I get pretty manic about auditioning for shows, especially when I really want to nab a part. Since theatre is basically just a never-ending cycle of auditions, I have a lot of thoughts about how to make them count.
Here is basically all of the advice I could possibly think to put in one place on the art and craft of auditioning, step by step, from before you even find a song, to what to do post-cast list.
I must note, I’m not an expert. This is just the assemblage of my personal knowledge and experience. The tips I hand out have been helpful to me, but may not work for everyone. Take what you may from this post and leave the rest behind. I won’t be offended.
Further, my advice applies mostly to non-professional community and school theatre, as that has been my domain. If you’re seeking audition advice for something in a professional domain, you may be better served seeking information elsewhere. Many of my tips should be helpful for any level of performance, however!
For the sake of clarity and readability, I’m dividing this into five parts: Research, Picking a Song, Prepping and Rehearsing, The Audition, and Aftermath.
Part One: Research
This should be your very first step. I’ve spent months in the research phase before auditions. The longer you spend at this step, the more prepared you’ll be for everything else!
- Check Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page dedicated to the musical is a great starting point. Get your basic info at a glance: writer/composer/lyricist, era, synopsis, character breakdown and OBC, song list, notable performances and revisions, news and reception. I recommend this whether you know nothing about the show, or if it’s an old favorite. This sets the foundation for everything else you need to know.
- Checking the licensing company’s website for info about the show can provide more specific info. You can find this by googling “[show name] licensing”. Here you can usually see a cast size breakdown, character ranges, and more in-depth character descriptions and synopses.
- Listen to the show, preferably several times. This is a semi-passive step that can add productivity to plenty of car rides and showers! If you have an idea of which character you’d like to try for, now is a good time to see if you can discern where their highest and lowest notes are in the score (since you’ve previously scoped out characters’ ranges). I recommend listening to the OBC recording (or whatever professional recording is available) first, followed by any other regional/movie/revival recordings you can find. It also doesn’t hurt to look up performances of some of your favorites on YouTube! You can often find fantastic covers by professionals.
- Watch the show. I consider this step vital. It gives you a better idea of the plot and flow of the action. If you’re lucky, there may be a performance happening soon in your area! However, assuming the stars don’t align, you’ll have to watch a video. If you’re not down with bootlegs, you can always try looking for professional recordings like the Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway film or anything posted on Broadway HD. Since “Live” musicals are becoming popular, you could try those as well, though they’re not always of the best quality. If you don’t mind bootlegging, the search for specific shows can be hard, but joining social media groups dedicated to sharing can be helpful. I usually like to watch the OBC if at all possible, and then I’ll usually look for a good community theatre or high school production as well. Depending on when the recording was taken, these local productions are likely performing the version of the show available for licensing, which means they may be highly relevant to your preparations!
- Read the script/score. The internet can make this very easy! Scribd.com is a great resource for scripts and music, I highly recommend an account. I like to read through the entire script and scan through the whole score at least once each. Even if you can’t find the script for the precise version you’d be performing, glancing over any copy can still be useful just to get a rough idea of what to expect.
- Read/watch any source material, if at all possible. Before auditioning for The Addams Family Musical, watching the movies and scoping out some episodes of the TV show can’t hurt. You might not have time to read the entirety of Little Women or Les Miserables before your auditions for these shows, but you can read some excerpts or skim for some important events! Remember, the adaptations likely won’t follow the source material exactly, but you can get valuable insight into the characters and universe nonetheless.
- See if there’s a TVTropes page for the musical. This is a step I discovered while preparing for my role as Miss Honey in Matilda– the TVTropes page for that musical provided a lot of insight into certain jokes and characters. Even if there’s not a page for the musical, check the one for the source material. It’s definitely worth a glance!
- Check YouTube for things like interviews with OBC or writers, behind-the-scenes info, show or character analyses, etc.
By the end of your research process, you should have a solid idea of who all of the characters are and have a concept of how much they actually do in the show. Your understanding of the character you are interested in playing should be rather deep. Practically speaking, you should be able to recognize the songs they are in and their vocal range. Ideally, you’ll return to this process several times through the audition process, and through the rehearsal process as well should you nail the audition.
Part Two: Picking a Song
This step can be made easier if you already have a robust repertoire of songs in your audition book. For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume you do not, and that you must pick an entirely new one for this audition. In the event songs from the show are allowed (they typically are not), there is a small section at the end of this part about choosing songs from within the show. Your audition song may also be provided for you– this is especially common in school auditions and children’s theatre. If this is the case, jump to Part Three.
