Several posts ago I covered tips for choosing monologues, so it is only fitting that I also talk about choosing songs for musical theatre auditions. Here are some tips to help you make wise decisions when selecting and preparing material for musical theatre auditions.
College application season is upon us and college auditions will begin in a few months for kids who have decided to pursue a degree in theatre. For many kids (and parents) choosing whether or not to pursue theatre in college is an agonizing choice that can cause headaches and conflict. For five years I ran a high school theatre program and coached and counseled many students and their families through the process of deciding.
I will start by telling you what I told all of my students contemplating the study of theatre and the pursuit of a professional career in the theatre. If there is anything else you see yourself doing that will make you happy and that you find fulfilling do it. Being a theatre professional is hard, really hard, and being a performer is the hardest of all. The beautiful thing about theatre is that you can do it for fun almost anywhere you land. Do not take the choice to study theatre lightly, make sure it is the right choice.
That being said, if you are like me, then there isn’t anything else, I always new that I needed to perform. Though I started my college career in music, I always new I wanted to be an artist and nothing else has ever been enough for me. If this is you, then studying theatre is the right choice. I was lucky, my parents were very supportive of my desire to study music and theatre and at no point did they try to tell me to study anything else (or even to double major). However, I know that is not always the case.
Here is what I wish parents understood about studying theatre in college. It is hard, it is a lot of work, and it teaches your kids skills that are not only applicable to other career paths, but that may also give them an advantage in finding a job outside the theatre when they graduate. Unless you choose a highly specialized degree, a college degree today is what a high school diploma was thirty years ago. You need one for entry-level positions that have nothing to do with what you studied. Because of this, your kid should spend college exploring what fascinates them. I know that most parents who will read this are already of the same opinion about this, but maybe my words here will help a student talk to their parents about why studying theatre isn’t such a bad idea.
Students, though I wish every one of your parents understood and would let you study your passion, but the reality is that isn’t the case. So here is what I suggest to you, double major. Find something that is parent approved that you don’t hate at a school that also offers a theatre program. Honestly, the more you know of the world the better artist you become, so studying psychology or biology and theatre isn’t such a bad idea. The other option is scholarship. If you get a full ride somewhere but in order to use the scholarship you have to study theatre, I think the conversation may change.
“You will hear ten no’s for every one yes,” everyone says it, yet somehow, many performers forget it. When you go into an audition, it’s simply more likely that you won’t get cast. I hear from a lot of frustrated and discouraged performers, especially young performers, who don’t understand how they possibly could not have been cast. As a director, I see a lot of talented performers (and a lot of not so talented performers) who don’t get cast because of things that are out of their control. So, this post is designed to illuminate some of the possible reasons why you didn’t get the callback or the part.
You didn’t get a callback, here are some possible reasons why:
1. You are not the right age, height, or weight, or you don’t have the look that the director or producer has envisioned for the show.
This is so very common and unfortunately, there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it. So don’t dwell on it, move on to the next audition. Casting is incredibly subjective and often whether or not you get the callback is totally out of your hands. This is especially hard for teenage performers, as often they are too old to play kids but too young to play adults, which leads to a lot of “no” at a time when “no” is hard to hear. Do your research, make sure you are right for the show, it isn’t enough to want to be in the show, you have to make sure there is a part in the show that you can play.
2. You bombed your audition.
We’ve all been there. Sometimes it just doesn’t go well. Instead of dwelling on it, or blaming the production team for your own shortcomings, look at why it didn’t go well so it can go better next time.
3.Your talents don’t match up with what is needed for the show.
You might be an amazing actor, but you can’t sing, that makes it hard to get cast in a musical. Or the show requires tap dancing and you have two left feet. Make sure that you have what they are looking for before you go in for the audition, or if you think you do, but don’t, don’t give up, look for opportunities that better align with your talents.
4.You have a bad reputation.
