7 Theater Audition Tricks Every Actor Should Know

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Light those lights, Broadway baby. This week at Backstage, it’s all about getting you to the Great White Way with our guide for How to Get Cast on Broadway. It is, unsurprisingly, extensive, so for one-stop shop audition advice, we touched base with seven Backstage Experts about what to do—and what not to do—before, during, and after theater auditions.

The accompanist can make—or break—you.
“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 key to success is, in fact, your key.
“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

It’s also OK to say ‘no’ to an audition.
“Learn to say no. It’s not easy to turn down work or an audition. However, if your career is at a point where it’s realistic to go after principal roles, saying no to smaller gigs can be a powerful tool. You have to make space for what you want. Just be sure to know what you’re refusing, because you’re not going to win a Tony Award if you can’t afford to pay rent and eat.” —Bret Shuford, NYC-based actor, the Broadway Life Coach, and Backstage Expert

There is no wiggle room with monologues.
“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

Every second in the room is precious.
“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/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 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, Backstage Expert

Write in your audition diary.
“I recommend that you create an ‘Audition Diary,’ listing as much information as is available, such as:

  • The time, date and place of your audition.
  • The show you are auditioning for.
  • The role you are auditioning for.
  • What you prepared.
  • Who was present at the audition.
  • Who are the creatives: producers, director, etc.
  • What you wore.
  • What headshot you used.
  • Notes on how you felt the audition went.

“Saving this info in a searchable format will be most helpful. Eventually you will be meeting some of the same casting directors and creatives, and if you save this information in a searchable format then it will be much easier to see when you last met these people and for what.” —John Essay, theatrical manager and producer, founder of Essay Management, and Backstage Expert

Two words you should never say:
“Don’t apologize. Ever. For anything.” —Risa Bramon Garcia, co-owner of BGB Studio for actors in Los Angeles and Backstage Expert

Put these tips to use: check out Backstage's theater audition listings!