Tag Archives: Auditions

“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!

Preparing for your TYA Audition

TYA or Theatre for Young Audiences is full of misconceptions. Understanding what you are auditioning for is key for is key to a successful experience. So, as with any audition, do your homework. Make sure you clearly understand the following:

  1. Roles: What character(s) are you auditioning for? a 4 year old? a sloth? the keeper of nightmares? Does that track play multiple parts? TYA is often done with small casts which means the list may get long!
  2. Venue: TYA companies perform in many venues from tiny blackbox theaters, to school cafegymatoriums, to thousand plus seat amphitheaters. Inside, outside, mic-ed, or not.
  3. Type of Contract: While some TYA may be amateur opportunities (and possibly even worthwhile ones), there are a surprising number of professional TYA contracts available and many may offer one of the HUNDREDS of TYA Equity contracts available each year.
  4. Type of Performance: Even within the same company, some contracts are for in-house performances, some for national tours, some for small local tours.
  5. Hours of Rehearsal/Performance: Most TYA rehearses and performs during the day. Don’t be the one who auditions and then realizes you can’t also have a day job.
  6. Terms of the Contract: Some contracts, especially in TYA, may have additional requirements you weren’t expecting. Daily setup/strike, running your own tech, lifting heavy equipment, 5am call times, daily audience talkbacks, four-show days, etc. It’s not for everyone, so make sure you know what is expected and that the theatre knows you’re aware.
  7. Target Audience: While most TYA is happy to perform for the whole family, TYA usually is targeted to a specific age group. Knowing this can greatly help you decide how to approach your audition. DO audition like you’re performing for that age, but DO NOT belittle them, the top TYA companies never talk down to their audience. And PLEASE don’t treat the audition panel like kids.
  8. You must be trusted: The largest factor in getting cast in a TYA show is TRUST. Even more than adult theatre, you are more likely to get cast when the company knows and trusts you. Not just because of the morning call times, and cast morale, but because there are LOTS OF KIDS around. I get sick of hearing, “TYA is a boys club, I’ll never get in.” The truth is, it’s not exclusive, it just requires a lot of trust. Someone in the company will have to vouch for you, so you might have to get to know a few people in the company to get your “in.”

TYA auditions don’t have to use TYA specific songs.  I always stress to performers, it’s better to pick a song you know that doesn’t fit the character, than to go into an audition unsure you know every note and word of a song. BUT, if you have time to learn something new check out my list of TYA Audition Songs or do a quick search on MusicalTheaterSongs.com!

TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Audition Songs

It’s really unfortunate that so many great TYA shows don’t have sheet music easily available. Of course MusicalTheaterSongs.com is a great resource to find places where songs are available. I’ve included links below to the songs found in the database on this site. Still, there is so much out there and yet even many of the most popular appear to only offer sheet music through a fully licensed production. If you’ve seen a TYA show you loved, I encourage you to find contact information and ask the writing team for hard to find sheet music. Some of my all time favorites aren’t on this list because the sheet music isn’t easily available.

This list is some suggestions of great TYA songs that ARE easily available. Don’t stop here though, there’s so much good stuff out there. Take a look at other works by these composers. Reach out for that unpublished sheet music. Find something you love!

And remember, you can also just sing your normal audition songs at a TYA audition, as long as the content would be ok to sing in front of your 7 year old niece. But just in case your entire book is pulled from Oh! Calcutta:

All for You” from Seussical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

My Party Dress” from Henry & Mudge by Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan 

“Captain Louie” from Captain Louie by Stephen Schwartz 

“Play With Your Food” from Honk! by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe

“Madness of King Scar” from The Lion King by Elton John and Tim Rice

Middle of a Moment” from James and the Giant Peach by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Sing Your Own Song” from Dear Edwina by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler

The Case of the Mysterious Audition Song: What’s a SORAP?

Have you ever looked at an audition listing and thought to yourself, “What the heck do I sing for this?” If you’re like me, I ask myself that question for EVERY AUDITION. Do I have to go out and find, buy, learn, cut, and coach a brand new song just for this particular audition? The answer of course is… it depends.

First of all, you must carefully read the audition notice. Some listings will be extra-specific in the kind of repertoire that the casting director wants to hear. Others (many many others, actually) will request something along the lines of  “a short musical theater song that shows off range and personality.” Does this help you AT ALL? Surprisingly, it does:

“A Short Musical Theater Song That Shows Off Range and Personality”

  • Short” – 16 to 32 bars at the most (exceptions can be made for faster-tempo songs)
  • Musical Theater Song” – something written for the stage, and probably more on the traditional side (depending on the time period of the show you’re auditioning for)
  • That Shows Off” – pick the most interesting part of the song that allows you to demonstrate variety in your vocal choices
  • Range” – your comfortable range, not the extremes of it. For instance, could you sing this song sick as a dog and still sound great?
  • Personality” – what does the fact that you chose this song say about you?

In general, you should have a few trustworthy songs that you can trot out when an audition requests the “Show Off Range And Personality” test. These are officially called SORAP songs. And by “officially,” I mean that I just made that up. Ideally you’d have SORAPs in a variety of different tempos, styles, and time periods.

If something doesn’t already spring to mind as your go-to SORAP song, you may need to search the musicaltheatersongs.com database again! Use the link marked “song details” to narrow your results to songs that fit comfortably in your range. Show the search results to your voice teacher or coach, or share them with your friends and see if any sparks of inspiration strike them. Visit the links to listen to the song on Spotify or buy it on iTunes, then get to work on finding the best cut that suits you. We’ll chat about how to cut a song in a future post…

If an audition asks for a SORAP, you know that casting directors aren’t looking for you to sing a specific type of song. So just do what you do best— be you!



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.