It is very possible that you have a reputation for being difficult to work with, or that a friend of someone on the team doesn’t like you, or that they’ve “heard things about you.” Whether or not what they’ve heard is true, it can mean you won’t get a callback. In order to keep this from happening, you need to be the actor that everyone wants to work with. You need to always be gracious, humble, kind, and prepared. Don’t give anyone a reason to think they don’t want to work with you. I see this so often and with very talented performers. It doesn’t matter how good you are, I don’t want to work with difficult actors. So, take a good long look at your behavior and fix it! If you are not sure, ask around, chances are if you have a reputation it will only take talking to a few people to find that out.
5.You are just not good enough.
This is really hard to think about, and even harder to talk about, but the reality is that there are performers out there who really do not have the talent and/or training to get cast or to be called back. While I never want to encourage someone to give up, you do have to take a long, hard look at your own talent and training. If you want to be a performer, you have to invest in yourself. While you might be able to get a part in the back of the chorus at your local church because you love theatre and want to participate, as the competition gets tougher you need to make sure you have the training to take it to the next level. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen performers come in for auditions because they “love the show” who have never performed and can’t sing a note. You have to get to class. Take acting class (and singing and dance class if you want to do musicals). It isn’t enough to love theatre, or for your mom to tell you that you sing well, you have to put in the work if you want to get cast.
So, you got the callback, but you didn’t get cast…
Remember, you did what you were supposed to do, getting to callbacks is really the goal, beyond that there are so many factors that are out of your control, don’t get discouraged! But here are some reasons why they gave the part to someone else:
1. They decided to go with a different look.
You could be the best one in the room, but if the person they are casting to play your mother couldn’t possibly be your mother they will go with someone else. If you are taller than the only person who can play the part that is supposed to be your love interest and they want the character to be shorter, you are not going to get the part. This is the business, so get over it. It will happen to everyone at some point and so you can’t waste your energy getting upset about it. You can only be the best version of yourself, you can’t be someone else, so stop trying.
2. They already had someone in mind for the part.
People like to work with their friends and with people they know are capable. Sometimes that means that no matter how hard you try, the part is going to go to someone who has worked with the company before. Some companies will even pre-cast and still call people back for a role to hide that they have pre-cast the part. It’s not fair, but it is the way it is. The only thing you can do is go in there and show how much better you are.
3. Someone else did a better job at the callback.
Whether or not you agree with the casting choice, the truth is, in the eyes of the casting team, the person that got the part is the person who did the best at the callback. The only way to deal with this is to be prepared. Read the play before the callback (you should have read it before the audition), then read it ten more times. Know the character you are called back for really well, or characters that you might . Be familiar with the scenes that you might be asked to read. When you get the materials for callbacks, work on it, use any tools you have as an actor to give a great performance. Doing well at a callback is totally different than doing well at an audition where you prepare material. You have to practice callbacks as much as auditions so that you can go in and nail it. Directors want to see you make smart choices that make sense for the character, they don’t just want to hear you read the lines.
4. You have a bad reputation.
This can come into play at any time during the casting process. See #4 above and FIX IT!
Auditions are hard, they are subjective, and you are going to be told “no thank you” far more often than you are told yes. But, the more you audition, the better you will be at it. It is also very possible that a director will see you audition for a show where there is no part for you, but think you are fabulous and remember you the next time you audition! So, focus on the things you can control, your training and your reputation, and let go of the things that are out of your hands. If you are consistently getting to callbacks but not getting cast, maybe it is time to hire a coach or take an acting class. If you are getting through the first round of musical theatre auditions and getting cut at the dance call, then it is time to take dance class. Do what you can to be the best version of you, and remember, you will hear "no" far more than you hear "yes." If you can’t handle the rejection, then maybe it is time to get out of the business...
The single most common question I hear from students and friends in the theatre is “I can’t find a monologue, will you help me?” This plea has inspired me to start a blog that addresses this conundrum and many others that face theatre students and practitioners.
