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How Do I Audition for a Musical?

Auditioning can be a stressful process, and almost no one likes it, but until someone comes up with a better way to determine auditioners' individual talents, it is here to stay. One thing to keep in mind: the production staff is not made up of evil, sadistic people. They want you to do well. They want you to walk in the door and be exactly what they're looking for. That makes their job of casting much easier!

First, let me stress that these are tips, not rules. Unfortunately, there is no "right" way to audition for a show. I've seen people do the exact opposite of some of these, and walk away with the lead. These are just rules-of-thumb that I personally use when I audition for a show, or things that I appreciate when helping cast a show. Second, while auditions are probably pretty much the same everywhere, most of my experience is in auditioning for amateur musicals in the central Illinois area. Other areas may have slightly different customs, and professional auditions are a different animal entirely. If you're interested in auditioning for a professional theatre, I highly recommend How to Audition for the Musical Theatre or Auditioning for the Musical Theatre.

Reading tips 

At some point in the process, the director will give you a script and have you read through a scene with other auditioners. Don't panic! It's not supposed to be memorized, and almost everyone is as unfamiliar with the material as you are. The director merely wants to hear the quality of your voice, see how you look with the other actors, and see if you can make a "connection" with other auditioners. If you stumble on the words, it's not the end of the world. Focus instead on really trying to listen to what is being said, and react to it even when you are not the person speaking! Try to understand what the scene is about, what your character is trying to accomplish, and how that character would go about trying to achieve their goals.

You usually get a few minutes to look over the script, especially if you are in the first group to read a particular scene. If you have any questions about the scene (or how to pronounce any words), ask the director before you start.

If at all possible, try to get ahold of the script ahead of time. Most times, you can call the box office of the theatre the week before auditions, and they will provide you with a copy. If they do, make sure you return it before the first scheduled audition! If they will not, the Peoria library has a number of scripts on the shelves, or you can try to find it at a bookstore or on the internet (like the Drama Book Shop). If you are after a certain part, it is important that you become as familiar as you can with that role. Try to figure out what would be likely passages for the director to have auditioners for that role read, and prepare them ahead of time.

The director may give you advice about how to read a certain line, or how to read the whole scene. If that happens, try to incorporate the suggestions in your performance, even if it seems odd or wrong. Everyone will notice how well you take direction, and that has a huge impact on whether or not a person gets cast.

I've heard of auditions where they ask auditioners to bring a one-to-two minute memorized monologue to perform, but that is extremely rare, and usually only in professional auditions. I've never had to prepare a monologue for an audition.

Dancing tips 

Don't panic about this, either! Some auditions don't even have dance auditions, and if they do, they are frequently very easy steps, just to see how gracefully auditioners move, or if they can move on the beat, or even if they know their right from their left! Do your best, but ultimately, choreographers are most interested in who looks energized and exciting while moving in time with music. If you have dance training, so much the better, but it is not usually necessary, unless it is a huge tap dancing show (like Crazy For You), or unless you are auditioning for a specific part that needs ballet (like the Dream Ballet dancers in Oklahoma!).

If you mess up the steps, put your feet in the wrong place, or forget what to do with your hands, it is not the end of the world. Even very polished dancers mess up sometimes. It's just like the reading audition: you are doing this without any prior practice, so no one expects you to be perfect. However, when you miss something, it is important that you keep smiling and keep going! A big smile and an air of confidence can hide a multitude of mistakes with your feet. Actual dancers can take note of this, too. Even if you do the steps perfectly, if you are not doing something interesting with your face, or if you look like you're really concentrating hard instead of enjoying it, the staff may pick someone with slightly less dancing ability, who looks like they're having fun.

As a general note, make sure when the choreographer is teaching the steps, you are standing in a place where you can see. Frequently, people uncomfortable with dance try to hide in the back. It doesn't work. The choreographer knows this trick and will see you anyway. Also, if you stand in the back, they may automatically assume that you can't dance at all!

Singing tips 

Most auditions will require that you bring a prepared piece to sing. Don't panic! This is another way to let your personality shine through, even if you're not the best singer in the world.

Keep it brief! When I audition, I try to sing one verse and one chorus of a song, unless it is unusually short. They say that a music director will know whether they want to cast you within the first two measures of your song. I don't necessarily believe that, but no one wants to hear all four verses of "I, Don Quixote" in the middle of a long day of auditions.

You must bring sheet music. A really good place to order music on the internet is Sheet Music Plus. The public library can also be a source of sheet music.

