“WHAT’S IN YOUR BOOK?”
While this may be a normal question to those of us who have worked with a coach or class or college, for actor-singers just starting out, being asked “what’s in your book” can be a bewildering moment. Even actor-singers who’ve been at this a while aren’t really using their book as a tool to sharpen their focus and confidently go after what they want in the audition.
Just what is a Rep Book? Repertoire Book? Audition Book? Audition Binder?
It’s the music you take with you to auditions, the same way a model or designer brings a portfolio to interviews.
Here we go, from start to finish, this is everything you need to know about building your starter book, and continuing to build a winning book that gives you audition confidence and helps you stand out in the audition room.
WHAT THEY ARE REALLY ASKING YOU
What are they really asking when they ask you what is in your “book”? If it’s an industry professional they are asking: Who are you? What is your “type”? “For what roles are you perfect? What is your vocal ability/range? What do you love performing? How prepared are you?
You will save yourself YEARS of grief by being mindful about what you put in your book as you begin building. A book with three songs that are a singularly stunning short performances will serve you better than a book of 20 songs you “know”.
YOUR AUDITION BOOK IS A BINDER with copies of the songs you sing for auditions.
The physical assembly of the book will include these elements:
- 3-ring binder
- page protectors
- post-it notes and/or highlighters
- song list
- a few extra copies of your headshot and resume
- music selections you sing for auditions
WHO IS THE AUDITION BOOK REALLY FOR?
The only people who will use your rep book/audition book are you, your coaches, and the pianist at the audition. The pianist at the audition is the critical person to keep in mind as you assemble your book. Just as you perform for the “people behind the desk” to show them your ability, the way you handle your rep book/audition book shows the pianist (who is often also the show’s music director) what it would be like to work with you in music rehearsals.
One critical role of the Audition Book is to make the pianist’s life easier from the moment you walk in the room.
ELEMENTS OF THE PERFECT AUDITION BOOK
THE 3-RING BINDER
The binder for the Rep Book or Audition Book is typically solid black or solid white and is usually 1 to 1.5 inches thick. You don’t get bonus points for having an art project on the cover of your book. And honestly, it may look like you have a little too much free time on your hands. Keep it clean and simple.
In every audition prep workshop I’ve ever attended (I’ve attended many) someone inevitably asks this question: “Do audition pianists want our music to be in page protectors or just hole-punched?” And a very long and boring conversation takes place and all I can think about is, “I’m paying $x per hour to listen to THIS conversation again!…and the answers are always the same: IT DOESN’T MATTER as long as your music is easy to read.
What’s my personal preference? I use page protectors for musical theater repertoire and no page protectors for opera/operetta. Here are MY reasons why, but know that you could go either way and be absolutely fine.
REASONS I USE PAGE PROTECTORS FOR MUSICAL THEATER REPERTOIRE
- If you are really hustling for great musical theater roles, it’s not uncommon to have two or three or more auditions or lessons in one week. That means those pages are being turned hundreds of times a month, and usually with vigor.
- More flexibility in arranging cuts (see below).
- The use of page protectors in musical theater audition books is fairly standard; it looks and feels very tidy.
- It’s faster than the Print-Tape-Reinforce-Fold method (below).
- Occasionally after you’ve sung your requested cut, a casting director will ask you to sing the full song, or a different part of the song. I keep the full version of my songs (pages I’m not using for my cuts) stacked inside an extra page protector-for just in case.
Note: Some pianists really appreciate it when you use glare-free page protectors; however, they are a little thicker/more difficult to grab and turn quickly, so other pianists don’t love them. Ask your favorite pianist what he or she prefers and go with that.
REASONS I DON’T USE PAGE PROTECTORS FOR OPERA/OPERETTA REPERTOIRE
- I have less frequent opera audition opportunities than musical theater opportunities, so the pages aren’t being manipulated by pianists as often. For one, there are far fewer U.S. opera companies than U.S. musical theater stages, so fewer auditions to start with. Secondly, so many U.S. opera companies are strapped for cash that they actually charge an audition fee of $25, $35, $50 or more. It’s illogical, but true! And I’m not about that life.
- You usually don’t need to arrange cuts in opera. Most companies will ask to hear “an aria” or a “short aria”.
- Page protectors just aren’t commonly used in the opera world, so it may scream “hey, non-serious musical theater performer here!” to the pianists who just haven’t developed a lot of respect for U.S. musical theater performers.
- If you DO go without page protectors, you should prepare your music using the print-tape-reinforce-fold method:
- Print your aria single-sided. A double-sided print of music can sometimes be difficult to read depending on the lighting in the room and how heavy the paper is, because the reverse page can show through.
- Tape: put pages back-to-back to create one double-sided page. Tape the pages together using one long piece of tape along the outside edge of the paper.
- Punch and reinforce. Use a dependable three-hole-punch on the opposite length of the paper, and apply reinforcement tabs.
- Fold, “dog-ear”, or curl the bottom corner of each page to make it easier to turn.
ARRANGING YOUR MUSIC IN YOUR PAGE PROTECTORS
- Print your music single-sided. You will have more flexibility in arranging new cuts of your song for different auditions; also, it’s easier to read music that has been printed on one side only, unless you are using heavier-weight paper.
- Include as few page turns as possible – this is a big one. Your pianist will not love you if there is a page turn in the middle of a complex or deceptive chord progression, or if there are multiple page turns relative to the length of the cut.
- Consider for a longer cut of music, like a “brief song” (60-90 seconds of music), keeping the originally published pagination. For example, if page 11 was published to be on the left side of the book and page 12 was published to be on the right, keep it that way, because the publishers are often conscious about avoiding awkward page turns when they are arranging the layout for printing.
Label each song clearly that you or your coach or the audition pianist can find your next song easily and without your help. I like to use repositionable tabs because I will rearrange my book from month-to-month.
Another reason to use very clear writing or printing on your tabs is because it gives the audition pianist (remember, this is often also the show’s music director!) a quick glance at other things you do!
POST-IT NOTES AND HIGHLIGHTERS
These are used to show the start and end of your cuts.
Remember, one of the critical missions of the Audition Book is to make the pianist’s life easier just because YOU walked in the door with this really great rep book. Here’s where you can really make a great impression.
Clearly mark START and STOP and any CUTS in your piece. I use sticky note markers to do this, because I use different cuts for some songs, depending on the audition requirement. So instead of reprinting and re-highlighting my music, I just move the sticky note. I do have a few songs where a verse + chorus + 2nd ending make a perfect 32-bar cut, and I’ve marked those up permanently.
Before every audition, double-check those sticky notes to make sure your cuts are exactly what was requested on the casting notice. Trust me, it’s worth it.