I will begin with the first question, “how do I find a monologue?” Now, there is no simple answer. I wish there were a magic page on the Internet on which you could simply type the name of the play, the character you want to audition for, and it would magically spit out the perfect monologue (that no one else has). However, this magical panacea does not exist, and we all know if it did, that it would simply lead to twelve people doing whatever monologue you were given. In order to try and help struggling auditioners demystify the process of picking material for auditions, here are my tips for selecting monologues:
1. Start with the play. When approaching any audition, you should actually read the play. Shocking I know! There is simply no way to pick an appropriate monologue without knowing what it is you are auditioning for. If you are not willing to do this, why are you taking the time to audition in the first place? If you can find the play, use what you can, a synopsis, YouTube, etc. Getting as much information as you can about the play will help you pick the right piece.
While you are reading, pay attention to the characters and decide which, if any, of them you would be considered for. This is ery important and is a time when you really need to be honest with yourself. If I am 5’2” with brown eyes and a character is described as 5’10” with blue eyes, chances are I will not be considered for that part…be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and choose the parts you will actually be cast in!
Now that you have a list of possible roles, look at those characters and think about who they are and how you would describe them. With this list in hand, you can now start looking for a monologue.
2. The task now is to find a monologue that embodies some of the things about the character or characters you are auditioning for. You are not going to find something that is exactly like the character, but you can find something that is similar in style, feeling, and tone. If the play is comedic and the character is quirky, you want something that is comedic and quirky. If the play is a classical dramatic piece you want a classical dramatic monologue. Think about what the director needs to see to prove that you can play the part.
3. Get reading! The only way you are going to find good monologues is to read, a lot, all the time. Read plays, read monologue books, go see theatre, watch theatre on film, etc. This has to start before you are actually looking for a monologue. The more you read and see the bigger your frame of reference will be. I know so many performers who simply get on the Internet and Google “comedic monologue” and then pick one of the ten terrible Internet monologues that everyone else chooses, and then wonders why they were not called back. Hearing the same bad monologue over and over is irritating, and no matter how well you do the “kissing the bag boy” monologue, I’ve already discounted you as a lazy actor. Don’t use the Internet to find your monologue. You can absolutely use it as a tool, for example, instead of looking for the monologue, look for plays. Try searching for “comedic plays with quirky female characters.” You should be able to get the titles of several plays that you can then read!
4. Once you have found a couple of plays that fit your criteria, choose two monologues that you like and that you think fit and prepare them. I always suggest working on two because at some point you will figure out which one is the better choice.
5. Be prepared, be over prepared, be so prepared that you could perform the monologue in a hurricane, but don’t be rigid. Make sure that you are able to be flexible in your delivery, so if the director asks you to do it again in a different way you can.
You will find that if you start reading and seeing more plays this process will become easier. The more theatre that you have in brain the easier it becomes to make a connection between the play you are auditioning for and material that is appropriate for the audition. Remember, there is no magic bullet. There is no perfect monologue that is just waiting for you on Google. It takes time and effort to find the right monologue, and auditioning is 2/3 of the work of an actor. The best way to increase your rate of success is to improve your ability to connect characters to audition materials and to understand which roles you are actually right for, not which role you really want to play.
A Theatrical Prescription: A blog that investigates all of those questions you have about acting, auditioning, and the American theatre for which you never know where to find an answer.
Dr. Amy Osatinski
Dr. Amy is a Theatre scholar, teacher, director, designer, and performer. She is an expert in theatre and musical theatre and is skilled in helping performers put their best foot forward. Dr. Amy has taught, directed and performed in many places from educational, to community, to professional theatre and has a passion for creating theatre that delights and instructs. Dr. Amy holds a PhD. in Theatre from the University of Colorado Boulder and an MA in Education from the University of Colorado Denver. Dr. Amy currently teaches in the Department of Theatre at the University of Northern Iowa