Tag Archives: Repertoire

“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!

Great Sondheim Audition Material

We are just about a month away from Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday, and what better time to think about auditioning for Sondheim musicals! As many actors (and pianists) know, auditioning with Sondheim songs can be tricky. Not only are his piano accompaniments often tricky, his songs can also be very specific and therefore difficult for audition purposes. His musical style is very individual, and many of his songs are difficult to take out of the context of the shows for which they were written. That being said, you can’t deny the brilliance of his work. On top of this, almost nobody else’s songs are appropriate when you’re auditioning for Sondheim musicals!
Needless to say, Sondheim tunes are a must-have for your audition book. Below are my picks if you’re needing some guidance in choosing one for yourself.

Soprano
Ballad

“Happiness” from Passion

Especially with ballads, I’m always a fan of songs that manage to stay away from being super angsty. This song is beautiful, passionate (forgive the pun), and gives you lots of opportunities for nice long sung lines. Acting AND singing? Sounds good to me!

Up-Tempo

“The Glamorous Life” from A Little Night Music (film version)

Though this song was written to be sung by a child, Audra McDonald has proven that it works well for adults too. I think the lyric leaves lots of room for personality and a sense of humor, which is always good, and the song is beautiful as well. Do note, however, that “The Glamorous Life” from the stage version of A Little Night Music is completely different from the movie version.

Honorable Mention

“Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Sweeney Todd

I can’t list Soprano Sondheim audition songs without talking about Green Finch! If you’ve got a phenomenal legit voice, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” will show it off really well. Just don’t let it become boring. Dig into that text; there’s lots to say in that song.

Belter
Ballad

“Anyone Can Whistle” from Anyone Can Whistle

Ok, you have to watch the angst factor with this one, sure. It’s a gorgeous song that, if deeply felt and communicated, will not fail to move your audience. This song also gets extra points for being easily transposable to other voice types.

Up-Tempo

“The Miller’s Son” from A Little Night Music

I didn’t even deliberate with this one. The caveat is that it’s fairly low, meaning that it’s not for everyone, but it is an exciting and wonderful song that gives you as an actor lots to play. It’s also very sectioned and easily cut-down for a variety of audition parameters.

Honorable Mention

“In Buddy’s Eyes” from Follies

I couldn’t not give a shout out to what is possibly my favorite song in all of Sondheim’s canon. It’s another one that you have to be careful with the angst, but it’s just such beautiful song. I particularly recommend having this one in the book if you are the reincarnation of Dorothy Collins.

Tenor
Ballad

“Someone is Waiting” from Company

Turns out Tenor ballads are fairly difficult to find in Sondheim’s catalogue, and so I recommend this song with a warning; you have to find a way to keep the acting behind the text active and not passive in any way. If you can achieve that, you’ll have a very successful audition song with a beautiful melody and lots of long sung lines to show off your pipes with.

Up-Tempo

“Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle

This song is energetic, tuneful and a great showcase of an engaging voice. There’s room for personality and active acting, and that’s always good in an audition. As with any wordy song, you have to take extra care with your diction, but if you achieve that, this is an exciting song to bring into the audition room.

Honorable Mention

“Johanna” from Sweeney Todd

I only didn’t mention this guy because it’s such a standby. Don’t get me wrong; its a standby for a good reason. Just make sure you’re singing it perfectly and with lots of intention or you’re liable to bore the people you’re auditioning for.

Bass
Ballad

“Pretty Women” from Sweeney Todd

When I think of a beautiful bass voice and Sondheim, this is the first song that comes to mind. I like it particularly for basses because it sits in a really rich part of the voice, while still managing to show some range. Like any truly good ballad, it also is rich in long lyrical lines to show off your singing abilities.

Up-Tempo

“If You Can Find Me, I’m Here” from Evening Primrose

I have to pick this song not only because it’s a great song but because I feel like it’s too often overlooked. It skews a little more towards a Baritone range, but it’s nothing that you Bass gentlemen should be afraid of. It’s got a great energy to it and I think it’s a great song to think about adding to your book.

Honorable Mention

“In Praise of Women” from A Little Night Music

I’m always a fan of any song that lets an actor show off their sense of humor, and this one definitely fits that bill. The song has a pretty specific context, but the comedy of it, when well-executed, will play well with or without your audience knowing the plot of Night Music.

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These songs don’t work for you? I’ve got good news! There’s lots of other Sondheim songs to pick from. At the end of the day, a successful audition song is more about your personal connection to the piece than what I or anybody else thinks is the “right” song. Take a look at Sondheim’s entire catalogue in the MusicalTheatreSongs.com archive, and then head on over to YouTube or Spotify to listen for yourself. See what speaks to you!

Mostly, don’t be afraid of Sondheim. The most common caution people give with Sondheim songs in the audition room are the difficulty of his piano parts, but these days a large part of his work is a standard part of the repertoire that any experienced audition accompanist should be able to play. Most importantly, if you’re auditioning for a Sondheim show, the theatre definitely should have hired someone who is prepared to play Sondheim accompaniments. As with many piano questions when it comes to auditions, always ask a pianist friend when in doubt. Pianist friends are always good to have around!

Happy auditioning!

Logan Culwell is an audition accompanist with experience playing for a variety of production levels, from high schools and Universities to Broadway and movies. As a music director, Logan has had productions Off-Broadway as well as regionally at Cortland Repertory Theatre, Hangar Theatre and The Theater Barn. He also serves as manager of the PlaybillVault.com database while writing theatrical history articles for Playbill.com. http://www.loganculwell.com

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!

-Warren