MUSICALS REQUIRE ALL kinds of performers — not just divas and practiced belters. Musicals need dancers and actors with different talents and skillsets as well as singers of a variety of styles. Even if you’ve never seen yourself as a musical theatre type, auditioning for a musical is a great opportunity to explore other theatrical disciplines and to expand your horizons.

And who knows? Along the way you might find that you have an undiscovered talent for tap dancing or a knack for harmonizing. If you’ve never gone out for the musical before, help yourself to some expert advice on getting started and getting cast.

Know and show your strengths

First thing: It’s OK if you’re not a perfect triple threat. Robert Bradley, a former rock singer and actor turned vocal coach in Baltimore, says that it’s important to play to your strengths. “Don’t walk into an audition focused on what you won’t get right,” Bradley says. “Focus on what you will do well.” Feeling positive about yourself will be apparent to anyone watching.

Don’t discount special skills. They can open doors. What makes you stand out from the crowd? Do you have a great ear for dialects? Have you taken gymnastics? Can you juggle? Play an instrument? Share those unique talents.

Confident actor? Find a monologue that showcases your emotional range or how well you land a joke. Strong dancer? Look for ways that you can incorporate movement, such as pantomime or choreography, in the other parts of your audition. And be sure you’re front and center when it comes time to wow them in the dance call. Remember actors: You can sell a dance routine or a song.

Theatre masks

BE CONFIDENT, BE NICE

Confidence is every bit as important as talent. Learning to control your nerves is one of the many valuable lessons of auditioning. Even if your stomach is full of butterflies, you can and should convey self-assurance. Starting to shake? Take a deep breath, plant your feet, chin up, and smile. Grace Duah, a sophomore acting major at Pace University, says, “Nothing makes you look like you have yourself together better than having the brightest smile on your face.”

Directors are looking for the person who gives it their best shot. They’re not expecting perfection. Bernie DeLeo, a former actor-turned-playwright, is now the theatre teacher at West Springfield High School in Springfield, VA. He’s been on both sides of the casting table. DeLeo says that showing you are fun to work with and consistent will get you noticed. “Be reliable, be on time, be off book,” he says. A confident performer with a great outlook and a great work ethic is always in demand.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Obviously, practicing will help you to feel more prepared and confident. Bradley says that the best audition preparation is to just do it. “Practice auditioning, film yourself, recite your audition in front of friends and family,” he suggests. “Do your best to make your tryout as seamless and rehearsed as you can.” The more you rehearse, the more precise you’ll be in your audition.

Duah says that it’s all about committing. “I had little to no experience or actual training in it,” she admits. “To combat this, I made practice my best friend. Whether it was for show choir or the musical, I would drill the dance moves as often as possible, so it would become second nature.”

Joe Deer, a theatre professor at Wright State University in Ohio, says that learning your material early can help you relax and focus on what matters: telling a great story. “Be clearly and correctly memorized at least two weeks prior to the audition,” Deer says. “And do the piece no more than three times a day after that. Three different times during the day, with a substantial break in between, will keep it fresh for you. While you’re rehearsing, focus on the imaginary partner: the movie in your mind of the story or scene you’re playing. That’s the most useful focus, not on your voice, your body, etc. Put your single focus on the story.”

If the idea of cold reading is giving you cold feet, try practicing with different pages from the script. Read aloud from books and try different characters while you are reading. If you have a little brother, sister, or cousin who still likes to listen to stories, practice on them. Little kids are some of the most enthusiastic — and most critical — audience members around.

For the day of, keep in mind all those tips you know for a big test or game: getting sleep the night before, eating well, and staying hydrated. They apply here, too. Add stretching to that the previous day and immediately before your audition and a light vocal warmup, such as making siren noises up and down the scale. Those will leave you energized and ready to go. Also, wear something that makes you feel confident but doesn’t restrict you vocally or physically. And a little pre-audition pep talk to yourself can’t hurt!

Piano

SING OUT

Singing is scary. But don’t let your nerves call the shots. “Sing out, Louise!” Deer says, quoting Gypsy’s Momma Rose. “Be sure you’re singing loudly — sometimes louder than you think you should.”

