So… today I thought it would be fun to share with you what it’s like going on a Broadway audition. I’ve only recently told my agent that I’m ready to hit it again, having stepped away from the stage for a couple of years to be a full-time mama. I performed through the first few months of my pregnancy, closing a show just weeks before I started showing (I’ll fill you in on that entertaining/awful story at some point).
I gotta say though…as much as I’d love to perform again, I definitely do NOT miss the audition process. Some people don’t mind it so much. Some people detest it. Nobody loves it. It’s a necessary evil, and for me it just never gets easier. I’ve been very lucky that I tend to get work, even though I’m not the strongest auditioner…I’m not sure how to explain that, except that I’ve been extremely lucky!
The process for open calls and EPA’s (Equity Principle Auditions) is different than agent calls (which is when you’re either requested by the casting director/creative team or submitted by your agent, and are given an appointment by the casting director), and to be honest I don’t really remember much about what open calls and EPA’s are like. Except chaotic. Lots of “hurry up and wait”. My vague memories of it are that you arrive as early as you possibly can, because there aren’t appointment times, and sign in with an Actor’s Equity monitor. (Actor’s Equity is our union.) You sing in the order you arrive, unless you’re non-union, and then you get bumped anytime a union member signs in, even if you’ve been there for three hours. Once you’re signed in, you sit. Usually for a long time. And usually on a floor somewhere because there aren’t enough chairs. Surrounded by herds of other people who are also sitting. Also on the floor. And it’s loud. I don’t know what it is about musical theater people that makes them so noisy.
Anyway, this post will walk you through what it’s like to prep for and perform an agent call audition.
It starts when you receive a phone call from your agent with an appointment for you. Sometimes it’s just a couple of days away, sometimes it’s as much as a week and a half away. Usually somewhere in between. They run the show/role past you and ask if you’re interested, and if you are, you tell them they can confirm the appointment for you. Or if you’re difficult, like me, you tell them you just don’t think you’re right for it but can you think it over? And then flip flop back and forth until the last possible minute. Gah.
If you give the green light your agent will email you the audition material. Unlike open calls and EPA’s, where you just prepare 16 bars of a song of your choice, and also bring your entire “book” of ready-to-go audition sheet music in case they ask for something else, usually an agent call involves performing selections from the show. Sometimes it’s as little as a section of one song, plus a song of your choice, and sometimes it’s more…a scene or two, for example, or more music from the show. (If you’re asked to prepare a scene, there will be a “reader” at the audition who will read the other parts, usually from a chair off to the side of the creative team’s table. You’ll play the scene with them as if they were your scene partner.)
Since giving my agent the go-ahead to start sending me out, I’ve only accepted one Broadway audition, and the amount of material for it was massive. I was asked to prepare two songs from the show (in their entirety, which isn’t the norm), a monologue from the show, a verse and chorus of a Whitney Houston song, a song of my choice, and a monologue of my choice that I thought would mean something to this character (preparing your own monologue is extremely unusual for musical theater auditions). Pant, pant, pant…
And here’s the kicker: I was asked to remain in character for the duration of my time “in the room” (that’s the term for when you’re in front of the creative team), and that included using a very difficult accent. Yup. I had to deliver the monologues in this accent AND use the accent when bantering with the team.
Oh wait. I said that was the kicker? Sorry, THIS is the kicker. The role I was auditioning for is a MAN. And I was expected to wear fake facial hair. BAHAHAHAHA. So, to clarify, I was supposed to remain in character between songs/monologues, speak with an accent, and be a man. I can confidently say that I worked harder prepping for this audition than for any other I’ve ever done, even though I knew for a fact that I was wrong for the part. But I was excited to get back in the game, and knew it would feel great to give a solid performance, even if I wasn’t right for the show.
I should just state for the record that I’m probably worse at accents than anyone in New York City. I mean, I’m BAD. Somehow, even if my first word or two comes out ok, I end up veering into some weird mashup of Indian and Southern.
Needless to say, I did my typical “difficult” routine when my agent called about this one. After I stopped howling and confirmed that he was actually serious, I actually just flat out said no. I had to be talked into it by the creative team, and was still thinking about canceling the night before. Ugh.
The prep work was kind of a blur of watching online tutorials I found to help me with the accent, speaking with the accent as much as I could in my day-to-day activities (with Sadie looking at me like I had lost my mind), ordering male clothing that would fit me from Amazon (all stuff that came with free returns so I could send it back!), shopping for fake facial hair at makeup shops here in NY, listening a gazillion times to the songs from the show and rehearsing them until I had them memorized, memorizing the two monologues I was doing, prepping the song of my choice, and practicing my best Whitney Houston. Which isn’t great. I’m very white.
