You walk into a room, see a bunch of scary-looking people sitting behind a metal table, and then must perform a brief excerpt from a song or monologue like your life depends on it. And it does — because this could be the ticket to your next gig.
The audition is one of the most intimidating processes in the world, but it doesn't have to be. The key is preparedness and self-confidence. "The more that the actors are prepared, it shows in what we actually see in an audition," says Bernard Telsey, one of Broadway's preeminent casting directors. With his firm Telsey + Company, he has cast some of the Great White Way's most notable productions, including Rent and Wicked.
"Know as much as you possibly can about the project you're auditioning for," Telsey says, likening the actor to a detective. "Read the script. Try to find out what you can about the project. It's like treating it as part of the rehearsal process…Even in the smallest auditions, if you read the script, you're going to know more about the character and situation, and you can bring that into your preparation." And you can always ask for the script, if it's available.
Whether you're auditioning for a big Broadway musical or for a production at your local church or synagogue, auditions are all the same. Here are some helpful hints to remember when you're getting ready to approach the table.
What to Wear
"People should wear clothes that are clean and fit," says Nikka Graff Lanzarone, a veteran of Broadway's Chicago and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and also owner of a styling business. "You would think that these are no-brainers, but a lot of people have trouble finding clothes that fit them. It gets bypassed more often than not, because people don't know how to go to the tailor or what about a garment can be fixed."
Should someone wear a costume to an audition? "For the love of God, unless you want to be put in the crazy file, don't show up in full costume," she emphasizes. However, you should "have some idea of the show you're auditioning for," and dress in that style. "You're not going to wear a suit to audition for Rent, but you're not going to wear jeans to audition for Guys and Dolls," she notes.
Telsey concurs on all counts. "You have to help people behind the desk see you in this role," he says. "It is about dressing your best and looking like it's the best blind date," he says. "You've always worn something that makes someone say, ‘Wow, that looks good on you.' You're making an impression for people behind a table. You want to pop."
For Lanzarone, auditioning is about making the people behind the table see what she can bring to any role. "Every audition isn't ever just an audition for the show you're going in for," she notes. "I've gotten calls from people saying, ‘I saw you at [a previous] audition.' Something about you could strike them as interesting. You have the opportunity to show them who you are."
Also, when it comes to footwear, ladies, be careful of your character shoes. "Never, ever, ever wear character shoes to a singing audition," Lanzarone concludes. "It's a rookie mistake. You don't need to wear character shoes unless you're dancing."
What to Sing
"I actually think young people have too many songs in their audition book," says Anne L. Nathan, who currently appears on Broadway in Once and whose résumé includes Assassins and Thoroughly Modern Millie. "You don't need fifty songs. I have seven songs that are my go-to. My book has a 1950s musical-theater song, a contemporary musical-theater song, an old-fashioned ballad, and then something a little ballsier."
Nathan, who treads the boards at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre eight times a week, is also an accomplished audition coach and vocal teacher. The right song, she notes, is one that you know extremely well. "If someone was coming to me for an audition and they have a week, often they'll get a new song. My rule of thumb is, never get a new song, or don't [try] to learn a song you don't know." You also must know the lyrics backward and forward. "You should be able to recite them ten times over, and you should know what you're talking about, because you'll go up. You won't remember the lyrics if you don't know how they connect… I don't think overrehearsing is good, but knowing it like the back of your hand is."
Telsey adds, "Do a song you can really connect to. It'll allow you to bring what you do into the room." His choices for an audition book are similar to Nathan's: "Everyone needs a pop song, rock-and-roll, and legit. It's no longer the days of just up-tempos and ballads. The actor who has a stronger book and not just one or two songs can give the team a choice… If you can come in and say, ‘This is what I have, what would you like to hear?' you have a better shot."
The way you walk into the room is also important, Nathan continues. "You should be who you are. Please don't say, ‘How are you?' That drives me nuts. You need to come up with something more original. Then, I go straight to the piano, say, ‘Hi, I'm singing…," nod to the pianist, and then sing. When you're done, say thanks and leave. Don't go up to the table, don't shake their hand unless they come up to you." Also, if you're showing the pianist the tempo, don't snap or clap at him. "It's just rude," Nathan notes. As an alternative, just quietly sing the first lines.
Wear clothes that look good (no Glinda costumes) and pick a song that you know well and that showcases why you're special. With these tips in mind, you could land that above-the-title spot you've always wanted.
Anne L. Nathan can be reached on Twitter via @AnneLNathan. She coaches at Musical Theater College Auditions.
Click here for more information on Telsey and Company.