the audition environment that, in their quest for professionalism, they forget to be amiable toward the people behind the table. After all, these are the people who decide whether or not you get into the show, so why not be outgoing? This extends into the realm of self tapes as well. An energetic and genuine virtual slate is far better than a dry and boring one.

Most auditions do not include any sort of formal assessment regarding your personality (which includes your work ethic), so take what opportunities you have to demonstrate enthusiasm. For my audition for The SpongeBob Musical at Mesa Community College, I completely missed my cue for one of my songs. The accompanist played on for about two measures, but I just could not figure out where he was in the song. I politely asked if I could start over, and the accompanist ran me through exactly where my entrance was. I cracked a joke about the piece with the panel, and they laughed with me. The director struck up a conversation about the show it was from with me, and we had a humorous little chat before I started again. Being comfortable with those in the room with you not only heightens your performance quality, but makes you memorable. I ended up making it into that show, and have maintained a great relationship with the production team well beyond its closing.

2. Help the Accompanist Help You

Some auditions will have a live accompanist, and will likely require you to bring in your own sheet music (unless it is a scenario where the team has selected the pieces they would like to hear in advance). Personally, I prefer auditions where I have to bring in my own track, because I can practice with exactly what I will have in the room. Having a live accompanist does have its perks, such as them being able to follow the performer’s specific dynamics and tempos, which is definitely beneficial. However, it does pose some challenges. You usually will not get any sort of trial run to feel the music with the accompanist aside from quickly going over the pacing with them before you sing. Also, they will follow your pacing as best as they can, including when you accidentally rush the tempo to an uncomfortable degree.

With these potential issues in mind, there are some things you can do before and during your audition that will help mitigate some of them. Before your audition, annotate your sheet music. There are a few specific things that it can be helpful to mark. If your cut does not start at the first page of the song, make sure to write the title of the song, title of the show, tempo in BPM, and time signature at the top of the first page of your sheet music. Make sure to clearly mark the start of the intro to your cut, where you will enter on vocals, and where to stop. In addition to this, I like to write in the last dynamic marking at the beginning of your cut and highlight it. I also highlight any new dynamic markings, key changes, time signature changes, and tempo changes. An accompanist would technically be expected to find those on their own, but remember that your goal is to make their life as easy as possible. Speaking of, steer clear of arrangements with particularly difficult piano parts. The two that come to mind are certain arrangements of “Stranger” from Big Fish and “Top of the World” from Tuck Everlasting. Try to find an easier piano part than the original arrangement for songs like those, since your accompanist will be essentially sight reading the piece. If my audition cut is multiple pages, I either tape the pages together so that they can be fully spread out across a music stand without having to flip them, or put them in a binder with easy page-turning. When you walk into the room, greet the panel and then make your way over to the accompanist. Greet them, hand them the sheet music, and let them know about any big tempo or key changes (even though you’ve highlighted them in advance: we are making their lives easier). They will likely tap out their tempo for you, and you will quietly sing a little bit of your cut and make adjustments as needed. Some accompanists will also ask how much free reign you want them to take to improvise some of the instrumentation of your piece, which is really up to personal preference. That process should take no more than about thirty seconds before you hit your mark and slate to the panel. Afterward, go back to the accompanist to retrieve your music and thank them, no matter how you feel your performance went.

3. Adjust Your Mindset

The audition process is a mind game. Therefore, the less you think about it, the less effect it can have on you. Channel any stress or nervousness in the days leading up to your audition into working on your pieces. After all, preparedness is the only way to make your audition stronger. During the process, make yourself as comfortable as possible. One of the easiest ways to do this, as I mentioned before, is to make friends with the panel. After the audition is over, be cognizant of the balance between reflection and self-deprecation. Of course reflecting on what you did well and what you want to work on for next time is helpful and encouraged. I have a physical journal where I write about each audition that I do and how I feel it went. However, beating yourself up over it is not helpful to you. Once you leave the room, everything is out of your control. You left everything in there, showed them what you brought to the table, and now it is up to the team. Speculation and deprecation do nothing for anyone, and provoke a negative association with auditions in one’s mind. Focus on what you did well, and avoid negative rhetoric. Seeing shortcomings as growth opportunities will make you a stronger performer and auditionee in the future.

