The Audition Exposition

I’ve been to many auditions, both in Hawaii and in college, but they are a completely different beast here in New York. The auditions vary depending on the production and what they’re looking for. Most of the postings let you know what to prepare and/or bring, but in general you need:

  • Resume stapled to the back of your headshot
  • 2+ contrasting songs (16-32 bars average)
  • 1 or 2 monologues (classical or contemporary, contrasting)
  • Clothes you can move in
  • Jazz shoes, and possibly tap or character shoes

The most interesting is the headshot/resume. You have to trim an 8 1/2″ by 11″ piece of paper to fit on the back of a 8″ by 10″ headshot. I have seen some printed directly on the back. Others have attached both to a bit of card stock. It looks more unprofessional to me, but the stapling is said to be ideal, because they may want to detach your resume from your photo. Paperclips are bad because they could potentially lose your materials.

Every day that I go into the city to audition, I bring two backpacks full of stuff. In one I have my audition folder, iPod, headphones, Kindle, and iPad. The work backpack. I can listen to my audition practice tracks, look at any necessary material, read, or even get other things done while I’m commuting or have free time in the city. The other one holds my dance clothes, food, water, and umbrella. The utility backpack. I almost feel like Batman, but then I realize that he doesn’t have to take mass transit.

Each audition is a new experience, depending on what prepared material they ask for and who is ITR (in the room). There are primarily four types of auditions:

  1. Open Casting Call (OCC): This is a general call, and it can be for principals or ensemble. At these, everyone signs up on one list, then waits until their number is called. These can be packed, and people arrive extremely early so they don’t have to wait around. For me to get to these as early as they do, I have to leave the house around 6 AM… Yuck.
  2. Equity Chorus Call (ECC): This is a call to fill the chorus of an Equity show. They are often for swings/understudies too. At these, Equity members are called by name, given audition cards, and seen first. The casting director (CD) can decided whether or not they want to see non-Equity. Non-Equity still arrive early for these to sign up because for them, it still works like an open call. Bless the productions that tell us before auditions start if they’re going to see us! It can potentially save us hours of waiting around.
  3. Equity Principal Auditions (EPA): This is a call for roles in an Equity show. Just as with the ECCs, Equity are given priority. I haven’t gone out for one of these yet, because I think the likelihood of booking one of these as a non-Equity performer is quite small. You’d either have to be exactly what they’re looking for or really blow them away in the room. You could potentially spend a whole day at one of these and not get seen.
  4. By Appointment: The scheduled time slot is like hitting the jackpot. Not having to wait around while others are auditioning is fabulous. Sometimes they run late, but you’ll still spend less time waiting overall. However, you are not guaranteed an audition. You have to send in a submission, with the minimum requirement being the standard resume and headshot. Some may have you submit more pictures (full shots, etc.) or even video footage. Because that is all you get, I feel it is essential to be unique and engaging in your e-mail and/or cover letter. Looking up the material, especially if it is obscure, is good to do.

At the calls, they will usually take people in groups, often 10 or 20. You line up outside the room and wait. You can usually hear those before you singing their little hearts out. As soon as the person before you exits, you’re in. It’s still pretty intense to me, but I just try to relax and keep my mind on other things so I don’t psych myself out. I haven’t always been successful, but I do my best. They’ll usually let you know if you need to stick around; they may tell you ITR, or after your entire set has gone and they have lined up the next batch.

There is some competition between men, but it is nothing compared to the women. I’ve seen a lot of women at male calls, hoping to get seen there. Sometimes it’s because they don’t have the time to make their normal call, but I’m sure some do it to stand out also. If there are a lot of non-Equity at an Equity call, the CD can choose to see only a certain number, or decide not to see them at all. They also type people out if they don’t look the part, or aren’t what they’re looking for. This helps me to remind myself not to take it personally. Just about everything is out of your control.

For singing auditions, you get to sing 16 bars of a song, and sometimes 32. It seems standard to count 32 bars of cut time as “16 bars,” but they may be super strict. They my even cut you off if you go over. Sometimes the pianist may yell at you, or just stop playing. Don’t be surprised if you get no introduction either. That has happened to me at two auditions. Moreover, if they are running behind or have a lot of people to see, you might even get dropped to a measly 8 measures, but I have luckily not experienced that yet. If they like you, they may ask you to sing another song, or stick around after the first cut. You want to be ready with a song to cover anything they might ask for. A lot of them specify the type of song, so you know what to aim for. There are still a good amount of shows seeking legit singers, especially the revivals, but many shows are leaning toward the contemporary (belt, rock, and pop).

