Well, it’s here. Audition season.
I don’t know about you, but no one ever really taught me how to audition. Everyone had big opinions for me about what I should look like and what arias I should (and shouldn’t) present, but once I was in front of a panel, I felt lost. Sometimes an audition would go well and sometimes it wouldn’t, but no matter what, I’d find myself replaying the audition over and over, trying to figure out what the panel was thinking.
I started analyzing my auditions before I’d even left the room. Halfway through “Sempre libera” I’d be wondering if they liked my “É strano,” which didn’t bode well for the second half. It just about drove me crazy, and it certainly didn’t help my performance. I needed them to like me so badly.
I needed to shift my relationship with auditioning.
Our deep need for approval is natural, and it’s encouraged by the young artist circuit. As important as YAPs are for career development, they don’t always encourage young artists to be themselves. There is an unspoken implication that you have to be able to “do it all” in order to be chosen. It makes sense; young artists are often needed to sing and cover a variety of roles in a season. But without proper guidance, an attempt at versatility can quickly turn into conformity. When I was auditioning in the early 2010s, it was rare to see a woman in anything but a jewel-toned wrap dress and nude pantyhose, hair half up. It’s funny now, but looking back, how were any of us supposed to demonstrate our unique artistry when we all looked identical? Well-meaning advice inadvertently made the halls of Opera America look like a casting call for The Stepford Wives. And it doesn’t just happen with what we wear. It’s about what we sing and how we sing it, too.
Young artist programs often list requirements for repertoire; you must have five languages, you must have a Mozart, you can’t sing Menotti, etc. When you eventually get off the YAP merry-go-round, those repertoire requirements (mostly) go away, but that pressure to “do it all” doesn’t. We want to work, so we try to cast a wide net, sometimes at the expense of our time and talents. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung for something I was lukewarm about, both vocally and dramatically. I’d put together an aria for something not-quite-right, and then leave the audition room feeling just as “meh” as the panel probably did. When we try to make ourselves fit into a box, we lose what makes us special.
What goes on in the minds of those on the other side of the table is mysterious and totally subjective. Opinions, like notes in a Rossini score, are endless. And just like coloratura, if you try to force an opinion, it’ll backfire. No matter what you do, you can’t control what the panel thinks. Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay! There are plenty who will. I discovered that how I responded to an audition had a lot to do with how authentic I was in the room. When I started singing what I wanted, the way I wanted to sing it, using my unique understanding of my character, I stepped into my own artistry in a big way. I started enjoying myself, and singing in a way that made me feel proud. I can’t tell you that I miraculously started booking every job, but I can tell you that I felt better before, during, and after my auditions.
Each of us possesses our own unique brand of artistry, and ultimately, that’s what every panel wants to see. Auditioning got better for me when I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and started showing them who I was. I stopped auditioning for things I actively didn’t want to sing, and talked with my agent about the things I did. My audition list consists of only music that I love to sing. I present it in a way that feels authentic to me and my personal understanding of a character. I wear a bright red jumpsuit and snakeskin heels, and you can often see my tattoos. I smile big and crack jokes. I’m as authentically me as I can possibly be.
It takes guts to share who you are as an artist and as a human being, but if you’re reading this, I already know you’re brave. So, take a deep breath, a big gulp of coconut water, and show up to your audition as yourself.