Your audition song can do many things, ideally: it should match the style of the show (ex, golden age song for a golden age show), match the personality of the show/character, match the target character’s vocal range (in the chosen cut), show off any necessary vocal skills (like patter, wordiness, belting, or maybe even yodeling), plus, most importantly, show off the best of your voice, tone, and range. Ideally, I like when role I want is clearly evident from the song I choose.
You don’t have to try to tick all of these boxes for every audition song. In fact, I’d rather you choose a song from your book that has nothing to do with the character that you can sing fantastically than a song you’ve chosen specifically for this role that you cannot sing at all.
When finding the perfect song, I usually look through what I know first. I’ll scroll through my iTunes library and see if I have anything that may match. When this fails, google is your friend. Don’t be afraid to get specific with these searches– while “alto audition songs” might be a good starting point, “golden age belter audition songs” might yield more workable results. You can also try googling, say, “Little Women audition songs” or “Jo March audition songs”. These may yield some very fitting results, but it’s very likely many others will use the same tags in their search, and uniqueness is generally of your benefit in auditions.
Make sure the song you choose has a good cut somewhere. Double-check whether the audition calls for a 16- or 32-bar cut, or something else. Sometimes you’ll find a perfect song that has no good cuts– you can either pick the best possible, attempt to get creative and MacGyver one together by cutting repeats or measures of rest, or simply choose another song.
Many caution about the nightmares of “overdone” audition songs. There’s something to be said for this, for sure. I won’t bother listing them all here (the lists are changing daily anyway and are just a google search away), but I will generally advise against songs from any show currently on broadway. At the end of the day, your performance of the song is what is most important. You are certainly allowed to choose an “overdone” song– but I’d generally caution against it unless you’re certain you can knock it out of the park.
When Songs From the Show are Permitted
If you obtain express permission from the director to perform a song from the show, consider doing so! This can be an excellent chance to flex your understanding of the character and show. However, if you don’t have a strong understanding of the character and show… maybe choose songs elsewhere. Nothing can crush the production team’s vision of an actor as a given character quite like seeing the actor act and sing the character weakly. Likewise, though, embodying the character well in your audition can turn odds very much in your favor. Returning to Part One can help you ensure you’ve got the character down pat.
Careful consideration of your song is still necessary, especially if your target characters sings multiple songs. It can help to consider what you think the callback song for the character may be. For instance, you can bet the callback song for Jo March will almost certainly be “Astonishing”. In my audition for Jo, I sang “The Fire Within Me” from the show. The song has a similar range and intensity, and provides as much acting opportunity as “Astonishing”. I figured if I got a callback, they would see me nail two songs of the character’s, and I would avoid singing an overdone song in my audition as well. This worked well for me, and I got the part! Use your best judgement of the circumstances in choosing.
Part Three: Prepping and Rehearsing
This is where your real work begins.
Before you do anything else, make sure you have the details of the audition itself figured out. Be sure you know exactly when are where your audition is, and how you’ll get there. Consider things like rushing to the location from work or school, and how this will effect your audition day. Check if there will be a dance component or any cold reading, or if you should bring a monologue. You should have identified a cut in the previous part, so you should know the singing requirement of the audition. Check if this audition will require a backing track, or if there will be an accompanist there. It also helps to identify, if possible, who all will be in the room. This applies to the production staff, but also to any other auditors. It’s especially common in school theatre for auditions to occur in front of peers. By having all of these details figured out, you can avoid stressing the day of.
It’s time to really do your homework.
- Learn your song so well and so thoroughly you can’t possibly screw it up. This includes the words just as much as the melody. Rehearse it as you will perform it as much as possible. (ie, rehearse it with a backing track, pianist, or a capella, depending on how you’re going to perform it in the room.) Listening to the song and even singing along with a recording is a good way to get the ball rolling.
- That said, it’s usually beneficial to stop doing this as you get closer to the audition. You will often pick up subconscious habits from the recording you’ve been listening to. Ensure you are making your own choices and sounding like yourself by avoiding listening to the song right before the audition– or at least, avoiding the most famous recording of it. You could try seeking out many different recordings by various singers to listen to, rather than only, say, Krysta Rodriguez singing “Pulled” or Sutton Foster singing “Gimme Gimme”.
- In terms of making the song your own, playing with interpretation is a good way to separate your performance from others. Work out your personal take on dynamics, rhythms, and riffs (where appropriate and without changing the entire song!). Listening to other performances can be helpful for finding inspiration, especially if you’re unsure where to start or not very confident in your musical interpretation abilities.
- Remember that acting the song is as important as singing the song! Seek important beats in the song as you would with a monologue or sides.
