Do you have a website? A demo? A great headshot and resume isn’t enough anymore! Casting directors are increasingly relying on digital media submissions to prescreen who they invite to audition. They first review the video and/or audio files before looking at emailed or snailmailed headshots. Sometimes they don’t get to those at all. This is a huge time and money-saver for casting, who are eager to avoid spending lots on space and accompanists for auditions. So… get cracking on your site and demo. You may have some material already, if any of your past performances were video recorded. There are website templates you can plug into to build your site, if you have the skill and patience. I lack both, and am grateful to Patrick Sasso for building this site. Pat also does web design, audio and video demos for actors. He’s super nice and affordable. And by all means, if you have any decent video of yourself performing, put it on Youtube!
What makes a “good” song? A good audition song? When is a song a good audition song? Some songs work well in a cabaret set but don’t work in an audition room or translate beyond our small theatre community. Certain songs strike an emotional chord in many people, others are more unique to a particular songwriter, individual or a smaller segment of the population. Simply put, some songs are so personal they can seem indulgent. When I think of examples of pop songs that connect on a large scale, I think of Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Who doesn’t want to be cared for unconditionally? Or Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?”… Anyone who has had a baby or even held one can relate to the wonder of new life. Eric Clapton wrote a universal anthem for loss and mourning with “Tears In Heaven.” And of all the amazing songs to come out of our Broadway songbook, “Seasons Of Love” from Rent has broken through every barrier to ask – and answer – what love is.
This week 2 new students came into the studio, referred by their agents. 1 was an actor, the other a young folk singer/songwriter who was a recent TV talent show finalist. Neither had any vocal training or had ever been to a Broadway musical audition. Both had appointments for major auditions that their agents had set up. I had 1 hour – that’s it! – with each to prepare them. I had to boil 6 months’ worth of technique into about 20 minutes, then help the actor pick 2 contrasting songs for his show, the folk singer learn 2 songs from the lead role she was about to be seen for. I knew it was unlikely, under these circumstances, that either would book the roles. But I wanted to make sure they still felt their lesson was a valuable experience and that the audition process would not be scary. Well, here are their comments:
“Didn’t get a chance to tell you about the audition. It went really well. You totally prepared me for everything. He loved ‘The Midnight Hour’ and then he asked if I had something longer and I gave him the Sinatra. Thank you so much! There was no room for nerves because I knew what was coming.
🙂 I will back in town in a week and a half and as soon as I get a check I want to start my lessons!”
“First of all! Thank you so much for getting me prepared for the audition. In just an hour you helped make singing 100 times easier for me and I’m so grateful for that. I didn’t get the part, but they did say it was a pleasure meeting me and they liked me but I just wasn’t right for the role. So overall good feedback. There were only nice things said and that makes me proud of myself! Thank you so much again!!”
Every Spring, I attend showcases for graduating seniors from musical theatre programs around the country. These students have spent 4 years and $200,000 to learn their craft. They have 2-3 minutes to impress the audience of agents, managers and casting directors and launch their careers. A few shining stars will get those “golden tickets” – invitations from industry professionals to meet. A few will be signed. 1 or 2 will book a job. The rest are belched out into the streets to pile into apartments, find survival jobs, and join the audition mayhem, hoping to earn equity cards and book shows before student loan payments are due.
Then the really tough news arrives: you don’t have the right material! Those Rogers & Hammerstein and Cole Porter chestnuts that carried you through college are of no use at the American Idiot tour audition. Your cute 50’s pop song that seemed perfect for Jersey Boys is being sung by so many other people that day, the casting directors roll their eyes and check their blackberries. And the technique for singing pop and rock is totally different than for Traditional Musical Theatre. Who knew?! Even your Contemporary Musical Theatre songs are wrong. You may have been cast to play a 50-year-old character in college, but Broadway has actual 50-year-olds for that, with professional resumes longer than your loan modification applications. You need age-and-type-appropriate songs and you need them now. Someone on line at the open call is charitable enough to say ‘here’s my voice teacher’s card,’ or ‘you should really check out ____’s class at Broadway Dance,’ or ‘I’m so happy with my monologue coach, call him!’ WHAT? I took voice lessons and dance classes and acting classes for 4 years. I was the lead in every show in school and summer stock. I’m DONE with training! I thought I had everything I needed to work!
The humbling truth: Graduation Day is when your training begins. You will always need to study. Even if you were a “golden ticket” winner, you still need to keep working. You will always need new material. You will outgrow some songs and mature into others. And the demands of the industry will keep changing. This week’s favorite song winds up on next week’s “avoid list.” Or you’ll find the coolest song ever, that no one else does, and uh-oh… there it is on Glee, American Idol, or The Voice, and the secret is out. Rats!
OK everyone, I feel your pain. I really do. And I’ll help you through it. But you have to keep coming to lessons. You have to keep working those muscles and stay focused. Broadway is the Olympics. Your agent expects you to be ready when they get you an appointment. No agent? Keep working and we’ll try & get you one. And don’t think it can’t happen for you at an open call – it can and it does all the time.
Hey, I’ve been going to the gym for 25 years. Can I stop now? Won’t I stay toned and fit based on my past workouts? Answer yes and prove it and you’ve won a free lesson! Either way, I’ll see you next week.
Good luck to all of my fabulous students who are auditioning this Thursday. I know you’ll be great!