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Why Going To Local Auditions Is The New Black

WHY GOING TO LOCAL AUDITIONS IS THE NEW BLACK

I’m aged enough to remember when scores of regional theatre companies came to New York every year, sometimes twice to multiple times a year, to audition actors for their season and even on a show-by -show basis. Those were great days; a bevy of hungry hopeful performers would religiously congregate at a table in a diner somewhere in Manhattan (you could afford to live here then) around a (hard copy…believe it or not) of BACKSTAGE and plan their auditions for the coming weeks. They’d take out their calendars (we called them “planners” then) and scribble down the theatres and shows they would audition for and often navigate how they’d get from one studio to the next on the same day to be seen at as many auditions as possible. This sometimes took a great leap of logistical ingenuity but by God where there was a will…they made it happen.

It was also a time when, by way of example, it seemed that every strip mall in Florida housed a theatre (not many will remember “Musicana” or the “Broadway Baby Grand” but some will. I cut my teeth as a musical director at both. It was rough-and tacky- but I learned a lot.) Smaller cities than New York didn’t necessarily have a large pool of local talent to pull from in those days so they would come to NYC to cast their shows. Even the cities that did have a large amount of local talent would come to New York because, well, it was the thing to do. There was nowhere like New York.

And then 2008 happened.

Theatre corporate funding dried up as the financial crisis hit us deeper than many ever imagined it could. Private donors stopped giving as much to keep theatres aloft and reserves dwindled. Federal and state government agencies, along with steadfast local officials, long a mainstay of staving off theatrical insolvency, pulled from back to out altogether. Patrons didn’t have as much expendable income and “destination” spots where theatres thrived as nightlife became much more localized, exclusive, and harder to come by. Many theatres closed citing “no money, no shows.” Communities suffered. Performing artists suffered. We all did.

The theatres that kept on keeping on, whether by the grace of God or a healthy subscription base that didn’t wane, did so (in many cases) with larger local talent bases. Performers began to leave New York, opting instead to live in more affordable (and sensible) living environments. Many of the “bigger” theatres were never in jeopardy, but many (mid-size, underfunded, start up, destination, and so on) theatres disappeared into the night in nary more than a puff of smoke during the months and years following the impact of the crisis. Many theatres stopped coming to New York to audition more than once a year. Many stopped coming at all, relying on the local talent aplenty and the “they’ll come to us” philosophy.

So where does that leave actors now? It’s a daily occurrence in my studio for my pro actors to arrive gloomy-eyed, citing the lack of New York auditions for them to attend. A reading I’m doing next year drew close to 1000 submissions. For a reading! 1000 submissions! Even in the Spring when things ostensively “pick up” it’s been a slow few years.

What to do? How to survive?

Go to the local auditions. Most theatres have them. What are the advantages of doing this? Let me count the ways:

You’re much more likely to be seen.

You’ll probably get to sing more than the dreaded 8 or 16 bars.

You’re more likely to be seen and heard as a human being and not a number.

You’ll not have to deal with a phalanx of bodies at Pearl Studios, (let alone the elevators or…for God’s sakes someone please fix this..the overly friendly security guards there.)

When it’s 13 degrees outside someone will let you on. Love those volunteers!

How to do this?

Go to the theatre websites and ascertain when the local auditions are and what the requirements are. Know the theatres within driving distance from NYC. There are PLENTY of them.

God invented Zip car for a reason. Join.

Oh…let us not forget: it’s ALL a TAX WRITE OFF! Win win. All that equals a victory lap in my book.

Stephen Purdy is the author of MUSICAL THEATRE SONG: A COMPREHENSIVE COURSE and two forthcoming books on Musical Theatre published by Bloomsbury. He is a vocal and audition coach for New York performers and is on musical theatre faculty at Marymount Manhattan College and Rider University. He regularly presents masterclasses around the globe.

You and The Cold Call Cowboy

 

You and The Cold Call Cowboy

I used to be a stockbroker. For three interminable years. From the get-go I was mandated by my mentors to study a book (whether it’s still in print I don’t know for sure) called “The Cold Call Cowboy.” It was a sales techniques book written by the so-called “cowboy” himself. Apparently this guy was so effective at “cold” calling his sales prospects that while all the junior brokers around were being incessantly hung up on by those they called, the cowboy had magic techniques and a quick silver tongue that enabled him to keep the prospects on the phone. And he made a lot of sales. His technique wasn’t hard to understand. He was simply different than the last annoying cold caller and those being called appreciated his original and entertaining approach.