- Find sheet music for your song. Again, scribd.com is a lifesaver in this endeavor! You can also purchase music from a site like musicnotes.com, attempt to find a free PDF elsewhere online. Make sure the music is in the correct key, that it is the version of the song you want, and that the music itself is clearly legible. Also make sure it is a piano-vocal score, and not, say, sheet music for a piano cover of your song, or a guitar lead sheet, or music for three instruments plus voice.
- Prep the song in your book. Print your music double-sided and 3-hole punch it. If you cannot print double-sided, print single-sided sheets and tape them securely back-to-back to “create” your own double-sided pages. Place your music into a plain black binder. Clearly mark your starting and stopping points and any changes you wish to make (ex: removing a repeat, etc) in your music.
- Even if you found your sheet music in an anthology book, photocopy it and place it into a binder anyway. The pages are easier to turn and you don’t have to worry about floppy covers being a pain for your accompanist. And never bring loose leaf pages! Think about making everything as easy for the accompanist as possible. You want to stand out as a fantastic auditor, not as the auditor who brought a billion impossible-to-read pages of music in the wrong key.
- Avoid shiny page protectors– they can cause glare from the lights, making the music hard to read.
- It’s a good habit to always include 2-3 other songs in your book that you would be ready to perform at a moment’s notice. Imagine slating and being told “I’ve heard that song ten times today, give me something else!” You’d better be ready to sing something else! Ideally these other songs would be relevant. If you’re going to an audition for a golden age show, for example, bring some other golden age music. However, there is room for variation in these extra choices. Make sure these are prepped and marked accordingly as well.
- Review the script again, if possible. If you’re doing cold reads from the script at the audition, a chance to get the words in your mind ahead of time (even from a quick glance or two) is very helpful.
- If sides are available ahead of time, be sure to review them thoroughly! Print them out for yourself in the event they’re not available at the audition. All the rules for preparing the song apply here– know it forwards and backwards and make it your own.
- Work on any dialects/accents as the script requires.
- If you are nervous about social interactions, it helps to rehearse those ahead of time. Check the next part for more information on what to expect.
- Update and print your acting resume and headshots if needed (do it anyway– just keep copies in your binder, it’s always good to be prepared). Several copies can never hurt!
You’ll know when you are prepared when you are fully comfortable with the song and feel confident you won’t lose out on this audition due to silly mistakes like forgotten words or off-key singing.
In the days leading up to the audition, it’s dire you take care of yourself!
- Be sure to get enough sleep! Fatigue audibly affects your voice.
- Drink plenty of water. This will keep your throat suitably moistened, and help stave off illness.
- Pay attention to any vocal pain or fatigue, and be prepared to counteract symptoms of illness if necessary. If you start feeling sick or strained, go heavy on the water and vitamin C, and go easy on the rehearsing! Don’t make strain worse with over-preparation!
- Keep the voice and body warmed up as much as possible. You can’t cram warming up! You’ll hear and feel a different between warming up for a week beforehand versus warming up for a a day or (god forbid!) an hour beforehand.
Part Four: The Audition
It’s the day of the audition! Now let’s get warmed up and make sure you’ve checked everything off your checklist:
- Remember to bring everything you need: your book, a pencil/pen (preferably a few, you never know), water, snacks/phone charger if you expect to be there a long time, separate clothes to dance in if necessary, and your resume/audition form/anything else you’ve been asked to have.
- I like to make warming up an all-day ordeal.
- Full-body stretch. I usually do this once in the morning and once just before the audition. Even if you don’t have to dance, your entire body is engaged when you sing and act– stretching warms up all the muscles you need to perform your best.
- Start vocal warm-ups slowly. I always begin with gentle humming in the middle of my range, preferably first thing in the morning.
- Warm up through the day. Hum right when you wake up, sing a little in the car on the way to work, sing a little on your lunch break, and then get into the more strenuous warming up in the hours before the audition.
- Know when you’re warmed up, already. If you just keep working, eventually you’ll hit the point where you’re past being warmed up and entering “overworked” territory. Keep it moderate and take plenty of breaks through the day.
- Save it. Furthermore, if your song has a lot of really high or low notes in the extremes of your range, avoid of rehearsing them too much. Though you’ll likely be nervous for them, sometimes you just won’t have it in you to hit those notes more than a few times a day. Rehearse them in the days prior and only hit them once or twice on the day of to ensure you’ve got them. Then back off!
Be sure to be at the audition location for your audition time. Preferably, be early! If you’re unfamiliar with the location, this goes double– you never know when a confusing parking or GPS situation may throw you off.
While waiting to audition, always be on your best behavior. For one thing, if you’re loud in the waiting room, you can disrupt other auditions. Further, there is often an attendant watching over those waiting to audition. This person is often a friend of the production team, and won’t hesitate to inform the director if you’ve got a bad attitude.
