YOUR AUDITION BOOK / REP BOOK: Everything you need to know, Part One

your audition book

“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?

Audition Book-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”.

QUICK ANSWER:

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
  • tabs
  • 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

skin horse velveteen rabbit
Your book should have a tidy, organized look about it; even when it becomes as worn as the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, it will look LOVED.

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.

 

 

PAGE PROTECTORS

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.

sheetprotectors_general1

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.

TABS

repositionable tabs

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.

post it notes markers

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.

 

CONTINUE TO PART TWO HERE!

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YOUR AUDITION BOOK / REP BOOK: Everything you need to know, Part Two (and a bonus)

If you haven’t read Part One first, CLICK HERE to go there now and come on back!

your audition book 2

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…

That was great!

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:

What would you“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!

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