4. Keep Thoughts to Yourself

Some primary auditions and most dance calls and callbacks will be in group settings. Generally speaking, the chances of you knowing some of your fellow auditionees is high. Meeting the other people who are auditioning is a great opportunity to network and build relationships, but make sure to keep dialogue focused and positive. Even privately with a close friend, the audition room is never the place to critique someone else’s performance. Even praising someone else’s performance can cause problems, such as people wondering why you seemed to praise one performance more than another. To eliminate all of this, keep conversations focused on you and your conversation partner. For example, most dance calls end with performing the combo in small groups while the panel takes notes. In some audition rooms, the auditionees on the sidelines will applaud each small group when they finish the combo. As a rule of thumb, clap when appropriate, but keep it consistent, even for your close friends. Auditions are, once again, a mind game where anything can be misinterpreted by anyone. In general, my behavior in audition spaces varies a lot depending on whether or not I am alone with the panel. At any point in the process, attempting to predict who is going to get what role is detrimental to all involved. It can put you and your friends in very awkward positions, and is just best avoided. I prefer to not even tell people what role I would like to play or am “going for,” since it can sometimes produce unnecessary awkwardness and competition. It is my belief that while performing in theatre is a team sport, auditioning is a solo one.

5. Choose a Piece Wisely

There are so many elements to picking a piece in any discipline for an audition, but I am going to summarize the most important ones here. Any of the following rules are overridden by what the panel asks for. The number one audition rule is just to have every piece that you are asked to bring. If the audition asks for two contrasting monologues, do not walk in with just one. Also, avoid performing a piece from the show you are auditioning for (again, unless the panel specifically asks you to in the audition information). Opt instead for a piece that is by the same author/composer/choreographer. For example, walking into an audition for Phantom with “Music of the Night'' would not be appropriate, but a piece from Sunset Boulevard (also composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber) would be appropriate. This is because selecting a piece from the show limits your interpretability for the panel. Keeping with the Phantom example, you may have been a great Raoul, but since you chose a song that the Phantom sings, the panel cannot see you as a Raoul. Also, reserve Sondheim pieces for Sondheim shows. His musical style is so specific that it really only works for his own shows. The same goes for Fosse choreo. If asked to prepare a dance cut, save your Pippin combo for an audition for another Fosse show, such as Chicago or Dancin’. Bringing a Follies piece to an audition for Company could be a great fit. Broadening the focus from the original creators of a piece, it is good to stay within the period/style of the show you are auditioning for. Golden age pieces, such as songs from The Sound of Music or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, are going to serve golden age shows the best. Keeping within the general mood and lightness of the show can be beneficial as well. Stay within the requested time frame for all of your pieces. As a general rule, a 16-bar cut is about 30 seconds and a 32-bar cut is about a minute. Stay within these constraints as best as possible without starting yourself right at a key change or in the middle of a phrase. Pick an age-appropriate piece that preferably does not include any swearing or sexual content. Stay within your capabilities across all disciplines by not selecting a dance combo that you cannot perform well, or a belting song when you are a classical singer exclusively. As for songs that are labeled as “overdone,” only sing them when you are confident that you can perform them as well as if not better than the original. So, in most cases, avoid them. 