Dutifully, I read the book. And it helped with my sales techniques. It occurred to me then and screams in my head now more then ever: This is the simplest way for actors to get the callback and, with some luck on your side, book the job.

The idea is simple: as an actor do what others don’t do. This applies to your audition material, but it is mostly about the choices you make in the room to set yourself apart. I coach a lot of people for auditions and I can say with no hesitation that the reason actors fear being “different” and making bold choices with their material is that they don’t want to “be judged” by auditors as “too off-the-wall.” Don’t be so sure. Casting directors and creatives LOVE (within reason of course) bold but honest, fearless choices from you. Notwithstanding the size of the space you are auditioning in where sometimes adjustments must be made, go big or go home.

As we approach a new audition season I challenge you to accept what I say as truth and find what is truly unique about what you can bring to your audition material and from yourself as yourself. You may be surprised at what happens.

Stephen Purdy is the author of “Musical Theatre Song: a Comprehensive Course” available at bookstores and online everywhere and is a NYC based voice teacher and coach. Reach him at nyvocalcoach@gmail.com. Facebook: Stephen Purdy Vocal Coach and Author Twitter:@purdyvocalcoach

 

Why Aren’t You Working?

Why Aren’t You Working?

Stephen Purdy

Years ago I ran into an actor friend that I like and admire on the Upper West Side in New York City and I asked him the perennial question we theatre people tend to slip in after the pleasantries: “Are you working?” His reply resonates today as much as then: “I’m always working” he said. “I’m just not always getting paid for it.”

This time of year can be frustrating and confusing for an actor if you didn’t book a summer gig. So you’re not “working?” You should still be “working.”

True, you may have spent three months auditioning your tail off, getting so close and then not getting the call. Your may feel crushed at the outcome. You might even be questioning whether this is the life you want. But you can’t take a vacation from your craft.

Coaches will offer soft, encouraging phrases like “Don’t worry. Your number will come up.” But I, as a coach, don’t believe that can be a truthful universal response. I’d love it if all my students would eventually book, but I know that not all will. Whether or not they will book a show is more often than not predicated on how hard they’ve worked to “deliver the goods” in the audition room.

I have a student who I love and adore who didn’t book a show this summer. I believe that by and large it’s the voice that is holding this student back. The student has heaps of talent and wide appeal but the voice simply isn’t strong enough to be competitive yet. The student vowed weekly summer lessons in May. It’s mid July and I haven’t heard a peep. Other students come to their lessons the way others attend church: every week nearly without fail. It’s about priorities.

You always have to be “working”. You can’t wait to begin fixing the holes in your technique when audition season is up and running or near-approaching. It’s the reason baseball players have spring training well before the season starts. If you begin working to fix your technique issues, up-ing your vocal game, going to dance classes and getting your book and audition presentations rock solid once auditions begin it’s too late. And there will be another actor standing beside you in the line who has already done the work. And that’s the person that I place odds on.

Invest in yourself. The returns can be astounding.

So what are you doing this summer?

Stephen Purdy is the author of Musical Theatre Song: A Comprehensive Course published by Bloomsbury and a vocal teacher and coach in New York City at Marymout Manhattan College and privately. Visit stephenpurdy.com and follow on Twitter: @purdyvocalcoach and Facebook: Stephen Purdy Vocal Coach and Author

[Infographic] The Best Fitness Routines for Singers and Actors

If you love musical theater, you already know how active things can get on stage!

As an actor, you need stamina to get through dance numbers and vocal solos, as well as the vocal support to project your voice to the back of the theater.

And most importantly, you need to stay healthy through a rigorous schedule of rehearsal and performances.

That’s why staying in shape and taking care of your health is incredibly important. But what’s the best routine to start?

