So once you've chosen the perfect song (see former blog post), now you've got to nail the audition with your performance.
As a director, I can't tell you how many times, in fact more often than not, I have performers audition without really performing their song. They sing it, but they don't perform it. Let me tell you, when a performer walks up and performs the song in character, it's a joy for me. I want to see what you can do! I want to enjoy your performance. I want you to be the perfect fit for the roles I have. I want to see you perform! I want to encourage this in all performers out there. So let's get to it.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. I can't stress this enough! Singing along with a cd in your car is NOT enough. You must plan your performance. Practice your full audition from entrance to exit of the room including your introduction and thank you. You want to be so prepared that you don't have to think about it. When nerves kick in, as they will, you want to be confident in your material and every aspect of your performance.
Consider if the auditors want to chat with you, what might be a couple questions you have for them? Maybe you'd like to know what period they are setting the show in, or if they will be having a full orchestra or a small combo, a large ensemble/chorus or smaller cast size. What about their company appeals to you? What other shows has the director done that you've seen and can compliment them on? It's good to have a couple things ready to chat about.
Think ahead of what you're going to wear, how you'll do your hair and makeup. As with modeling, clean and simple attire is generally best. You want to be a fairly neutral canvas so the auditors can imagine you various characters. If you have long hair, I'd suggest wearing it down, styled nicely but not covering your face, and bring a tie or clip in your pocket so you can quickly put it back if they ask or for a different look for a second monologue or song. Avoid heavy jewelry if you wear any at all. It can be distracting. Makeup also should look clean and fairly neutral. Above all, don't dress as a character... either what you're performing or auditioning for. Just no to that.
Lastly, if you are called back to audition a second time, I recommend wearing the same clothes and hair style as you wore to begin with. You want to look like the person they saw before and called back. If you walk in looking like someone different it could turn them off to you completely. On a related note, make sure your headshot is up to date and looks like you as you go to audition.
Your entrance and introduction
When you're brought in, you can say hello to the auditors as you walk to the piano. Greet the pianist with a quick smile, hello with your name, and then open your sheet music, already prepared for them, show them where you want to begin and end (clearly marked) and give them a clear count of the tempo you're wanting. Let them know if you want them to lead you in with music, or just give you a pitch then follow you as you begin. This entire process should take 10-20 seconds.
Now, walk to the audition area, to a mark if there is one, or to a comfortable distance from the auditors. Don't get to close so they feel you're on top of them. Remember they want to see you head to toe. If you need a chair for your number you can grab one or ask for one, but have a backup plan in case they don't want you to use one.
Now with a smile and friendly attitude and confidence, state your name, the song you'll be performing and the show title. If you were asked to do more than one you can give both in order that you'll be performing them. Take a beat to center and get into character (having rehearsed extensively this should take only a short beat), then motion to the pianist for your queue.
The Performance begins...
In any solo performance (monologue, song, etc) using an unseen and imaginary "other" can be an amazing tool. This takes some practice in your rehearsals, but if you can clearly imagine a person you're talking to, with their own point of view on what you're saying and even their reactions, movements, judgements... this all can make YOUR performance appear natural and organic. Think of it as a scene partner that's only in your head. As you begin your performance, you will want to pick a spot in the back wall where you will place the "other" that you are talking (singing) to. This is the person your character is telling the story to, or appealing to, or remembering, etc. You do not want to look into the faces of the auditors, unless in some rare case you're doing a piece where the fourth wall is intentionally broken. This generally makes auditors uncomfortable, since they will need to look down to take notes and they want to watch you without feeling like they need to express support for you at the same time. Focus beyond them. Try to really connect with this "other". Imagine their expressions back to you... what if they start crying? What if they look angry? What if they turn away and you have to get their attention back? These choices can make your performance more dynamic. Use the text of the song as a guide along with the overall story the song is from. As if there is another person there with you, the other is a person with whom you interact. It's a subtle thing. Don't overdo it, but let that energy influence your performance.
Generally you don't want to do too much movement around the space, even if you are playing a piece that is energetic or a character that is frenetic. The auditors still need to have good eyes on you. So how can you use the space, be adaptable to smaller or larger spaces, and convey the performance? Also, if you are given the luxury of singing the full song, or a longer segment, how can you portray beginning, middle and end?
One simple tip is the side, center, forward method. In your performance preparation, place the "other" out front and center. Starting with your focus on them, you stand at center. Then at a moment in the song of introspection, or conflict, or aside, you take a few steps to one side and change the focal point. The energy adjusts for this change. Then with maybe a discovery the character makes, or a point of strong emphasis, they shift focus back to the other and move back to center. Lastly, with the final idea being presented, or final build of the song and story, you take a couple steps forward to build and end there.
What to do with my arms?
