Audition Terminology Explained

After my last post, I had several people ask some basic questions about the kind of things an audition notice will say. So without further ado, here is an informal glossary of some of the terms you’ll run into in Backstage, Actors’ Equity, or Playbill Jobs:


accompanist: a professional piano player hired by the theatre to “sight-read” your sheet music. This means they may have never seen your music before and are relying on you to give them clean, legible sheet music and tell them enough information to help you have the best audition possible. Be very very VERY nice to them, because they work hard and have to deal with stressed-out performers all day (and sometimes, they might even be the music director)!

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, or just “Equity“): the union for professional actors and stage managers in the United States. Membership can be obtained a few different ways, usually by working at Equity theatres for a certain minimum number of weeks, or by getting a special contract with the theatre that gives the actor membership right away. Equity helps their members in many ways: for instance, they require safe working conditions and minimum wages for each kind of theatre. But once you take your Equity card, you are no longer allowed to perform in or stage-manage a non-union show.

book (or audition book): a three-ring binder of music that you bring with you into the audition room in case they ask for a second song. Each song in your book MUST be memorized, polished and performance-ready! Ideally, it should be organized by genre and have a list of your songs at the front so you can quickly access the one you want.

breakdown: a list of roles available in the show, including a basic description of each character.

bring sheet music“: photocopied or print-at-home music of the song you want to sing, organized in your audition book and clearly marked with your cuts to make sight-reading as easy as possible on the accompanist. See Logan’s excellent blog post for information on how to do this.

callback: if the casting team thinks you are right for a role, they’ll often ask you to return at a later date to sing and/or dance again. You may be asked to prepare another piece, or specific material for the role you’re being considered for. Sometimes the callback will be held later the same day, sometimes it will the next day, or it may be weeks or months away. Remember what you sang for your initial audition, and even what clothes you wore. It’s a good idea to present yourself in the same way you did at the audition, because it worked the first time or your wouldn’t have gotten a callback!

casting director: a person or team of people hired by the producers of a show to help them find the right actors for each role. There are several casting offices in New York City, and the associates at each one have their own specialties and styles of musical that they like to cast. Get to know them and what they expect from you! Take classes when they offer them at places like Actors’ Connection and One on One, and keep detailed notes about their preferences.

contract: the audition notice will contain some details about how much you’ll get paid and how long the show will run if you get the job. Equity contracts have specific rules regarding pay and working conditions which you can find on their website.

ensemble: a non-principal performer (sometimes also called “chorus”) who supports the story of the show. These roles may have “features,” which include featured solo singing, dancing, or acting parts. Sometimes the audition listing will indicate that the ensemble will be “as cast,” meaning that the director will use the performer in multiple roles to fill out the situation for each scene. Visit The Ensemblist website for stories about these hard-working performers on Broadway!

Equity Chorus Call (ECC): an audition, either for dancers or singers, in which groups of 20 or more performers are lined up at a time. Dancers usually learn the dance together and then present it in small groups, while singers usually go in one by one. Time is limited, so you probably won’t get to sing more than 16 bars. Non-Equity members may be allowed to audition after all Equity members have been seen.

Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): a program for actors working toward their Equity card that requires working at an Equity theatre and paying a small fee. This allows the actor a few of the benefits of full Equity membership, including priority over non-Equity members at auditions.

Equity Principal Audition (EPA): an audition for leading or featured roles in a show. Actors sign up for time slots at the beginning of the day and then return at their assigned time to sing a short song. If the audition isn’t too busy, you can show up without a time and wait for an opening. In my experience, it’s more likely that non-Equity will get to audition at an EPA than an ECC, but if the show is new or very popular, sometimes they won’t even have time for all of the Equity members.

future replacements only“: sometimes a show will already be cast even before the first posted audition notice. This is often because they’ve had a private workshop of the show and found people for the roles that they knew already or through agent submissions. In this case, they might be required by Equity to hold a call, and will indicate that all roles are cast and they’re seeking people for the future, or possible understudies only.

headshot and resume, stapled together“: The industry standard is an 8×10 color headshot with name at the bottom, stapled back-to-back with a one-page resume of theatrical credits and other pertinent information. Make sure you trim your resume to match the size of your headshot! Two staples is best, one in the center of each short edge. If you want to get fancy, use small circles of scotch tape in between the sheets on each corner for a smooth, staple-free look.

lead sheet: a type of simple sheet music that only has a melody line with lyrics and chord symbols above it. Some pianists will be comfortable playing from a lead sheet, but many won’t, and several audition listings will even say “no lead sheets.” For best results, buy sheet music that has a written piano part AND the chord symbols above it.

monitor: a person either hired by the theatre or provided by Equity to streamline the audition process for the casting team. They sit at a table, usually in a “holding room” outside the audition room, and organize who will go into the room in what order. At an Equity audition, the monitor also makes sure that the theatre follows the rules provided by the union for each type of audition. These people pay attention to how actors behave, and if you act like a diva in the hallway, there’s a good chance the casting team will hear about it. So mind your manners at all times!

open call: an audition that everyone can attend, regardless of their union status. These can be the busiest of all auditions, so be patient and prepared to spend several hours in cramped conditions. This is why they’re sometimes known as “cattle calls.”

principal role: a leading or featured performer that only plays one role in the show, as opposed to “ensemble,” which can play many roles. Equity shows will often have separate auditions and contracts specifically for these principal roles.

required call: an audition that Equity requires the producers to hold before a new show opens, or on a regular basis for long-running shows. Certain shows, such as Broadway or national tours have these auditions even if there are no roles currently available. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because casting directors say they often discover new talent at these required calls.

sides: a few pages of dialogue from the script or sheet music from the score given to actors so that the casting team can hear you read or sing parts of the role. Sometimes these are given to you on the day of the audition, and sometimes they will be emailed to you in advance of your callback. You don’t have to have them memorized, but it’s a good idea to be as “off-book” (memorized) as possible so you have the freedom to make acting choices and take adjustments from the casting team.

submissions: when a show is not required to have general auditions, sometimes they will request that you email or mail a headshot and resume along with a cover letter if you feel you are right for the role. If you have an agent, he or she may “submit” on your behalf, or you can “self-submit” directly to the casting director’s email or office.

transposition: changing the key of your sheet music. If an audition says “no transpositions,” it means that the pianist will not “sight-transpose,” or change the key on the fly for you. You CAN, however, change the key on or to match the key you want to sing in. Be aware that changing the key too much from the original may make the music look terrible or make the song sound really different. Use discretion, and make sure your music is printed in the key you want to sing it in!

typing may occur“: a “type” or a “type-out” is allowed at auditions where there is not enough time to hear every actor sing. The casting director will bring groups of people into the audition room and then send some away based on their headshot and/or physical type. Sometimes this will happen at a dance audition by asking each dancer to perform a basic step, such as a double pirouette or a time step.

What to prepare“: this section will contain instructions for the performer that the casting director uses to help you decide what to sing for the audition. Look at my last blog post if the audition asks for a song that “shows off range and personality,” and keep an eye out for a future post that explains what to do if the instructions are more specific.


Break a leg!