A NOTE ON CUTS
First (AND THIS IS HUGE), do be meeting regularly with a voice teacher and/or rep (repertoire) coach who will work with you on deciding on your cuts for various auditions.
Second, read casting calls thoroughly. When casting notices go out, they will include (or should include) exactly what the casting team wants to hear at the audition. If you can’t –or just don’t–follow instructions for this, why, then, should they cast you at all? So pay attention to the end of casting notices. Read and re-read for obvious information and clues. Here’s an example: “Please prepare 32 bars of a song from the show or from the style of the show. Be prepared to sing a contrasting song if requested.”
- “32 bars” – You usually are asked to sing 16 bars (measures), 32 bars, or a brief song (which should be a cut of around 60-90 seconds long) for a musical theater audition. Occasionally they will announce at crowded auditions that they only want to hear eight bars, which is cruel and unusual, but does happen so don’t be shocked when that happens to you. Anyway, the cut you prepare doesn’t have to be 32 continuous measures, it is sometimes 16 measures from the beginning and 16 from the end. HOWEVER, until you have worked with audition cuts for a while and really understand dramatic and harmonic progression, do not attempt jump cuts (I call these “Frankenstein cuts”) on your own, consult with your teacher or coach. Remember, we want to make the pianist’s life better, not make them crazy with a weird performance of cuts that don’t make sense.
- “A song from the show” – I know a casting director that would prefer to hear only songs from the show he is casting. Another director I know doesn’t respond well to interpretations that are too different from the version in her head, and would prefer to not hear songs from the show she is casting. IF the casting notice says “a song from the show”at all, in my opinion, try to bring in a song from the show. Ultimately, consult with your own teacher or coach on song choice strategy. It’s definitely an important skill to cultivate, and will come with time–I promise!
- “Or from the style of the show” – If you don’t know what that means, don’t guess, ask your teacher or coach. Sometimes you can look to other shows by the same writer/composer team, or shows from the same era, or characters that are similar to the character you are auditioning for. As you continue to educate yourself in the musical theater audition space, it’s super useful to research and understand musical theater styles as we know them today. And that’s another blog post.
- “Be prepared to…” – This is easy: follow instructions and be mentally ready and studied up for whatever they may want next: cold reading, contrasting song, dance, etc.
- “A contrasting song” – If you’re singing a contemporary ballad, a contrasting piece would be a contemporary uptempo song, or even a legit “show tune”. How contrasting should you go? Do not over think this. “Contrasting” doesn’t mean “complete opposite”. Be smart and have in mind another piece that has been in your book for a while that is different from the piece you are bringing in. Which brings me to my next juicy tip for when you hear…
Yay! Someone on the casting team wants to hear more. What do you do? Say:
“Yes! This is “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, step over to your book at the pianist, quickly find the tab for that song, and go!
The pro-version of this is to prepare a speech that goes along with your “Rep List”.
Your Rep List, or Repertoire List, is a simple list of songs that you are
prepared to sing THAT DAY.
You should never have anything in your book at an audition that you would have to decline singing that day. Awkward! This means if my voice is feeling yucky and I don’t have high notes that morning, I take “The Hair Song” out of my book and leave it on my desk before heading to the audition. Ok, so here’s the speech to have ready:
“Yes! I have ‘Practically Perfect’, ‘I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You’, and ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’. What would you like to hear today? [flash winning smile]”
OR you could say:
“Yes! I have some Mary Poppins, a little Sibella from Gentleman’s Guide, and a fun Tom Lehrer song. What would you like to hear today? [flash winning smile]”
By giving the casting director choices you not only show them what you have in your Book, you show them that you are PREPARED for this. And speaking as a director, this is like a little compliment, like when someone shows up for a date looking like they put some thought into their appearance. It makes them feel good, and lets them know that they would enjoy working with you because you are SWITCHED-ON when it comes preparing a performance.
HEADSHOT AND RESUME
Of course you will bring a copy of your résumé stapled to the back of your headshot to be collected by the creative team at the table, but also keep a few extra copies of your headshot and resume in the front of your binder. If you keep your résumé in the front inside pocket of your binder, the pianist can get a snapshot of your experience for just a few seconds.
Also, if you are auditioning in New York, you will sometimes pass a room with another audition in progress, and you may want to be seen for that opportunity, or drop of your headshot/résumé with the monitor if you can’t stay. It’s just nice to have extra copies of your materials.
ON CHOOSING MUSIC FOR YOUR AUDITION BOOK
You really only need five to ten songs in your book to cover just about any audition you attend. As mentioned before, work with a teacher or coach who specializes in “book building”. Though you really only need five songs, sometimes it can take a few months to get your book right. Sometimes you work on a song for a few weeks before realizing it’s not a great fit for your voice, and sometimes you just grow out of your songs. Here are some hard rules to follow for a winning rep book/audition book. If any song or cut doesn’t meet the criteria below, it doesn’t belong in your book. Period.
- It is freshly coached, beyond memorized, and represents one great facet of your voice as it is TODAY
- It is a role that your could conceivably be cast as TODAY
- It’s been performed in front of people other than your teacher or coach
- It has a distinct beginning, middle, and end–even the shortest cut
- You really love singing this
BONUS: REP BOOK, VOL. 2 and VOL. 3
So here’s a fun fact: I have three personal rep books that I work from. (I’m a voice teacher, so I have several shelves of vocal music, but I’m talking about my own personal use.) One binder is the tidy little book that I take with me to auditions and the others are massive 3-inch binders of around 100 pieces of music. They are my “on-hold” books for:
- songs I am still learning
- songs someone suggested I learn
- songs that are “supposed” to be perfect for me, but I don’t love yet
- songs I learned for a specific audition and don’t love, but have been coached
- songs I used to sing but feel “burnt out” or are on “don’t sing” lists
- songs that I love to sing, but don’t really fit my “type”
- songs I only sing in certain circumstances (funerals and weddings)
You’re not obligated to have a second book, but sometimes it’s nice to have a place for those songs that are not perfect for your “official” audition book. Who knows when they will come in handy! It also helps me set aside my audition book as “very special” performance material.
CHANGE YOUR GAME
I’ll leave you with a game-changing thought. So many actor-singers complain that they are going to audition after audition without role offers, and they are sick and tired of not actually performing. But what is an audition? It’s a solo performance opportunity. A one-woman-show. A cabaret. You want the role of Aldonza in Man of La Mancha? Well, for a moment in that room with the creative team, you ARE doing the role of Aldonza. For a minute all eyes are on you as you take the stage and sing “It’s All the Same” full-voiced, body flooded with anger and fear and determination.
When you view every audition as a great opportunity to perform, you elevate every step of the audition process. You become a better performer, a more prepared colleague, and a more relaxed person. And we all know the joy is in the journey.
This is the good stuff. Enjoy building your book!