In this installment, we ask Professor Julie D. Petry, MFA—who teaches all dance courses offered at BU, in addition to teaching Voice and Movement for the stage, about how to successfully audition for a musical theatre show. Julie will choreograph this fall's production of The Rocky Horror Show, and serves each spring as the Artistic Director for the annual Dance Minor Concert.
How does one prepare for a Musical Theatre audition?
Most of the same rules apply when auditioning for a musical that would apply if you were auditioning for a play. For example, you should know the show’s plot (if it isn’t a brand new one), be aware of the roles that fit your playable range (both physical type and vocal range), and know if the show requires you to dance, use a dialect, play an instrument, or anything else you can learn about it in advance. You should be prepared to sing, act and dance! If you don’t have dance training, get some. If you don’t have vocal lessons in your history, start training immediately. The competition in regional theatres across the US is strong. There are many triple threats in the world. What is a triple threat? It means there are many fellow artists who have trained in all three areas their whole life. So….to be your best self, you should strengthen yourself in all three areas. And, lastly, (of course) plan to bring an updated headshot and resume that reflects both the musicals and plays you’ve performed in, as well as the performance training you’ve had in acting, singing and dancing.
Always prepare both a song book and a monologue book:
One should always have a broad selection of rehearsed pieces collected in a binder that you know fit your vocal range and playable type. Just like you want to have an arsenal of monologues ranging from classical to comedic to contemporary, you want to have an arsenal of musical theatre repertoire that covers up-tempos, ballads, classical pieces, country, holiday tunes, and rock/pop selections. This will prepare you for any type of show. Additionally, you should have both shorter and longer versions of all of your audition material. For example, have 16 bars of every type of song in your arsenal, but also have a version that is 24 to 32 bars long. Further, it is best to know the whole song you are presenting that day in case you are asked to keep going. Do note, however, in every musical audition you may well be cut off in the middle of your song if you provide more than was originally requested, so only initially plan to sing whatever the audition calls for. Mainly, you just want to have several options at the ready. It is quite common a director may ask you to sing another type of selection, or to hear a bit more of the piece you’ve chosen, if they want to gauge your flexibility, vocal range, and/or preparedness.
What part of the song should I choose for my cut?
Recently, my artist friend was asked to sing 8 bars, and 8 bars only, during her NYC equity audition. Terrifically, she was offered the part. This is because the 8 bars she chose were carefully selected to showcase the highlights of her voice. Her amazing range, pitch-perfect ear, powerful use of breath-control, and her acting techniques were all sized up that quickly by the auditioning team, who saw hundreds of performers that day. The golden rule, anything that comes out of your mouth needs to be your absolute best work. Don’t sing a note that is sometimes shaky. Don’t pick something that is new and that you haven’t already rehearsed a hundred times. And, definitely absolutely do not pick something because it sounds great when your friend sings it, or it sounds amazing on the cast recording. You need to pick what fits your voice, and your voice alone. If you are a character performer, show that. If you are a soprano who hits high A’s, show that! Figure out what your personal vocal/acting strengths are and work to showcase them. And, remember, to finish strong. In musical auditions, the directors are looking for “the money note”. That’s an extra special moment that will wow everyone. This may mean the way you growl on some special word, hold out a note a bit longer than usual, or belt out your final phrase with such energy that you become unforgettable after they hear the next 50 people. You want to leave a lasting impression on everyone in the room.
Should I prepare the song like a monologue?
YES! You should understand your given circumstances, experience “the moment before”, a final moment of resolution, know who you’re singing to in the song, know how this piece fits in the character’s journey within the show, and be able to introduce the piece like you would a monologue. i.e. “Today I’ll be singing ‘Far From the Home I Love’ from Fiddler.” Once you have introduced the piece, nod to the accompanist to start. As soon as you hear one note, you should immediately be in character. If there is music following your last word, remain in character until the music ends, and even a slight beat thereafter.
Can I sing from the show?
You should definitely pick something in the style of the show, but avoid songs from the show unless it states in the audition call this is acceptable. They don’t want to hear the same pieces all day. Also, keep in mind they need to know your vocal range. Be prepared to answer, “I am a mezzo soprano, and can sing from a low G to a high G” (for example). If you don’t know your vocal range and type, you should find a private vocal coach and take some lessons. You will learn exercises to develop your range, and understand your vocal potential much faster this way.
Following your singing audition, you may be lucky enough to be asked to stay and dance. You should always approach this with positivity, regardless of your background training. During a dance call, you will likely dance with several people around you, watching you. Possibly, there will be so many individuals, it will fill the room and you won’t have much space to move. This is known as a cattle call. Sometimes, this can make it challenging to pick up the movement material being given/demonstrated by the choreographer, as space is limited and, therefore, so is sight. However, stay focused, and move to another area if you can see better. Avoid getting lost in the mirror watching others, or counting in your head. Rather, assign names to the steps you are being shown, so you can memorize them quickly. Example: Kick, kick, drop, jump, kick, turn. The choreographer may shout out words like the above, or right/left, and/or counts. However, to memorize, stick with names, or you will forget what “one, two, three” was by the time you learn “eight, nine, ten.” Eventually, once everyone learns the material, you will break down into smaller groups to perform for the Director/Choreographer. Do not try to hide in the back. Just do your best with what you’ve got. If there are stronger dancers in the room, oh well. See it with humor and stay focused on doing your best work. And, absolutely make sure you are wearing something that shows the lines of your body. Form fitted attire that is meant for movement. (Purchase some actual dance wear/athletic wear). If you are singing first, you can either plan to change in between calls, or layer dancewear underneath your preferred singing attire.
For more information about BU Players auditions, which are open to all Bloomsburg University students, visit http://bloomu.edu/buplayers-auditions.