It's amazing how often I hear performers ask this, or talk about wrestling with it. What to do with your arms as you're performing? Well first, your arm stance, movement, gesture should ideally come organically from the character you create. Is the character nervous and fidgety? Are the aggressive? Shy? Do some work on this type of discover and try to work from there. But technically you want them arms to support your performance, not distract from it. So keep that in mind. In general keeping your arms above your waste, not hanging at your sides, gives more energy to your performance. Arms at your sides generally convey's the performance is over.
Gestures should come from the energy of the moment of the story, out from your core. If you are working well imagining the interactions with the "other" you're playing to, this can be very helpful. If you imagine the other turns to walk away, might you reach out spontaneously toward them along with a vocal emphasis to try to get them to turn back? If you imagine the "other" is leaning in and hanging on your every word, might you naturally want to reach up to touch their face? If you're frustrated and can't make a decision for yourself, where do your arms want to go? Working from the character, story and interactions with your "other" will help lead the way.
Variations and getting creative
For a song audition, you really have very little to work with. You have your body, your clothes, the empty space, often you have access to a chair. These few things can be used creatively and very effectively, as long as they don't become some strange novelty act. Never let these details distract from the performance itself. They should only enhance it subtly.
First of all, avoid elaborate props. You might use a bracelet on your wrist to convey a gift or memory of a loved one. You might pull a handkerchief out of your pocket to use. The chair itself could be used to place the other in a location that you move around, as long as it doesn't focus your face away from the auditors too much. Just be careful of going too far. If it's not something you would normally have on your body walking around in public, I'd generally say to avoid it. Pulling an egg beater out of your pocket, for example, just looks gimmicky and risks distracting the auditors from your performance ability.
The chair can be useful. I once directed an actor in an audition piece that started out with her watching a movie in a theatre next to her boyfriend, to turn the chair upstage away from the auditors and start with her back to them (after introduction of course). She played looking to her side to him before she got up and then addressed the other she was speaking to out front. She could relate in the scene then to both the other AND to the imaginary boyfriend. It worked beautifully.
Using the space effectively is also important. Again, don't get too close to the auditors, but you can sit on the floor, start to the side and move in, cross the space... These variations can make you more memorable if used well. Always focus on the performance itself first. These choices are there to support it. Be prepared to adapt also. If you planned to start on the floor but realize that doing so will make some or all the auditors have difficulty seeing or hearing you, adapt and do it in an alternate way you've already prepared.
Once you've completely your piece(s), you should come out of character back to your smiling friendly self, repeat your name in case they are video taping or recording and thank them. You can then proceed to the piano to pick up your music and exit, unless they ask you to do anything additional.
Some may ask you to step over to the piano and run some scales to test your range, ensure that you can match pitch, or even harmonize. This generally happens if they need to make sure you can sing the range of a particular character, or if they weren't satisfied in your audition song to give them a complete picture of your abilities. Just smile and do what they ask. The fact that they are asking means they're interested. If they weren't, they wouldn't bother.
Some auditors will want to chat with you a bit. Asking questions about your experience, or just to get a sense of your personality. It is very important that you come off as personable, friendly, professionally, and that you can take direction easily. When a director doesn't know you, they will be taking a gamble in casting you. You need to understand that this is a risk to the production and to the theatre. Your ability to show them that you will be someone they will enjoy working with and not have any problems is very important.
By this same token, your reputation is a critical piece of your performance career. If you get a bad reputation for being hard to work with, obstinate, laking in professional work ethic or attitude, you will simply not get hired any more. Theatres DO check references and talk to each other. Don't be one of those performers.
A number of times I personally have planned to hire one actor, but after the theatre called on their references and got bad reports we went to a 2nd or 3rd choice for the role. It's simply too risky with all the work and time and money that goes into a production to have one troublesome performer ruin the show, or ruin everyone else's enjoyment of the experience. One bad report on an actor and generally I move on to cast someone else.
It's notable here too that I've worked in some remote locations where actors bad behavior is unfortunately reinforced because the talent pool is so small that they continue to get hired despite their bad behavior. This is extremely unfortunate. It's not good for the theatres, for the audiences, for the rest of the people involved in the productions and certainly not for the actor with the bad behavior. At some point they might move away from that area and be completely ill prepared to behave in an acceptable way in the area to which they relocate. I say again... don't be one of "those" performers.
Audition with a professional attitude, even if it's community theatre you're auditioning for. Undergo thorough preparation, with skill, confidence and creativity. Remember, the director WANTS to like you, and the only thing you're competing with in an audition is the director's vision of the roles in the show. Support your fellow actors in their process at the same time. That's the professional way as well.
Spike, as his friends call him, has 30 years in the performing arts world as an actor, director, administrator, marketer, fundraiser. He has consulted with numerous theatres and other performing arts organizations and loves to help such groups and individual artists to achieve their success!