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Auditioning for the Musical Theatre
by Steven M. Alper

The perfect guide for any musical theater hopeful by a veteran New York City musical director, composer, and audition accompanist. Extensive do’s and don’ts, pitfalls to avoid, and rules you should never break. Chapters include music preparation: how to prepare the physical music; the piano player: what to expect from him; the song: what to sing, what not to sing; the audition: how to impress the people behind the table; and much more. Filled with personal anecdotes (many which feature his wife, actress Sarah Knapp) and spoken with the dry wit of a true veteran of musical theatre. With illustrations by Herb Knapp.

Purchase Next! Auditioning for the Musical Theatre
From Chapter 5, “The Audition—The Who and the How”
The People Behind the Table
Okay, this is it. The first secret is that the people behind the casting table are just people! Yup. That’s it. (Shhhh! We don’t want everyone to know.) Sitting there may be the Queen of the Play and the King of Casting, but these are not positions that have been bestowed by divine right. They are just people, with the same foibles and emotions that everyone else is subject to. They have usually achieved their station through hard work and effort (just like you’re trying to do), which is, presumably, the same way the president of a corporation, a traffic cop, and the manager of the local Wendy’s achieved their positions of authority.
       You may come up against a very snooty, conceited director who seems to look upon you with disdain. But that kind of behavior shouldn’t be totally unfamiliar to you. We’ve all come up against a mere mortal somewhere in our pasts who has exhibited the same sort of behavior. (I remember having some trouble with my junior high school football coach—“You may be fast, but I don’t know if there’s room on this here team for a music sissy!”)
       Deal with the people behind the table in the same way you would deal with any person in authority (when in doubt, think bellicose traffic cop). If you audition for someone who exhibits signs of antisocial behavior, someone who instantly seems to hate you, be gracious, be charming, be a better person than he is. Don’t fight him because you can’t win. (Remember what I said about traffic cops?) And if it seems to be a no-win situation, be aware that there is no longer anyone in the industry who has the power to follow through on the old threat, “You’ll never work in this town again!”
       Okay, here comes the other secret that will really help you through the trauma of auditions. (Lean closer; I don’t want everyone to hear.) Are you ready? They want you to be good; they’re hoping you’re good; their greatest desire is for you to be exactly what their show needs. That’s the reason for the audition in the first place: to find a bunch of actors to fill a bunch of roles. And if you have prepared properly and seem to meet their needs, then they are going to want to give you the job, or at least call you back in for another look.
       So, those are them: the two most important ideas in this book. Everything you do for your auditions should be with these two thoughts in mind: no matter what they seem, the casting people are just people and they want you to be the answer to their casting needs.
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The People Behind the Casting Table:
Sleeping Man & Eating Man
Your Assignment
Your main job, above any other consideration, is to make a good impression. The people behind the table will be making value judgments about you—as an actor and as a person. They will be judging you constantly, from the moment you walk in the door. Whatever happens in the room, when it’s all over you want them to remember you as a potential asset. So you want to present the best possible image the entire time you’re under their examination. Here are some tips.

Dress neatly, or appropriately. Just as the selection of an appropriate song is important in cluing the casting people in to your suitability for a role, your choice of outfit can also be an invaluable asset. Unless you want to be remembered as a slob or a perpetual adolescent, avoid ripped jeans and t-shirts when auditioning for more mainstream roles. By the same token, though, a suit and tie are probably the wrong things to wear for an audition for a Jet in West Side Story.
       There are some people who, when they go to extremes of dressiness, look uncomfortable (you know who you are). Men don’t have to wear suits or sports coats and ties, and women don’t have to wear ball gowns or cocktail dresses (unless the role calls for it, of course). Dress neatly, nicely, comfortably, and flatteringly. Think “casual dressy.”
       Remember, too, that you are there to sell yourself. Don’t be afraid to show off. This is the theatre we’re talking about, not a corporate board meeting. Your physical assets are part of the total package, so flaunting them is not something you should avoid.
Behave well. Be adult and professional. Unless you have friends in the room—say, you’ve had a good rehearsal experience with the choreographer—don’t try to be too friendly. You don’t need to shake everyone’s hand. Treat it like business.
       New York City is not a great place to walk around in beautiful shoes, so many actresses travel to their auditions wearing sneakers and carrying their pumps in their audition bags.
       Sarah arrived at her audition for the New York company of Nunsense and discovered that she had forgotten to put her shoes in her bag. So she had to walk out onto the stage of the Douglas Fairbanks Theater wearing a beautiful dress and a beat-up pair of Reeboks. She handed her music to the accompanist and walked out to center stage.
       “I’m sooo embarrassed. I have to tell you how really sorry I am about the sneakers. I forgot to bring my shoes.”
       Joe Abaldo, the casting director, and Dan Goggin, the creator/ director, burst out laughing, and after a second Sarah realized why.
       She was auditioning for the role of Sister Amnesia.
       (She got the job and played the role off-Broadway over a period of two years.)

Prepare an “audition briefcase.” This can be any handy totable bag—a shopping bag, a knapsack, a shoulder bag, an oversized purse, a gym bag, etc. Into this bag place everything you could possibly need for an audition: pictures and resumes, your music, monologues, your tap shoes, and anything else that could conceivably be needed at an audition. This bag will go with you to every audition, thus assuring that, like the best boy scout, you will always be prepared.

And, take charge. Help keep the audition moving. Make sure your songs are easily accessible. If they are in a book, enter the room with the book opened to the appropriate page or marked with a taped-on paper flag. If you help keep things on track, the casting people will be thankful. Always try to anticipate what they will want next. A ballad? You’ve got it ready to go. And speaking of which…