Check out the infographic below, courtesy of TakeLessons, to learn about some of the best fitness routines for musicians of all types…

10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

Analyzing your Pop/Rock Songs

When I was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, I spent A LOT of time analyzing classical music and discussing tonal structure and form. I’m sure many of my readers had similar experiences and today I want to share some great news – those same skills can be used to learn pop/rock style! The reality is no one lives in an artistic vacuum. All artists learn from those who came before them and they draw upon those influences to find their own artistic voice (check out “Steal like an Artist” by Austin Kleon).

When students are learning to sing in a new style, it is very beneficial for them to really dive into each piece and analyze the little details that come together to create the bigger picture. I call this listening on the micro level (small details) instead of the macro level (the big picture). Today I am sharing a PDF of a worksheet that I use with my students to do just that. You can download the worksheet here (Analyzing Your Pop_Rock Song Worksheet) and you have permission to print and distribute it as long as the copyright statement at the bottom remains in place.

Let’s walk through the steps. 

The first time you listen to the song you are going to pay attention to the following:

  • Does the text tell a story or set a mood? For instance “The Story” by Brandi Carlisle tells a story, but “Good for you” by Selena Gomez sets a mood.
  • Is the song melodic, rhythmic, or a combination? “Don’t” by Ed Sheeran would be considered primarily rhythmic, whereas “Faithfully” by Journey would be considered melodic. Many songs mix together elements of both.
  • What is the primary register? You can use whatever terms you prefer for this – chest, head, chest-mix, head-mix; thin fold, thick fold; curb, overdrive; etc.
  • Are there register changes/breaks? If yes, mark them in your music. 
  • What is the perceived effort level? Does it sound like the singer is using low, medium, or high effort when singing.

Next you are going to listen for rhythmic emphasis in both the accompaniment and the vocal line and determine whether the emphasis is primarily on 1 and 3 or 2 and 4. You will then use a carrot (“<“) to mark the emphasis in both the accompaniment and the vocal line.

After you have determined the rhythmic emphasis, listen for words and consonants that are emphasised and underline them.

Next ask yourself whether the diction is crisp (for example “Stay” by Lisa Loeb”) or more lazy (for example “Blowin’ in the Wind” as performed by Bob Dylan). Think about how you would describe the tone quality – is it dark, bright, speech-like/neutral, etc. Also listen for an accent. This is rare, but if you are trying to sing a country song or a British rock song, it should be considered.

Next you want to think about what is happening at the laryngeal level. Does the voice sound free (neutral/free-floating larynx) or does it sound constricted (locked/high larynx). Then you want to listen to the onsets and releases in the song and determine if they are clean, glottal, aspirate, fry, etc. You will also want to mark scoops, slides, fall-offs, and other phrasing choices. Finally, mark any instances where there is vibrato. The assumption in pop/rock is that the voice will be straight-tone, but depending on the style this may not always be the case.

In addition to being a great exercise for your students, this process also takes some of the pressure off of you (the teacher) to be an expert at every style. I primarily teach CCM music and no matter how much I listen to Spotify, I cannot keep up with the tastes of my students. Some sources claim there are over 35 million songs on iTunes. If that is true, it is IMPOSSIBLE to listen to every song in the iTunes catalog in your lifetime. So instead of trying to spend your whole life catching up on all of the sub-genres that are constantly evolving, teach your students to analyze their own songs and you will set them up for a lifetime of success.

If you are looking for songs from pop/rock musicals, be sure to check out MusicalTheatreSongs.com. Thanks for reading!

Matt Edwards, Artistic Director of the CCM Voice Pedagogy Institute and Associate Professor of Voice and Voice Pedagogy at Shenandoah Conservatory

EdwardsVoice.com and EdwardsVoice.Wordpress.com

Yes, You ARE Ready for That Vocal Audition

You’ve been preparing for months. You’ve selected the perfect audition song, and practiced in front of your teacher, your friends, your family, and… well… anyone who will listen!

Auditions can certainly be nerve-wracking, but chances are, you’ll do just fine! To calm your nerves, TakeLessons.com put together a humorous post with the 11 signs you’re going to rock your audition — in GIF form, of course!

You can feel confident if you’ve done the following…

1. You are rested.

True, it may be harder in this day and age to get the suggested eight hours of sleep every night, but the more quality sleep you have the night before, the better! A relaxed body means better sound, as there will be a lot less tension.

