Mix it up Monday: Preparing students for the audition room
Audition season is upon us. Colleges are looking for new students, summer stocks are trying to cast their season, and theatres are wrapping up casting for spring shows. While in an ideal world students would have a voice teacher, vocal coach, acting teacher, and audition coach, the reality is we are often expected to be all four in one. Today I am going to share eight great points from Jonathan Flom author of “Get the Call Back, 2nd edition” that will help your students step up their audition game.
- Get off the dot: When I was a young performer preparing for NATS auditions, I remember being told to stare at a dot on the back wall while performing. At the beginning, having a dot to stare at gave me something to concentrate on other than the fear of auditioning. However, later in my training, I learned that acting is reacting to a scene partner, and if you stare at someone without ever looking away, it is creepy. Ideally, the person your student is talking to should be their height and standing at a reasonable distance away. Flom says “Establish your imaginary scene partner over the heads of the creatives, but then remember that when we are talking to someone in “real life,” we don’t stare them down the entire time. We begin by looking at them and then we look elsewhere as we think of what to say next or as we remember the story we’re telling them or as we avoid eye contact for the difficult thing we have to ask them. Then we come back to their eyes when we need to make a point or to check in and see how they’re reacting….The bottom line is that you do not need to stand completely straightforward, feet pointing toward the table, and play directly center to the back of the room. You want to avoid playing in full profile or upstage, away from the table – they definitely need to see your face – but you need to practice ways to make the experience feel less like an audition and more like a human interaction.”
- The First 30 Seconds is Everything: The human attention span continues to get shorter and shorter due to the world being right at our fingertips via our smartphones. Those sitting at the table watching an audition know within 15 seconds if they are interested or not. There is an old saying “save the best for last,” but in the audition room, you need to lead with the best that you have.
- Always, always act the song: I personally think this rule applies to both musical theatre and opera performers. Great storytelling is essential in musical theatre and will often trump vocal talent when push comes to shove. For every song you sing, be able to answer the following:
- Who am I?
- To whom am I singing?
- What is my (specific!) relationship with my scene partner?
- What do I want from this person? (“If I could write the end of the scene, my scene partner would _______________”)
- What happened just before I start to sing that causes me to speak?
- What is the obstacle keeping me from getting what I want from my partner?
- What tactics can I use to overcome the obstacle? Tactics are the actions an actor uses to achieve her goal (i.e. to tease, to flirt, to seduce, to lecture, to soothe, etc.). They should always be active verbs.
- Make Your Transitions Smooth: The way a performer begins and ends each song can make a big difference in the delivery. Flom says “the two words to keep in mind when planning your transitions are “breath” and “focus.” If you establish a new focus (on your imaginary scene partner) and inhale before launching into any piece, it should give you enough of a transition without seeming gratuitous.” Let the final moment of the song linger for a second, and then break character and say thank you; never end by saying “scene.”
- Don’t Become a Prop: Never bring a prop. Just don’t.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Just Plant Yourself: Many performers believe if they are not moving, they are boring. That could not be further from the truth. Flom says “Standing solidly on two feet and not fidgeting is a sign of confidence and strength. You certainly don’t need to remain rooted in place throughout your entire audition; however, you want to find moments when you are able to display stillness.”
- Say “Yes” to Direction: It is not unusual for a director to ask an auditionee to make an adjustment to their performance. Train your students to do whatever they are asked (within reason) and to commit all the way on the first try. You can practice this in lessons by having them perform their song multiple times in a row as you give them serious and absurd directions.
- Do Not Apologize for Your Work: This one can be hard to let go of, but students have to learn to never apologize UNLESS the accompanist situation goes awry. In that situation, the student should take all of the blame and say “I am sorry, I didn’t give the right tempo, etc.” Flom says “It is so tempting to want to convince the director that she is not seeing you in optimum performance mode at the moment and that you can do better. I assure you this is self-destructive, so don’t do it.”
Performers who can nail these eight points are well on their way to being seen as a young professional rather than a student. For a complete description, be sure to check out pages 66-74 in “Get the Callback, 2nd edition.”
Do you have other points you think are essential to remember when preparing students for auditions? If you do, please leave a comment below. You can also enter your email address below to subscribe to the blog and receive an email each time there is a new post. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful week of teaching!