On his semi-recent tour of Australia and Middle Earth, Jason Robert Brown held a number of live gigs as well as some public masterclasses. About two thirds of the way through his Melbourne master class he decided to explain the realities of auditioning for a Broadway show to those in attendance. Luckily for you I was one of them.
Look at him. This guy knows what he's talking about.
Facts About Auditioning for Jason Robert Brown
Fact 1. From the moment your foot appears around the corner of the door if you don’t LOOK like the character JRB wants he won’t even listen to you sing.
Fact 2. If you DO look like the character JRB wants he will listen to the first note you sing. Then, if you don’t SOUND like the character JRB wants he won’t listen to another thing.
Fact 3. If you LOOK and SOUND like the character JRB wants you will have his full attention for the remainder of the audition.
Sure, you may think that makes JRB sound like a pretentious wanker but that is simply the reality of our industry – and we should be thankful that he chose to be honest and direct about it without perpetuating the fantasies that many in our community have.
He went on…
Audition Song Choice
Why would you sing a song by a character whose background, race, colour, or some other feature outside of your control differs from your own? As beautiful as it may be, no white man is ever going to sing “Let them Hear You” in a production of Ragtime – even practicing it is a waste of your time. Likewise, no white woman is ever going to be cast as Kim in Miss Saigon so singing “I’d Give My Life For You” isn’t going to help you either.
That's actually Marina Prior. Amazing what they can do with makeup these days. Photo: Joan Marcus
JRB also spoke about boxes. All performers fit into a box and working outside of that box is not going to get you cast. Why sing “I Cain’t Say No” when you’re a belter, have only ever been cast as a belter, and only ever will be cast as a belter? Similarly, if you’re a character actor, why sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” when you’re only ever going to be cast as Mae in Lippa’s The Wild Party or Columbia in Rocky Horror? Find your box and work to your strengths. Look at the greats – Patti LuPone is Patti LuPone in everything she does; Bernadette Peters is the same and, closer to home, so is Anothony Warlow. They found their box and they worked it. You’ll never see Warlow playing Mark Cohen in RENT and the idea itself is laughable. It would truly be a square peg in a round hole.
Anthony just heard about the new Spice Girls musical. Photo: Quentin Jones
There are some spectacular examples of performers working outside their box and failing. Have you heard Idina Menzel as Florence in Chess in Concert? Horrific. And why? Because her box is green, belty, and melts when you add water.
Finally, JRB said the same thing you always hear when the pros talk about auditioning but, for some reason, it regularly seems to be ignored. KNOW THE CHARACTER YOU ARE AUDITIONING FOR. It sounds simple but if more people truly understood the role and their own abilities I can guarantee that fewer and fewer roles would fit into their box. And that’s not such a bad thing. Consider these two outcomes:
1. You did one audition for a role that fits within your box and you were close to perfect for but missed out to the only other auditionee truly suited for the role, or
2. You did thirty auditions for no roles that actually suited you and felt crap after every single one because you were delusional about your suitability for the role and couldn’t actually appreciate that you weren’t cast because it’s a role you never should have considered auditioning for in the first place.
I know which one I’d prefer.
Again, these are the realities of our industry and far too many of us are still rolling around in their portable, hyperbaric bubbles completely ignorant to the hard truths that are easy to find if only you have the sense to look for them. The sooner more of us face reality and find a box the better.