2. Your materials are together.

This means your sheet music is in the right key and clearly marked for the accompanist. The pages are also back-to-back and neatly organized in a binder. If you’re using sound files, they should be easily accessible and cued up at the correct time.

3. You know your lyrics backwards and forwards!

Confidence is key, and knowing that you REALLY have your songs down pat will help you soar through the audition!

4. You’ve done a good warm-up.

This means at least 15 to 20 minutes or so of light vocal exercises. It’s best not to do too much more than that, as you risk tiring yourself out. Think basic lip trills, hums, and sirens — you can never go wrong with those! It doesn’t needs to be anything fancy.

Continue reading the post here.

Haven’t found your audition song yet? Don’t fret. Make sure to check out the database here on Musical Theater Songs to find the perfect song to show off your skills.

Good luck!

“But My Piece is 19 Bars!” What Does (And Does Not) Matter When Choosing Audition Material

All conscientious theatre and voice educators aim to promote mindfulness in their students, especially as a grounding device in the midst of potentially stressful situations (read: auditions). As teachers are sadly neither omniscient nor capable of cloning, the best tool we have to help students audition better lies within the student’s ability to objectively assess their own performance. Guided by an accurate account, teachers can then help students form a game plan for the next round.

However, auditions are not governed by empirical guidelines. When coaching students for competitions, we are able to look up the “rules.” Auditions are a bit trickier, because there is rarely concrete feedback to be had beyond “good” (possibly suggesting further callbacks or casting calls) and “thank you very much” (an ironic platitude only in our industry).

An audition may literally end up an evaluation of your appearance, personality, age, attitude, accent, or even these variables in relation to another actor. I quasi-joke to my voice students about how I transform from an all-loving-hippie-type to a ruthless, judgmental tyrant at cattle calls, where in interest of time I might label candidates “anemic” or “nail-bitingly obnoxious” in my notes, or simply scrawl “Hallelujah!” so I remember why the essence of the candidate was right or wrong.

Unfortunately, in an effort to appear supportive, teachers inadvertently encourage students to project emotionally on a situation that may or may not be outside of their control rather than help them to tell the difference. After all, what kind of monster would say, “You know why you weren’t called back, dear? Because a lot of other girls were better for the part than you yesterday.” Instead, out of kindness, we state with authority that they have “too legit a sound,” that the director in question will only tall brunettes, and they should forget and move on.

Then, armed only with our well-intentioned sympathy, this student trudges out to have a Frappuccino with theater friends to identify the REAL reason she’s constantly overlooked… because, of course, the director plays favorites, four other girls sang the same song (and all of the blogs say this is certain death), or because she wore boring black Capezios instead of the LaDucas that clearly won her friend the part.

Urban Audition Legends

Perhaps a savvy friend, in an effort to be helpful, then posts a link to the first friend’s Facebook wall to with “top 6 things they are doing to totally screw up their audition.” Some of my favorite “Urban Audition Legends,” which I see in some manifestation almost every day on the Internet:

The exact number of measures matters. Audition proctors care about overall time; sixteen bars equates roughly forty-five seconds, thirty-two bars about sixty seconds, but even this guideline is approximate. Like the adage “if you’re looking at their shoes, they’re not acting”- if they notice that the student’s selection is two bars too long and cut them off before a climatic high note that would have added three seconds of time, there is a more pressing problem.

The exact song choice is of critical importance. The song is merely to put the actor’s talents, emotions, physical presence, and preparation on display. If it’s the right range, genre, and feel, it should be a contender for the “right” song.  Look to sources like MusicalTheaterSongs.com as valuable resources to search for the right song, right now.

There is a definitive of body songs/composers to avoid. I would happily hear the best “On My Own” in the world when casting a Wedding Singer than an obscure work in the wrong style. Casting directors have so much to consider that they would prefer not to be distracted by an unfamiliar piece; besides, familiar songs that we know the melody to help inform us of the student’s musical skills.

Students can outsmart trial and error by following any particular school of advice. The best auditoners I know have spent years if not decades honing skills; you simply must go out there and see what works for you. If it gets you callbacks, it’s a good piece for your book, period. If it doesn’t after many attempts, despite how the song seems like it SHOULD work for you, look for a better fit.