An accompanist will be provided, but you can bring your own if you desire, although this is seldom done. It is almost never good form to bring a recording with which to sing, or to sing a cappella (unaccompanied). Mark your music with appropriate staring and stopping points, and any changes in tempo. The accompanists are generally very good, but if you bring an extremely difficult piece to play (either exceptionally fast with weird rhythms or in a terrible key), they may have difficulty, which could throw off your audition.

Your selection can really be any piece of music you want, although some are better choices than others. Pop music is hardly ever heard in auditions; stick with traditional musical theatre songs unless auditioning for a rock musical or explicitly told otherwise. Try to avoid songs that are overdone. I personally try to avoid songs from really well-known classics like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, The Music Man, My Fair Lady, The Wizard of Oz, or Grease. Also, really try to avoid songs from Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, and Rent, as they have really been sung a lot at auditions for the last ten years. Songs from Disney movies are also not my top choice, although I've seen others sing them with some success.

It's a good idea to know the title of the song you're singing, as well as who wrote it and what show it's from. Sometimes the production staff will ask you to announce what song you will be performing before you sing, and if it's something a little unusual, you may want to tell them anyway, just so they don't spend your auditioning time trying to figure out what you're singing!

If it is possible, it is really advantageous to sing something stylistically similar to the part for which you are auditioning. It also needs to be in your range; don't sing something unless it shows off the best of your voice. Some music directors specifically ask for auditioners not to sing something from the show for which they are auditioning. When I music direct, I don't have a problem with that, but keep in mind that if you are auditioning for A Chorus Line, and everyone decides to sing "Nothing," then the staff will have a very hard time distinguishing one auditioner from the next, and you could get unfavorably compared to a more experienced singer.

Most importantly, be courteous to the accompanist. Give them your music (neatly marked), explain what tempo you would like it played, and point out any unusual tempo changes. After you sing, thank them! Most accompanists are wonderful players, but even if they are lousy, they are doing you a favor by playing for you, and everyone will notice how you treat them. It's an indication of how easy you will be to work with should you get cast.

General tips 

Know your type! This is difficult for all of us, but it is important to audition for roles that fit you. If you are an alto, auditioning for a high soprano role is not advisable. Similarly, if you are 16-going-on-17 and are auditioning for The Sound of Music, trying out for teenager Liesl von Trapp is a better idea than auditioning for the matronly Reverend Mother (unless it is a Youth Theatre or High School production). In amateur theatre, it is possible to occassionally get cast "against type," but it is safer for you to play to your strengths. Many people ask what they should wear, here is an excellent article that explains best practices when it comes to dressing for an audition.

Get there ahead of time! Try to arrive five or ten minutes before the announced starting time. There are almost always audition forms to fill out before beginning the actual audition. This allows the production staff to begin reading, singing, and/or dancing people on time. You may wait around for a few minutes while everyone else is filling out their forms, but directors usually appreciate the extra effort.

When filling out your audition form, be HONEST! If you will only accept a specfic role, please tell them that! The staff will not think any less of you, and it will save their time, since they won't have to re-fill your role when you turn it down. Make sure to list all dates you cannot be at rehearsals. Of utmost importance: if you are not willing to do or say something that a part requires (for example, if you don't want to swear or take the Lord's name in vain), make sure to talk about that with the director before leaving auditions!

Clothing: keep it simple. Wear things you will be able to move in. Tight jeans, suits, skirts, or dresses are probably not appropriate unless you know there is not going to be a dance audition. Most people wear sweats or loose-fitting jeans. If it is at all appropriate, you can try to outfit yourself similarly to what your character would wear. I don't mean rent a costume, but (for example) if you are trying out for a pirate, a loose, flowing, "poofy shirt" would not be out of the question. If there is not a dance audition, jeans are still appropriate, although you will look more serious and professional if you wear something more business-like. But, if you are auditioning for a teenager in Bye Bye Birdie or a stripper in Gypsy, that may not be the image you wish to project!

Call-backs: sometimes the staff will not see everything they need to see at a first audition. In that case, they will hold call-back auditions. Just because you do not receive a call-back does not mean you will not be cast, or even that you will not get the part you want! It just means that they saw everything from you that they needed to see. Some people try to wear the same outfit that they wore to the original audition. If it's not all sweaty and smelly from the dance audition, this can be a good idea, as it can remind the staff of who you are and why they invited you back.

And Finally... 

Relax. Don't panic. Breathe.

The audition is all about showing yourself off to the best of your ability, and projecting an image of yourself in the part you want to play. We all do it, we all live through it, we've all had fantastic auditions and not gotten cast, and some of us (the lucky ones!) have even had awful auditions and still gotten the part we want.

Just go out there and do your best! Good luck to you!