11 Pieces Of Actually Useful Advice For Theater Auditions From Someone Who's Been To A Million Of Them
Disclaimer on everything I am about to say: I am not one hundred percent, completely and indisputably, "right" about any of this. I'm not a professional theater career adviser. I think what has annoyed me the most about growing up a theater kid is that a majority of the people who are giving you audition advice do it as if they wrote the literal Bible on auditioning, and then get unreasonably angry if you take someone else's advice over theirs. So I am not here to tell you that you have to listen to me, or step on anybody's toes, or make you fear my shadow so much that you never, ever, EVER sing "Moonfall" in an audition again. I'm just a girl standing in front of the Internet, asking it to believe that she has been to enough theater auditions to maybe know a thing or two about what it takes to get through them in one piece—and maybe successfully.
That being said, auditioning has turned into its own industry. There are workshops and camps and entire semester's worth of classes devoted to something that in reality usually lasts about a minute of your life. The dirty little secret? In the end, it all just comes down to talent and looks. I know that sounds vain to say, but let's be real: You don't go into this field unless you know that. I've had auditions where we've been literally just lined up against the wall and plucked out, one-by-one, for not looking the part before we even opened our mouths. If you've got the talent to back it up and you can show it off, you're golden in this field and maybe none of this audition advice will even matter.
Then again, some of this is less advice and more stuff I just want to give the theater world permission to stop worrying about so much already. We're driving ourselves insane. We're driving other people insane. Take a breath, y'all, and take a read, because I think this will make us all feel a little bit better:
Wear whatever you damn well please
I remember in high school, I pretty much had an existential crisis every time I had to pick out an outfit for auditions. One teacher told me NEVER to wear heels, the other told me heels were the only way to go. And yet another teacher said I should dress in professional, muted colors; Another said I should make myself stand out as much as possible. Everyone had an opinion, and I had frequent wardrobe-related meltdowns. Healthy!
All of it is white noise, though. You should put some care into what you wear, of course, but wear something that makes you happy. You'll be so much more comfortable in your own skin. I can walk into an audition and tell right away who is dressing to make themselves happy and who is wearing something solely because they think it is what a casting director wants to see. It's not the end of the world no matter what you're wearing, but for your own sanity, wear something you love. You're a whole lot less likely to get distracted by it that way, and then everyone can focus on the parts of the audition that actually matter.
Sing/perform whatever you damn well please
Someone is always going to tell you that a song or monologue is on their “banned” list—it’s overdone, or too cliché, all the usual blah blah blah—but can we all just take a minute to absorb how stupid this is? There’s a reason those pieces are so overdone, and it’s because they’re good songs that show off acting ability and voices well. So what if they’ve heard it a million times? If you sound amazing and that piece makes you feel good and you think it shows off the best of what you’ve got, anybody who puts a song on their “banned” list can screw off. I know there are schools doing this all over the nation, including one that I attended my freshman year of college, and the whole thing just disappoints me.
Take Lea Michele, for example: She walked into her Glee audition with “On My Own” from Les Misérables, arguably the most “overdone” alto song in all of history. And you know what? She nailed it. She nailed it so hard they put it in the freaking pilot of the show. Don’t go singing a mediocre song that doesn’t do your voice justice if an overdone song is going to sell every inch of what you can do.
Don’t tell people how nervous you are (or aren't)
This is a blanket request: Even if you're not nervous, don't go around saying how not-nervous you are. Regardless of what level of nervous you are, it's totally legitimate to feel that way. But it's also personal. If you go around muttering about it, you're pegged right off the bat as someone who is an easy shot to take down (and if you're bragging about not being nervous, well...the actually nervous people are gonna think you're an ass, even if you are one hundred percent trying not to be).
Stress out about literally anything other than your stupid resume format
Oh. My. God. The militarism of resumes and head shots is just one more way the universe is trying to eek money out of you, and again, it doesn't really matter. Make it clean and organized, and have a head shot that actually looks like you, and you're FINE.
Case in point? One of my friends waltzed into his audition for NYU with a scrap of a photo from his sister's wallet for a head shot and his resume scribbled on a napkin—and he graduated from Tisch. While I don't recommend repeating his shenanigans, it just goes to show how little they're going to be looking at the font you chose over how they see you fitting into a production.
Invest in a Belt Box
This is more of a PSA than a piece of advice, but in case you didn't know about it, the Belt Box is a nifty device that basically smothers the sound of you warming up, singing, or muttering your monologue to yourself. Handy when you're trying not to annoy your roommates prepping for the audition, and handy in the audition itself if you're feeling warm-up shy. You can get yours here.
Be already smiling when you walk in
This is the only annoying "SING OUT LOUISE" piece of advice I'll give. It genuinely makes all the difference in getting someone's attention. I usually smiled when I walked in when I was younger, but one time I got squeezed into an Equity audition I was so freaking excited to get seen for that, I walked into the room with the smile of someone who was either high on helium or just ridiculously happy to be alive. I clearly was not what they were looking for in the role, but because I got all their heads to snap up when I walked in the room, they asked me about myself and were way more engaged than any other auditions I'd had in New York. I've just been doing it ever since and people really respond to it. Weirdly, it seems to set them more at ease if you look confident right from the bat.
SPEAK UP if something has gone wrong
I'll stop citing Lea Michele eventually, but in her Glee audition, something went wrong with the piano and she was totally fearless about asking to start over. A lot of planets have to align to make a perfect audition, and yeah, something's always gonna go wrong. But if it is really throwing you—the tempo is off, you're in the wrong key, or you've just completely blanked on part of your monologue—just calmly collect yourself, tell them what happened, and ask to start again. It is not the end of the world.
I'm still re-learning this every few months. We're just conditioned to apologize nonstop to put band-aids on social situations, but unless you've actually done something worth apologizing for—drop-kicked the director during a fight monologue, set something on fire, etc.—save the apologies in an audition room. They just put a glaring lens flare on any mistakes you've made, hard as it is to resist.
Be nice to EVERYONE—not just the people in charge
You will see these people (all of these people) again. And odds are at least one of them is going to be in a position to either help you or make your life a living hell. (Also, just be nice to humans in general. It's a good way to live.)
Think of it as a challenge or an opportunity, not something to dread
Here's the thing about auditions: A casting director has a problem. They need somebody to fix the problem. This is nothing more than an opportunity for you to be a solution to it, and you should see it as a challenge. Besides, what are auditions besides an opportunity to strut your stuff? Here's the one place you don't have to be modest: Go bananas. This is the craziest you'll ever get to be in public on a Monday morning.
Shake it off
Still worth saying even if you've heard it a million times. 99% percent of the time you get rejected, it's got nothing to do with you. It has to do with the character and the show as a whole, and if you didn't fit into one person's vision of one show, that is, by no means, a predictor for all the rest of them. Have a 5-minute pity party and move on to the next one, cuz that's what we do best.