The ultimate goal is the callback: the golden ticket. You might be given one ITR or possibly later, but these are a good sign; they clearly saw something they liked! You may be asked to come in another day, later that afternoon, or have after everyone has been seen. I have been so lucky to have a few callbacks already. Productions have been known to hold multiple callbacks. A guy in CROSSF8 with me had six separate callbacks!

Each of my auditions has been a fabulous learning experience. Each has challenged me in some way, and forced me to make decisions and learn from mistakes. Here is a recounting of my most beneficial audition experiences:

  • Disney Cruise Lines: I observed a repeat of the 2-bar intro that the pianist did not think I was going to take. He hiccuped a bit, making me realize a 2-bar intro is all you need, if that. Sometimes it’s even better just to get a starting note and go. The people ITR might also really appreciate it. Keep your musical intro short.
  • Camelot: I was called back, and given one hour to prepare the provided scene for Merlin. I created a scene on the stage with an imaginary performer rather than focusing on the dialogue with the reader. It was not a good choice. Make sure you connect with your reader, even if they aren’t giving you much to go off of.
  • Beautiful: I didn’t have a song in the style requested, so I tried to prepare a song. I didn’t spend the time to get it in my bones, and nerves won that battle. I messed up the lyrics and probably over-sang. Fit a song in your repertoire to an audition as best you can; don’t experiment with something that could lose you the job.
  • Honeymoon in Vegas: The MD asked me to sing a second song. I wasn’t prepared with a contemporary lyrical song like he requested. I made the poor choice of singing Desperado, forcing him to give me extra direction during the song, which also threw me off. Be fully prepared with pieces that cover all the bases.
  • CROSSF8: I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare a monologue. I struggled immensely with trying to pick a monologue, and I went with one I didn’t connect with. The one I chose was a closed scene that didn’t engage the audience or have interaction with another character. It’s best if you pick something that is more like dialogue. It’s actually considered ideal to take a scene and make it into a monologue. Spend the time finding material you connect with. It’ll be easier to bring it to life.
  • Esther Marrow: I didn’t grab the right folder that morning, so I didn’t have my headshot or resume. The CD let me e-mail it to her, but I think it was really just a courtesy. I also chose to play piano for myself, prompting them to be more interested in my piano skills than my voice. Not exactly what I was going for. Focus on presenting one product, unless they are asking for more.
  • Dead Special Crabs: Another monologue chosen poorly. This time, I was speaking to a person, but I got the vibe that this piece was not in the style they were looking for. My guess is that they wanted something very contemporary, and possibly even a little ridiculous. I connected with this piece more, but it still wasn’t “me.” I knew that I was getting closer, though. This lack of connection also made it harder to want to practice. I procrastinated, and as a result, I had to cram. Spaced rehearsal maximizes your retention, and allows you to consider options when not practicing.

It can all be quite a stressful process, but I try to remind myself why I do it. Each time I do something wrong, I learn something. This helps me to improve, and gets me closer to landing jobs. My skill level can only get better. I am learning to be okay with making mistakes, but it’s always been hard for me. It’s not that I want to be perfect, but I get deathly afraid that one mistake will prove that I’ll never be a success. I just need to remind myself that it’s how you learn and gain experience.

This business is a scary one. It is ruled by subjectivity, and can have little to do with your actual talent. Plus, the level of talent has risen significantly in the last 50 years. In the golden era of musicals, we had “personalities.” Performers who might not be the best singers, dancers, or actors but had the charisma to win the heart of a crowd. Performers nowadays are expected to be triple and even quadruple threats. I see listings asking for people who can rap, play instruments, who are tumblers or acrobats… And the talent is certainly there to match the demand a few times over. Because of that, I think that your personality becomes even more important. Above all else, you need to let who you are shine through. Stop trying to be what they want. You have only one product to sell, and you don’t want to be one of those shady salesmen. Be honest and upfront, and you will be rewarded.

I have been nervous at many auditions, because I wanted to get the job and I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. These things made me self-conscious and come off as desperate. The best thing you can do is find material and projects that you really connect with, and remind yourself that whether or not you get the job, you are getting to create and work on your craft. Even if it’s just for 30 seconds. Be grateful for each audition, and each moment you get to do what you love. You might not be right for a part, but there are a million other opportunities around the corner. And if one production doesn’t want you, have faith that you will find the one out there who does.

Pedro Kaʻawaloa
Pedro Kaʻawaloa

Pedro Kaʻawaloa has a BA in Music from Harvard University. He is a professional performer and music director, as well as a choir conductor, pianist, musician, teacher, and composer. Pedro is also a fitness and mindfulness enthusiast.

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