Here’s what I usually do on the day of an audition. (For this one, just imagine things like retrieving crumpled sheet music from a toddler, a few Lego/coloring sessions and several diaper changes just kind of scattered around through here. Thank GOODNESS my husband was home that day to help with Sadie or I would have never made it.)
Eat a small breakfast. Have coffee. Test my voice very gently with a couple of trills and sirens. Look over all sheet music and monologues. Do speed thru’s in my head to make sure my memorization is solid. Take a long, steamy shower with a few drops of Eucalyptus oil on the rim of the tub to help open up my nasal passages. Start gently warming up the voice in the shower. After the shower, sit with my steam inhaler for ten minutes. Then do a full vocal warm-up, about fifteen minutes or so. Get dressed in audition clothes. (Insert male clothing and facial hair application here.) Sing through audition material in full voice. Sing them again because it was crappy. Make Throat Coat tea (the licorice root in this works absolute wonders on the voice!) with lots of honey, and put it in my travel thermos.
Now is when it gets a little tricky in NYC, because the absolute most critical thing is to keep your voice warmed up. If you don’t make a peep from the time you leave home until it’s time to sing, you’ll be toast. But here in the city you don’t have the luxury of hopping in your car and belting your heart out with total privacy. We commute via subway, bus, and on foot. Ok, a cab if you’re fancy. None of these lend themselves to keeping your voice warmed up. I tend to just do quiet little vocal exercises under my breath and hope it’s enough. And then when I’m walking the last few blocks, I let ‘er rip for a second just to check. And then try to avoid eye contact with the pedestrians around me. It’s ok… there are lots of slightly nutty people in this city, so they’re used to it.
Once you arrive at the audition space you find the sign-in sheet or the casting assistant in charge of noting who has arrived. There’s usually not many other people waiting, since these auditions are by appointment time, so it’s normally nice and quiet. Aaahhhh. Which is lovely, but also, there is nothing to distract you from your nerves. Which, in my case are pretty intense. At this particular audition, there were a couple of other girls there, and I could not have been more grateful for being asked to come in male drag. We were cracking up just looking at each other, and that really helped to relax all of us. It was a really sweet group of ladies actually, and we all practiced the monologue from the show together with our ridiculous accents. That sounds really cheesy and lame, but it was encouraging actually, because I realized my hard work had paid off and I actually sounded just like they did. Yay!
Normally, this is not the scene in the waiting room though. You don’t normally practice your material together like a scene out of a weird musical theater dream. Typically it’s quiet and you just sit going over your material, running to the bathroom every two minutes because of nerves, sucking on Grether’s pastilles, (expensive, but they’re the BEST- ask anyone in the biz! ) and drinking Throat Coat like it’s your job. And right then, it kinda is.
When it’s your turn, an assistant usually calls you into the room. You bring all your stuff with you, and just try to find a place to stash it behind the piano where it won’t be distracting. As you come in the door, the casting director or their assistant typically announces who you are. Sometimes the casting director will quicky introduce the members of the creative team, and sometimes they won’t, but it’s important that you always greet the whole team (a general, “Hi, everyone…” works fine), and if you know anyone behind the table it’s always a good idea to specifically say hello to them. It helps the energy of the room relax a little bit, plus it shows the others that you have worked enough to know the music director, or the associate director, or whoever.
As you’re chatting, you bring your “book” over to the pianist, so that when it’s time to do the song of your choice he/she will be ready. It’s best to have it already open to the song you’re doing. Then you head back to the center of the room, usually about ten feet away from the table where the creatives are sitting. There won’t be any tape on the floor or anything… you just kind of feel it out. I usually say something delightfully light and pithy at this point to get everyone relaxed, and then I ask what they’d like me to start with (if the director/casting director hasn’t already jumped in to tell me what they’d like to hear first).
Sometimes they’ll actually give you a choice and ask what you’d like to start with, and in that case I almost always choose scene work if that was part of the material. I’ve found it helps me get my voice warm again, and my nerves never come through when I’m just acting. They tend to only affect my singing. So if I can deliver a solid scene right off the bat, I’m usually much more relaxed when it’s time to sing and am able to actually show what I can do vocally, instead of sounding nervous for the first half of the song. I don’t know what it is, but my voice is never affected by nerves during actual performances. Ever. But auditions are a whole other story.
To read part 2 click here!