Friends! Singers! Countrymen! Lend me your ears.
Well, in this case, your eyes. I don’t know if you’ve heard (I know you’ve heard), but Broadway is BACK! After 18 months in limbo, the lights of the Great White Way begin to burn again. Slowly but surely, September has brought in a slew of re-openings. Broadway blockbusters Hamilton, Wicked, The Lion King and Chicago heralded in a rebirth of Broadway’s fall season on September 14th. As Broadway stretches and rubs its sleepy eyes, a major life force of New York City is awakened. As I walked through midtown Manhattan that evening, the energy was palpable. Long lines outside of theaters buzzed with excitement and, dare I say, hope. It’s exciting! More shows will continue to open (or re-open as it were) over the coming months.
Is it the same as before the shutdown? Well, as ‘Mother’ in Ragtime very clearly stated/belted, “You Can Never Go Back to Before.” New policies and safety precautions are in effect for cast and crew as well as audience members. I could delve far deeper into what the “new” Broadway will look and feel like, but that’s another article for another time. For now, we REJOICE! If Broadway serves as a beacon for musical theatre around the world, then it bares amplifying that it is equally exciting to see regional and community theatre welcome audiences home. I certainly don’t have to tell YOU that performers are drooling to get back on stage. And the doorway to that stage is our old pal, and necessary evil- AUDITIONS!!!! LIVE IN-PERSON AUDITIONS!
Dusting off your audition skills can feel daunting. There’s a lot to consider. Preparation, song selection, appropriate 16-32 bar cuts, vocal technique, not to mention throwing on your confidence cape. With all these boxes to check, it is more important than ever to remember that the key to a successful audition experience is STORYTELLING. I often remind my students, that when it comes to booking the gig, there is no shortage of fabulous singers. In a world where everyone can SANG, not all will tell a flushed out and engaging story. That’s where your skills come in to play. And so, I present to you an invaluable tool that you should be using in the moment before you begin to sing.
After you’ve exchanged niceties with the “people in the room” you have a moment to center yourself before opening your lungs and heart. In that moment we drop our focus to the floor, close our eyes and take 3 very deep breaths. With each breath we quietly ask ourselves 3 vital questions.
Breath/Question #1- WHO AM I TALKING TO?
Yes, we must think of our lyrics as a conversation with another person. Talking.
You: But Ben, I’m obviously talking to myself. There’s no one else there! You’re nuts.
Ben: Rude. And maybe true. 😉 But choosing to introspect is not an active choice in storytelling. It doesn’t play well.
Assigning a person to converse within your piece provides you/your character context and subtext. Do you like this person? Love this person? Hate this person? Suspect this person? Need this person? This is where we can draw from our own experiences to get us in the right headspace. Family members, teachers, romantic partners, exes are usually strong subjects to play to. Or, and this is the fun part of being an actor, you can just make it up. It is important to remember that the “who” you are addressing does NOT (and often should not) be characters from the piece that the musical is from. For example, very few of us know what it is like to be a poor provincial French gal falling in love with a giant gruesome beast in a lonely castle. But we do know what it is to address people who scare or intrigue us. Use it.
Breath/Question #2- WHAT DO I WANT FROM THEM?
NEWSFLASH! As human beings we go through life trying to make choices that will get our wants and needs met. And we have all kinds of needs. We need people to love us. We need people to leave us alone. Sometimes we want to hurt or shame others. We want apologies and affirmations. Hey, we’re just humans after all. The fundamental instinct of the human experience is to WANT. Knowing what you want gives you the perfect launching pad to ask our 3rd and most interesting and active question.
Breath/Question #3- HOW AM I GOING TO GET WHAT I WANT?
Manipulation feels like a dirty word. But alas, we are all doing it all the time. If one tactic doesn’t work to get our needs or wants met, we try another. Imagine you want to borrow the car from Mom. You ask. Mom says “no.” Hmmm, maybe if I butter her up. We try again, adding that she looks absolutely lovely today. Again, “no.” Now we’re mad, maybe if we throw a tantrum she’ll cave! So, we raise our voice and stomp our feet. And so on and so forth. I want you to find actions to play in each phrase of your song. Think of it in terms of verbs or “to ____” statements. “To flatter,” “to punish,” “to dazzle,” “to seduce,” “to entertain,” “to destroy,” to embrace,” “to protect,” etc. Go ahead, write your verbs down. Go on the ride.
If we truthfully answer each of these questions, we will be set up to tell a story that has impact! Not to mention, it will take you out of your insecure actor brain and allow you to get lost in your character work. And one more thing, TAKE YOUR TIME! Breath nice and slow.The time in the audition room is yours, ain’t no-one gonna be mad at you for taking YOUR MOMENT. Especially if it results in a memorable performance. And I assure you, my friends, this system is a certified winner in that department. After the questions have been answered we lift our head and are immediately immersed in the world of our creation. We arrive in the story. We are storytellers!
Try playing with different answers to these questions within your piece and see what feels best and most honest. Above all, have fun with it. We didn’t wade through 18 months of ring light self-tapes and zoom screens not to live our best artistic lives IN PERSON! Now get back out there, audition and get on stage where you belong.