6. Solidify Your Self-Tape

Self-taping is a newer challenge that performers are facing. However, since the pandemic, the number of self-taped and virtual auditions has only grown. When doing a self-tape, I usually record myself on my phone and connect another device to a speaker to play my music if necessary. Good lighting and a solid background are key. Some performers invest in blue backgrounds, which are the industry standard for self-tapes, but those can be pricey for newer performers or those who may not have the desire to extend in the professional world. Editing self-tapes is a hot topic, but I believe that less is more. I usually cut between my slate and pressing play on my music, and from there to a few beats before I actually start singing, just to avoid the awkwardness of walking off-camera, pressing play, and waiting in uncomfortable silence. I am left with my slate, followed by a few beats of intro music, my song, and saying thank you. Cuts are obviously necessary when a change of space is needed, such as between performing a song/monologue in a recording-studio-like space versus performing a dance combo in a dance studio. Sound check your balance between instrumentals and vocals before filming your final take. Also, I have heard many great performers tell me not to record more than three takes. If you cannot find a take you like within three takes, you are not ready to record this audition and need to work on your pieces some more first. In addition, after several takes, your performance quality drops rapidly and the takes only get worse. Remember that you are your own worst critic, and no take is going to be flawless. A self-tape is supposed to resemble an in-person audition as closely as possible, and no in-person audition is going to be flawless either.

7. Dress Appropriately

Everyone has different philosophies on appropriate audition attire. Back when I was in elementary school, my mom used to tell me to “dress the part” for auditions. I would go into rooms dressed fully in the style of the show, which I have since learned is essentially the only big “no-no” when it comes to attire. Some companies have specific preferences for what auditionees wear, such as my school’s theatre company, which recommends all-black for every part of the process. Personally, I like to include a pop of color in my singing/acting audition attire, which generally falls under the realm of “business attire.” I typically will wear a colorful button down with neutral khakis or jeans for a singing/acting audition. For self tapes, I like to wear a solid color that will bring out my features and show up well on camera. For dance calls, movement attire is encouraged. Although most dance calls will specifically request them if they want you to have certain kinds of shoes, it can never hurt to bring whatever you have. Specialty shoes that you know how to use, like tap and pointe shoes, are always good to have on hand at an audition. For men, jazz shoes or sneakers are your best bet, depending on the show. For women, character shoes, jazz shoes, or sneakers are probably going to be your options, depending on the show. In a combination audition, where you will be asked to dance as well as act and/or sing, attire can get a bit tricky. I would advise still wearing movement clothes that you can dance comfortably in, but keeping them very neutral and modest, especially if you are in the callback stage where the panel is trying to picture you as various characters. 

8. Warm Up your Voice and Body

Warming up properly is key to any audition. What warm-ups will be beneficial vary based on the type of audition. For an audition where you’ll be talking or singing, a vocal warm up that fits your style (contemporary or classical) and range will be helpful. For any sort of dance call, stretch thoroughly. You want to be as physically and vocally warm as possible before your audition so that nothing is holding you back. Some dance calls will give you time to stretch prior to beginning the audition, but there are never guarantees. However, if you are given time to warm up, use it. The team is watching who uses their time productively and who does not. Warming up is especially important for morning auditions, where both your voice and body are not at their full potential. Be cautious of overexerting yourself in warm-ups: there is a difference between “warm” and “exhausted,” both vocally and physically.

9. Slate, Slate, Slate

Your slate is your opportunity to make a first impression. Once again, being amiable toward the panel will never work against you, and your slate is your first chance to do so. The company may tell you what they want to hear from your slate, but even if they do not, you should not start an audition without a slate. A standard slate might go like this: “Hi, my name is Austin Watts, and today I’ll be performing ‘It All Fades Away’ from The Bridges of Madison County by Jason Robert Brown, followed by a monologue from Electric Roses by David Howard.” Your name, the piece’s name, the show the piece is from: easy. You may need to add some elements depending on what the audition information requests, such as your city of residence (usually for nationwide searches and added after your name, e.g. “Hi, my name is Austin Watts, I’m based in Phoenix, Arizona, and…”), your height (also inserted after your name), or even a personal anecdote based on a given prompt. 

10. Stay Professional

When all else fails, stay professional. Everything is an audition. An audition is a mind game. You are in a job interview, showing the panel why they want to hire you. You have a very short time to prove that you are the best fit for their show, so there is no reason you should not do everything in your power to make the very best of it. 

Once again, these ideas align with my artistic values, but remember that the audition process is a unique beast. My career also only spans twelve years and one geographical area, so take everything that I have shared with whatever grain of salt you deem appropriate. Thank you for reading!