What Makes Auditioning for Theater so Different From Film + TV

Photo Source: Matthew Murphy

Acting is acting is acting—right? While that adage may apply as far as craft, how you audition for varying mediums should in fact be varied itself. Well, once again you’ve come to the right place. Here we check in with industry and Backstage Experts about what’s so different when it comes to theater auditioning so you can ensure your next one is killer. Curtain up!

For one, accompanists.  
“Every audition song is a duet. Smart actors make their accompanist’s job easy so they can play their best for you; your audition depends on it. Give your accompanist a clean copy of your music containing only what you want them to play and what you are going to sing. Put it in non-glare sheet protectors in a three-ring binder so there’s no weird reflection from rehearsal studio lighting, and it won’t fall off the piano as they turn pages. It should be in the key you want. The name of the song, the composer, and the name of the show—if it’s from a show—should be at the top. It’s also a good idea to have a brief indication of the style written above the first bar (a rock ballad, for example). If they’re not familiar with the song, all of this information will help them understand the feel you want. Tempo or key changes should be clearly marked or highlighted so they’ll see them coming; you’ll want to point these out to them before you sing. Quietly but clearly give them the tempo you want before you begin. And please don’t forget to thank them!” —Philip Hernández, New York City-based audition coach, working actor, and Backstage Expert

Your monologue is your calling card.
“Know your type and range as far as being cast. Make sure the part is age-appropriate and physically accurate. It's agonizing to watch a 25-year-old try to be 45 or a guy from Minnesota try to be an Italian Mafioso from Brooklyn or a plain Jane try to be a femme fatale. A monologue is the time to show who you are, not add layers of dialects, character traits, a limp, or something outrageous to impress. Avoid props unless it is so essential to the scene that it won't work without one. If they can't tell you are acting, that’s good acting.” —Gwyn Gilliss, marketing mentor for actors and Backstage Expert

Your audition song is like a job interview.
“The job of your audition song is to make you look amazing. In an audition context, a song is an interview tool; it needs to be tailored around your voice and personality to show you off to your best advantage. If you feel empowered to make informed decisions about your repertoire, you will love performing it, and that always shows.

“The composer of your song selected an original key for the piece that they wrote, but you should ask yourself if the song is in the right key for you. I’m sure most of you know that sheet music is available and transposable online, so if you love the piece but it doesn’t feel like it’s sitting right in your voice, transposition may be a good option. Many times, even a half-step up or down can make all the difference in the world.” —Andrew Byrne, voice teacher and Backstage Expert

You need to know the process front to back.
“When your name is called, walk into the room with confidence. Have your organized music binder under your arm and head directly over to the accompanist. Give brief but specific instructions to the accompanist regarding tempo and any other notes you may have in order to have him or her play the very best for you. Walk into the center of the room in front of the panel, and should they ask you what you are singing, state the name of the song and then start with no delay or apology. As I mention above, trust in the power of the song’s words (and yourself as a singer). Stillness is your friend here. Hands down by your side. You are not stiff by any means, but instead presenting a clean, crisp image. Keep your eyes open and sing over the heads of the panel instead of looking them directly in the eyes. Once your song has ended, immediately thank the panel and start out the door, not forgetting to collect your book from the accompanist.” —Duncan Stewart, CSA casting director + owner/partner of Stewart/Whitley in New York City

What you do before you get into the room is more crucial.
“The night before your audition, make a list of the things you’ll do and how long each will take from the moment you wake until the moment you leave. For instance:

  • 8:00–8:30 stretch and workout
  • 8:30–8:45 shower and shave
  • 8:45–9:15 light breakfast
  • 9:15–9:30 vocal warmup
  • 9:30–9:45 get dressed
  • 9:45–10:30 travel to audition
  • 11:00 audition time!” —Philip Hernández

Check out Backstage’s theater audition listings!

Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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