If you have no idea where to start learning a piece of music, don’t panic. “You can get melody tracks for most songs through MusicNotes.com or on karaoke tracks online, even for free. And if you don’t have time to learn a new song, use one you already know. We all know lots of songs,” Deer continues. “Being able to sing with confidence in the material is a great first step.”

Ask around for advice. Maybe you have a friend who has been singing forever, or you know the choir director at your school or the cantor at your synagogue. Even your piano teacher can help you to get started discovering what voice part you are and what song might work well in your vocal range. “If you’re singing with a pianist at the audition,” Deer says, “see if you can get at least one chance to work with a pianist before the audition. Accompaniment very often sounds different than an orchestral recording.”

Select a song that relies on interpretation and storytelling more than vocal prowess. Think about your character type. Think about what roles might be a good fit for you. Some roles have little or no singing required, relying more on acting the songs than really singing them. CamelotMy Fair LadyThe Music Man, and The King and I are a few shows with lead roles that have been more acted than sung.

Kimilee Bryant, who appeared on Broadway as Christine and Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera, is also a vocal coach who teaches at Anderson University in South Carolina. She says that finding a voice teacher will pay off in a big way, since working with a trained professional will “protect and develop your voice.” If you can’t find one or you’re under a tight deadline, she suggests simply working on projection and support. Practice talking and singing in a nasally voice that you can feel buzzing in your nose and cheekbones. Overdoing it will help you to see what it feels like.

And breathe. Bryant says that correct breathing is like a dog panting. “Most people breathe correctly until they’re about four years old,” she says. “Babies and animals naturally breathe low, in the belly.” Concentrate on making your breath come from below the belly button, in the area of your lower abdominals. Bryant says that this is sometimes particularly hard for dancers, who are trained to hold their abdominals in. “You’re not sucking it in like in ballet,” she says. You need those muscles to stay relaxed for you to be able to use them fully while singing.

Ballet shoes

JUST DANCE

“Dance calls are all about seeing and imitating,” Deer says. If you want to be good at them, you have to just do them. “Get into situations where you’re learning new steps in a relatively short period of time. And do that a bunch.”

When you are in the dance call, Deer says prioritize. Concentrate first on your feet. “Footwork, which foot you’re on for any given count of music, is the foundation of everything to follow. Shifts of weight from right to left — when you do a hop, a step, a jump, etc. — will be your first layer,” Deer says. “Then, go for body shapes: the arm positions, torso, and leg shapes. Next, put those pieces together.”

Most important of all, smile and have fun. “When everything else is taken away, a joyful spirit is infectious and hard to beat,” Deer says. “Most choreographers will welcome a positive person into a cast, even if you have slightly less technique.”

Erika Shannon is a 20-year veteran dancer, fitness expert, and choreographer who created Don’t Dodge the Dance Call, an online dance boot camp for beginners. She says that being able to go with the flow makes a great impression. “Expect to be thrown material with no warning,” she cautions. “This could be a dance combination, a new song, or simply a request to stand by the piano and sing some scales. Be ready for anything and know that if they ask for new stuff or more info, it’s a good sign!”

Scott Burrows, a Hartt School student, says that he’s now starting dance classes outside of his major to build up his casting potential. “It’s really a matter of finding out what it is you don’t know and finding a way to learn,” he says.

LET LOOSE

On the day of the audition, it might be tough but try to enjoy the experience of auditioning with, not against, your friends. If you’ve done your preparation, you’ll be ready to do your best. Ultimately, you may not get the part. That’s OK, because that is also part of what it means to audition. It might be that the production requires years of ballet training, a classical vocal style, or even a specific physical type. That happens to all actors. No matter the outcome, auditioning for a musical is a chance to grow as a performer and as a person. You shouldn’t pass it up.

Remember, though, Deer says, “if you don’t get cast this time, be sure you engage in the production in some other way: as a crew member, on the publicity team, assisting the director or designers. There are so many great ways to be part of a production that don’t involve being onstage. And you may discover a talent and a love for something you never knew you were good at.” The more time you spend around musicals, the more you’ll know, the more comfortable you’ll become, and the likelier you are to make a place for yourself.

This story appeared in the June/July 2018 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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