Although it can be a bitter pill to swallow, an actor just simply is or isn’t the right contender for a role. The right person walks in, the team is paying attention. The right sound comes out of their mouth, they will write something down. They capture the essence of what we need on some level, they usually get a callback. They capture our imagination, they get the gig.

I am well renowned among my students for (surprise, surprise) giving out long, wordy handouts. However, I have found the best solution to this quandary requires only four lines:

  1. Learn lots of different types of songs
  2. Learn what you sing better than anyone else through careful study, trial and error
  3. Follow directions to help make strong educated guesses
  4. Be prepared

We over complicate this process for students, giving them pages and pages of instructions on how “industry” vets audition selections, when the truth is that there is no secret rulebook. Not even being the best necessarily guarantees you the role. Recall Michael Shurtleff’s rather painful retelling of Bette Midler’s audition for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” where her layered, mature reading of Mary Magdalene would simply not be an organic fit with the rest of the ensemble, whereas Barbara Streisand’s famous, rule-defying antics won her international stardom at the “Funny Girl” call. The painful truth is that the conventional rules don’t always apply…unless, as in the latter case, you were born to play the role.

The audition itself is the critical step in the life cycle of a new piece; we must try it several if not several dozen times to see if a given excerpt takes on the same life at Ripley-Grier as it does in the lesson studio. A callback? A clue you are on the right track. Within a few repetitions, the “bugs” should be worked out and a student should be able to feel if they are successfully able to enter the zone with the piece in audition condition.

If ten or twenty auditions go by without that feeling- the piece is not serving the student and needs to be re-considered. And this, my friends, is where our power as actors actually begins: setting our sights on being the most skilled, most interesting, most unique creature they’ve seen in years. But that lesson is for the next installment!

Auditions

Prepare Your Sheet Music Carefully and Maximize Your Audition Success

So, you’ve picked the perfect song (using MusicalTheaterSongs.com, of course) and worked on it with your vocal and acting coaches — and now it sounds wonderful. The next step toward audition success is properly preparing your sheet music for a sight-reading accompanist.

 

Unfortunately, singers often forget this step and end up making their accompanist’s job harder. This can lead to confusion and errors during the audition. Even more important, it conveys a poor image to the creative team, which wants to gauge what it’s like to work with you.

 

In a recent episode of “The Ensemblist,” a backstage musical theater podcast, composer-lyricist Lynn Ahrens described what she looks for when she auditions actors. She said it’s “hard to separate the vocal from the person and the actor.” In other words, the energy the actor brings into the room — and what that tells the creative team about the actor as a co-worker and collaborator — is every bit as important as skill and talent. And one of the ways Lynn judges this is by checking whether “they’re organized and have their book in order.”

 

In other words, your audition book and the preparation of the sheet music it holds demonstrates the level of professionalism the creative team can expect you to bring to the production process.

 

Below are some best practices when for preparing your audition binder and sheet music. I chose methods that I think will work in most cases, but always remember to research the preferences of the people you’re meeting and use common sense.

 

Your binder: Limit the number of songs you carry on any given day. I often see actors come in with thick binders filled with sheet music. An audition book is not a repertoire book. You don’t need to carry every song you’ve ever sung. I seriously question whether actors with overstuffed books are actually prepared to sing all of those songs at a professional level. I’ve heard some casting directors and creative teams say that it also conveys desperation: “I can sing anything you could possibly want, I swear!”

 

Over-filling your audition binder also makes the pages hard to turn for your pianist. And while we’re talking about page-turns, please don’t bring your music on a tablet. Sure, it’s convenient. You can have as many songs as you want. It’s not practical or appropriate for an audition. Using an iPad is a different experience for your pianist, and it takes some adjusting when you’ve been playing from printed music all day. Do you want your 16-bar audition to be the pianist’s adjustment period? Page-turns can also be problematic on an iPad.

 

To me, the perfect audition binder is no wider than an inch and is not filled with music past the point of easy page-turns. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but let’s two inches is definitely too thick.

 

The condition of the binder also matters. If the teeth on the rings aren’t flush, it’s time for a new binder. Otherwise, pages can fall out as your pianist attempts to turn the page.