Once you’re in the room:
- Be ready to slate. “Hi, my name is, and I will be singing this song by this person/from this show.”
- Get the accompanist on the same page, figuratively and literally. Hand them your book, open to the song you are singing. Mention any changes you’ve written in, or anything funky in the cut, like a long fermata or a tempo change. Generally, if you’re afraid they might not do something “your way”, it doesn’t hurt to mention it.
- Your accompanist may ask for a tempo for your song, so be prepared to count it out or sing a few bars “off the record” to give them an idea. Never clap or snap the tempo, it’s considered very rude!
- Don’t forget to act the song while you sing!
- Follow any direction the director gives you. I’ve been told I’ve gotten parts in past almost purely because of how well I took the direction from the production team in the audition. If the director asks to hear or see anything in any way, regardless of how odd or outlandish you think it may be, absolutely do it!
- You may be asked some questions, depending on the show. Here are some common examples:
- Any weird talents or special skills?
- Are you comfortable with stage kissing/sex/violence? Are you comfortable kissing someone of the same gender?
- Can you walk in heels? (For men!)
- Do you play any musical instruments?
- Are you comfortable flying?
Remember to thank the audition team and especially your accompanist afterward. Sending a “thanks for seeing me” message or email to the team or director later is also a good habit to get into!
Part Five: Aftermath
What happens next will vary wildly. You might be told then and there you’re getting a callback, or callbacks may not be scheduled. You might be done at this point.
Preparing for Callbacks
If callbacks are scheduled, it’s important to continue to practice a little daily. Keep your voice warm. Callbacks may be as soon as the next day or a week or more away. Be prepared!
- Review any provided material thoroughly. Know it just as well, if not better, than your audition material. This is your final chance to prove you are right for the character: now is the time to nail down your character interpretation and sell it! Reviewing the script or source material now can be a good way to refresh.
- Sometimes directors will give you a callback date before providing the materials you are to review. Instead of waiting the day or two (or more) it takes for them to send out those materials, it is beneficial to review the show’s book and music and familiarize yourself with any of the possibilities. This way you waste no time and can get a leg up on those less educated on the show.
- When called back for multiple roles, many are inclined to only focus their energy on the one they want more. While prioritizing is a good habit, phoning in the other character’s callback can make you seem lazy, unprepared, and ungrateful for the opportunity. Never do less than your best!
It’s out of my Hands. Now What?
If this is the end of the road— either you’ve not received a callback or there will not be any, or you’ve finished your callback— now the waiting begins.
- Remember, even if you didn’t receive a callback, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be cast, or that you’re not in the running for any parts.
- Don’t get bogged down with the Would I/Could I/Should I questions. If you’ve prepared as well as you could for this audition/callback, you’ve done all you can!
- Waiting for the cast list is grueling. Keep yourself busy!
- Scheduling activities in the days after auditions/callbacks before waiting begins is a good way to keep yourself active.
- It’s easy to get bogged down in the melancholy of waiting. Friends are useful for redirecting your thoughts and energy elsewhere!
The Cast List
Once the roles are offered,
- Remember casting is never a personal slight, and all roles afford opportunity for growth, connections, and fun.
- Remember that how you handle casting tells directors a lot about your work ethic (especially if you don’t receive the part you wanted). If you create a name for yourself as someone who quits shows every time you land ensemble, you may soon find yourself without the opportunity.
- Young actors especially: Never discuss casting choices in a negative light on social media. Posts have a habit of getting back to the person they’re about, or getting back to your director. Directors don’t cast snobs, and many will happily rescind a part from someone who smears their choices online.
- Remember to follow any rules regarding the discussion of casting. You may be asked not to announce your role until all roles have been accepted, or asked to wait for legal reasons not to divulge details of the show until a certain date. Be sure to follow any guidelines the director and team lay out!
- It’s easy to lose steam at this point, especially if rehearsals don’t follow for some time. Take time to actively relax and recoup, so you don’t lose steam later. Once the process begins, be ready to hit the ground running!
Finally, never assume the outcome of one audition will effect the outcome of the rest. Even if you’ve gotten the lead you wanted this time, you will have to work just as hard for all the rest. Feel free to review this post when your next audition process begins.
Congratulations! You’ve auditioned! Maybe you weren’t cast, maybe you were. Maybe you got the role of your dreams. Maybe you didn’t even make it to callbacks. The important thing is that you put yourself out there!
Whether you reached your goals or not, auditioning is a valuable learning opportunity. Post-auditions, take some time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. Acting means you’re accepting the reality of a cycle of pre-audition jitters and post-audition panic indefinitely. Learn to enjoy it and learn to learn from it– you owe yourself that much!