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Audition Tips and Secrets

So here’s a dirty little secret that some of our seasoned performers wouldn’t want you know, or may even deny if asked directly…

They STILL use the same song in auditions…10 years on! That good old “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” – the one at the back of their rep file is their golden standard. For Sweeney Todd – they’ll perform it in a cockney accent, nice and morose. For Evita – they’d belt it out and add some drama and hips. TRUE STORY! And whilst these performers swear it’s what gets them work, I speak from experience when I say that it is one of their biggest disadvantages when measured against new and up-coming talent. Not only does it become incredibly boring but, without a doubt, stunts the growth of the performer.

Having a repertoire file is one of those “I really should build my rep” goals but, as each year passes, it’s most often overlooked. The problem is that, come audition season, vocal coaches are inundated with panic-stricken performers who “just need a song” and can’t seem to find one. I know I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek here but the reality is that not being prepared costs auditions.

Good, so a well-prepared rep is an EASY way to get callbacks which can ultimately lead to potential work. It really isn’t something you should overlook. Here are some guidelines on what I feel are the key ingredients needed to get that file audition-ready.

Your rep file – in a nutshell – should reflect your best casting roles. This is called “type casting” and you usually discover what these are during college and/or training. So you could be the princess or the comedy character. Choose the roles that physically and vocally make you the best version of yourself. Yes, “type casting” can enrage actors but, the fact of the matter is that it works, and can get you lots of great roles and shows. So don’t fight against it too much. Remember that you can always experiment outside of your “comfort zone” in your own works, revues and rehearsals. In auditions, however, the objective is simply to get the callback and then get the job.

TIP ONE: Your rep file must include songs which the characters of your type usually sing. If you can be the princess – look at Cinderella and YouTube Laura Osnes as much as you can.

TIP TWO: Make sure that you have a variety of songs that cover all musical theatre styles. So many times, students are caught out because they don’t have the correct “in the style of” song. This is crucial when auditioning for specific shows.  Here are some style examples: • Classical Musical Theatre, Up-tempo • Classical Musical Theatre, Ballad • Contemporary Musical Theatre, Up-tempo • Contemporary Musical Theatre, Ballad • Comedy/Character • Disney • Country • Pop • Rock These are just genre suggestions. Within these, you need to look at vocal and emotional ranges that are appropriate for yourself and the part that you are auditioning for. Also, looking at the type of shows coming to South Africa at the moment, time-specific pieces are invaluable! Here are some time-specific examples: • 1960s for Hairspray and Grease • 1970s for Saturday Night Fever • 1980s for Hair Do yourself a favour and get a ballad and an up-tempo number for each era. You can also play a bit with the arrangements of these, so it can be a lot of fun working on these pieces.

Then there is also the issue of songs which need to be composer-specific. Often in South Africa, when an Andrew Lloyd Webber show comes out – the brief always says “in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber”. For women, ALW songs are not easy to find. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is simply a no-no (see Tip Four) so you need to spend some time looking for a good choice.

TIP THREE: Where to look? A great way to get new material is to go and check out the current shows playing on and off Broadway and then YouTube these shows ad their music. I often tell my students to take five of the latest shows off Broadway and choose a song from each of them for new ideas and material.  Musical Theatre Anthologies are also always great for quick picks in original keys. Another great source with suggestions is a fantastic website that one of my students, Tara MacPhearson, created:

TIP FOUR: AVOID THE USUALS! The Les Misérables, Fames and Wickeds – they can be torture for the audition panel. Check with your vocal coach to see what’s trending. But if you spend some time on song selections – you shouldn’t have to even go there!

TIP FIVE: Create a vocal safe haven. Your rep file is obviously going to have pieces that show off your range and different aspects of your voice. You do, however, need to be aware of a few things. Make sure the key is right for you. Ask your coach to transpose it professionally, if necessary. Be warned though – if the audition brief says ORIGINAL key – don’t try sneak it down a semi-tone. The MDs will know! If you can’t belt that ”D” every time – don’t put it in the file until you can. You have enough unknown factors in an audition to deal with and hitting a note shouldn’t be one of them.  Remember that variety is key (pardon the pun). Even if you are exclusively a “belter”, still choose pieces that also demonstrate your mix. If you are soprano – GO THERE and find pieces that show it off! Take the time to find the pieces that show you at your best. They are out there!

TIP SIX: CUT CUT CUT! Editing and cutting your audition pieces are essential to your audition being a success. We are fortunate in SA, in that the 16-bar audition requirement is rarely applied. We usually can get a good minute in on a good day. Make sure your song shows the necessary range, emotions and musicality required for the part you are auditioning for. Always work with your coach in editing pieces so that this can happen. Also, check introductions and endings – and practice them with your pianist so that you get comfortable singing them. Remember, the editing for auditions is taking the best and putting that into one minute. It takes some time – but if done correctly and rehearsed well, it can get you that much-desired callback.

TIP SEVEN: The audition pianist really is your new best friend. The audition pianist has one of the toughest jobs in the world and it’s your job to make his/her life easier. Part of audition etiquette is in how you treat your audition pianist. Good editing of your song helps the pianist tremendously. Mark your edits in colours – highlight and write love notes; whatever is going to help them. Get written chords above the music if possible. Make sure the copy of the sheet music is legible!

WHY NO SONDHEIM? Sight-reading Sondheim for a pianist who may be unfamiliar with all of his works is equivalent to asking you to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Greek. You may know the tune but that doesn’t mean you can sing it in Greek. The same goes for a pianist who’s been given a Sondheim. It’s not nice and they will not like you for it. 

Talk to them; they are not aliens. If you are scared of getting your tempo wrong – sing a couple of lines a capella to help them. Speak clearly to him/her and work together!

Remember that the key to any audition being successful is in the preparation. You need to be at your fittest and strongest. A good rep file can become a real passion project where you can see yourself grow and find some real magic. It’s worth the time, and can last you the rest of your performing career.

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