 

When you take songs in or out of your binder, always double check to make sure every page gets added or removed. You’d be shocked at how many times I’ve played an audition for someone who had pages missing. (I had to improv on the spot, with varying degrees of success).

Your pages: I’m about to tackle one of the most divisive issues in auditioning: sheet protectors. Some people swear by them. Some detest them. But here’s the thing: I have yet to meet anyone who totally hates bare paper. After all, no commercially produced sheet music is published in sheet protectors. You’re better off not using them.

 

That’s said, make sure your paper is clean. It shouldn’t be folded or torn, and the holes for the binder rings should be in good shape. Reinforcement stickers will help, but when all holes start to wear out, a quick trip to the copy machine will give you a clean page for a few pennies.

 

If you must use sheet protectors, for the love of all that is holy, please get the anti-glare kind. Many auditions are held in rooms that feature harsh fluorescent lighting, and if you don’t have anti-glare sheet protectors, your music can be difficult to read.

 

Your pages should be double-sided, with music on the front and back of each page. Copying or printing songs single-sided forces your pianist to make twice as many page turns and doubles the opportunities for error.

Your copies: Clean is the name of the game. Find the best-quality edition of the song that’s available. You might be able to find a free PDF of the song online, but those copies are often extremely poor in quality, in addition to being illegal.

 

If your music is faint, distorted, cut off, covered in rehearsal marks or annotated by hand, seek a better option. There are websites that make downloading single songs easy and inexpensive (musicnotes.comsheetmusicdirect.comnewmusicaltheatre.com). Physical copies of scores, vocal selections and song collections are available from a number of sources (Amazon.com is a good one) and are a good investment for anyone making performance a profession. Libraries are also a good place to find books of sheet music and scores. I promise it’s worth the effort and money to get the best-available edition of your music. It will make your audition more successful.

 

When photocopying published sheet music, reduce it to fit 8½ x 11 paper. With most published books, a 93-percent reduction will do the trick. Make sure that you have captured all of the music on the copied page. If the left hand is missing at the bottom of the piano part, it’s going to be a real problem for your accompanist.

 

Be sure your sheet music is in the key in which you want to sing. You shouldn’t expect your accompanist to be able to transpose on sight. Many of the online sheet music sources I listed above can transpose the song for you before printing, and there are many musicians who will transpose songs for you for a fee. If you are going to transpose a song more than a whole step in either direction, it is advisable to hire someone to generate a new arrangement for you. The online sheet music sources mentioned above are ideal for many things, but don’t have the technology to make the necessary musical adjustments for a larger transposition. It’s also a good idea to avoid lead sheets (sheet music that provides just a melody line and chord symbols) unless the audition notice specifically allows for them.

 

Your cuts: Chances are you’re preparing a cut off the full-length song, and cleanliness is important here too. I have seen a lot of crazy ways of marking cuts, but the best approach is to physically cut out any music you don’t want played. “Extra” music, even if it has been crossed or scribbled out, can be just as distracting to your pianist as unnecessary marks and writing can be.

 

If you’re making cuts to your music, make a copy of the song that is single-sided. Physically cut out the pages, systems or measures that you don’t want played. Remember to include key and time signatures. If you have several smaller bits of music that need to be combined, grab a sheet of blank white paper and some tape. Tape your music to the sheet of paper (taking care to make it neat and straight, of course), then make a new copy of this page.

 

If your cut starts in the middle of the song, make sure the title and any tempo information are visible at the top of the first page. I also think it’s a good idea to always have the lyric you will actually be singing printed in your music. Sometimes actors elect to sing a different verse or version of the printed lyric, and this can lead to your pianist getting out of sync with you.

 

If you don’t play piano, find a friend who does and have him look over your music while you prepare. He’ll be able to point out anything a pianist would need that you may have missed.
You can’t control everything at an audition. Focusing ahead of time on the things you can control will help audition confidently. Making your music clean and clear gives you the best shot at being perfectly in sync with your audition accompanist, and that’s going to help you give the kind of audition that’s will book you the job.

Logan Culwell is a NYC-based musical director, vocal coach and audition accompanist, with experience playing for many Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional and film auditions. He is also the manager of PlaybillVault.com. For more information, visit www.LoganCulwell.com.