Insider tips from professional music theatre audition panelists
On Monday 22nd March I was lucky enough to attend the MEAA (Actor’s Equity) Music Theatre Day held at the Australian Opera Centre in Southbank, Melbourne. The event was a full day workshop on music theatre auditions and how to effectively rehearse and interpret music theatre scenes and songs. Roughly 20 performers of varying experience levels were coached along by two of Australia’s finest creatives – Kellie Dickerson (Musical Director of Wicked) and Roger Hodgman (well-renowned Director of TV, Film, straight theatre, opera, and music theatre including several Production Company shows). Kellie and Roger were extremely generous with their time and knowledge, and readily imparted their pearls of wisdom for our benefit. Summarised below for you are their tips, straight from the horses mouth, regarding how to win over an audition panel. Performers take note!
The harsh facts of auditions
Ok, this is what we all probably suspect in the back of our minds but don’t really want to hear as performers. But, like it or not, here it is… an audition panel will likely make up their mind about you within the first few seconds of your audition performance. Rarely will an audition panel change their mind as the audition goes on. So, other than giving your best performance once the piano starts, it is always beneficial to do the little things such as smiling at the audition panel as you walk into the room. Don’t shake hands with everyone on the panel! Think about it. If the creative team have to shake everyone’s hand who auditions for the show, that’s roughly 50-100 people they’re coming into physical contact with in a single day. The creative team don’t want to get sick, understandably, so leave the hand shake until for callback auditions, and just introduce yourself verbally before you tell them what song you are about to sing.
You may often be asked to stop mid-way through your song. If you are, don’t immediately take that to be a bad sign. It is more often the case that the panel, usually the Musical Director, have heard all that they need to, as in “Great, this person can sing the pants off the song, I don’t need to hear any more.” Also, remember that the panel have a schedule to keep and other applicants to see, so they are unlikely to be interested in hearing the entire version of your chosen piece.
* Look carefully at the instructions of the audition brief – if they ask for 16 bars of a song, don’t go into the audition intending to perform a 6-minute epic. The likelihood is that the audition panel simply do not have the time, or sometimes the patience, to sit through entire songs.
* Have an audition folder of songs that you can readily draw from, and come to an audition prepared to sing more songs than is required. And remember to bring the sheet music for those extra songs too.
* The Musical Director will want you to fit all of these elements into an audition song: your vocal range, musical tone colours (the ‘light and shade’ of your voice), the use of both vibrato and flat tone. So choose your audition song wisely! Really look at the audition songs you know, and check whether you can cover all of these elements within 16 bars of music.
* The Director will want to see that you are connected between your mind, body and voice. As well as watching for a connection to the song, lyrics and character, a director will often be looking to see whether what you are doing with you body matches what you are doing with your voice.
* The audition pianist will LOVE you if you write chords above each bar in your sheet music. This makes the music easier for them to sight-read, especially if it is an up-tempo song.
* Put your sheet music in a plastic pocket bound folder, and whatever you do – DON’T fold the music in half! Whatever makes it easier for the pianist to play well and turn pages easily will inevitably make you look better.
* Don’t click the tempo to the audition pianist. Why? Two reasons – (1) you can unintentionally put the wrong tempo into your muscle memory, and (2) some pianists may be offended by you clicking at them.
* Generally, the shorter the intro for the pianist, the better.
* Be prepared to sing in a variety of accents, especially ‘neutral Australian’. Why? Accents can often be a mask that becomes the focus of the song instead of the text.
* Never write on a CV a vocal range you are not prepared to sing 8 shows per week.
* Never let the text of a song get soft, even if you’re singing softly.
* Don’t over-physicalise the text of a song, especially if the song is wordy.
* Are you going for a role that is younger in age than you are? Sing without vibrato. It will make you sound younger.
* Work out what you do well, and do it better than anybody else. Don’t try to be a decent version of somebody else.
* Enjoy your audition! I know, this is a hard one. But both Kellie and Roger agree – if you are relaxed, the audition panel will relax, and that can positively affect their opinion of you.
The performers who participated in the workshop bugged Kellie and Roger with several questions throughout the day, many of which you may have wanted to ask an audition panel yourself at some stage. Here are their answers.
Commonly asked questions from auditionees:
Q: Do I direct my audition song to the audition panel and make eye contact with them?
A: This is generally not a good idea, it usually makes the panellists nervous. It can also be distracting for them as they are trying to watch your performance and consider your suitability for the show. It is best to perform looking over the panellists heads, performing out to the ‘audience’ just as you would on stage.
Q: Can you sit in an audition?
A: As a general rule of thumb, it is probably not a good idea to sit. Being seated whilst you perform closes you off a bit to the panel.
Q: Should I stand still?
A: There is on right answer to this question. Standing still can be powerful, however don’t be as stiff as a board. The short answer is to move as much as is natural, just don’t choreograph movement!
Q: What if I don’t sing my best?
A: You don’t always have to sing beautifully in an audition. In fact, some songs where the acting is the focus may actually require you not to sing amazingly. You don’t have to sing beautifully for a first round audition, you just have to be able to act with your voice.
Finaly words of advice?
Kellie and Roger both stressed that it is imperitive all performers keep up with their technical vocal training. Singers need to take dance classes. Dancers need to take singing lessons. Always be looking to improve yourself and develop your tools.
Consider these tips before your next music theatre audition, and chookas!