Choose Your Own Audition Adventure

These step-by-step scenarios provide a glimpse into a variety of audition situations and can help with preparation for pounding the pavement in the Big Apple. 

This article was originally published in Classical Singer magazine. To subscribe to the print magazine, go to www.csmusic.info/subscribe.

 

What is a typical audition day like when you live in New York City? When you travel in from out of town? How does an opera audition experience compare to musical theatre auditions? Choosing where to live and how to move forward with a career, especially after completing one’s studies, is difficult. These oft-experienced situations will help you decide what is right for you. 

 

Audition Day: Opera, New York City Resident 

Wake up in your own home. 

Begin lip trills and warming up with a straw—your roommate got home at 2:00 a.m. and you don’t want to wake them, and your neighbors complain sometimes if you sing early. (NYC’s noise code dictates quiet hours from 10:00 p.m.-7:00 a.m., classifying noise into categories from Construction to Motor Vehicles & Motorcycles. Singing full volume opera falls under the Common Courtesy designation. The code dictates that “musical instruments should be used at a reasonable volume to avoid disturbing neighbors, especially at night and in the early morning.” During business hours, you are free to conduct your business.) 

Prepare for a professional appearance, selecting fabrics that won’t wrinkle on the subway. 

Leave early enough to account for train delays. 

Arrive at the studio with just enough time before your appointment. Realize you have been to this studio more than your apartment in the last week. Use the restroom, change shoes, and make sure that you are checked in for your audition. 

Exchange pleasantries and engage with colleagues. Delightedly hug friends you haven’t seen in a while and friends you just saw yesterday. Check smart watch for heart rate to see if you are experiencing average anxiety levels or audition anxiety. 

Ignore gossip around you, and if the conversation turns to someone else needing validation that they selected the correct five arias, say, “I’m sure you’re singing the best choices for you.” Engross yourself in your own binder. 

Embrace the summer program colleague you haven’t seen recently whose positive vibes make you feel great. Congratulate them on how they sounded in the room and make plans to catch up while they are in town. 

Go in and sing, hoping that you show yourself as your best self and not as the disastrous ball of anxiety you feel like at this moment. 

Wait while they look over your rep list, trying to make your smile look natural and not reflect the fear that they may not hear a second piece. 

(A) Curse, inwardly, at the choice they make. Sing it worse than the first aria because your lack of preparation on that piece makes you tighter and more nervous. Try to “act,” but appear more wooden and insincere. Forget the words. 

(B) Rejoice, inwardly, at the choice they make. Sing it better than the first aria because the nerves have loosened. Act better than Meryl Streep. 

(A) Say thank you. Leave, hug friends, change shoes again, and book it out of the studio. 

(B) Express delight at being asked to sing a third piece. Respond to their questions about your schedule with honesty and humor. Graciously thank them for a positive audition experience. Leave, hug friends, change shoes again, and leisurely head out of the studio. 

(A) Go home or to work for the day. Try not to cry on the subway. Remember that even a failed audition is a learning experience and accept that not every time is going to be a win. Share your feelings of failure with those closest to you. 

(B) Go home or to work for the day. Smile in public. Remember that they may not hire you, but you sang well. Share your feelings of success with those closest to you. 

 

Audition Day: Opera, Traveling In from Out of Town 

Wake up on the fold-out sofa of your friend’s apartment with their cat staring at you inches from your face. 

Quietly prepare breakfast in someone else’s kitchen. Tentatively begin lip trills and warming up with a straw as one of their roommates is in the Met Chorus and last night it was a Wagner opera. 

Prepare for a professional appearance. Go over Google maps and a subway map in detail. 

Exit their apartment, walk four blocks in the wrong direction. Turn around, walking faster. Have the true New York experience of the subway doors slamming in your face. Sigh with relief that you left much earlier than needed. 

Arrive at the studio with plenty of time and check into the warm-up room you reserved. Use the restroom, change shoes, and make sure that you are checked in for your audition. 

Exchange pleasantries and engage with colleagues. Chuckle at your flight experiences and ask the person who flew in that morning on the 6:00 a.m. flight how they dealt with dryness. You may, after all, have to take that flight next time and the HumidiFlyer may make sleeping in your own bed preferable to the medieval torture device from IKEA you slept on last night. 

Ignore gossip around you, and if the conversation turns to someone else commenting on the singer in the room, say, “We all have good and bad days.” Engross yourself in your own binder. 

Distance yourself politely from the colleague you met at a summer program whose anxiety manifests as constant complaining or subtle attempts to make you or others feel bad about themselves. 

Go in and sing, hoping that you show yourself as your best self and not as the slightly dry, tired version of yourself you feel like at this moment. 

Wait while they look over your rep list, trying to make your smile look natural and not reflect that you stayed up too late catching up with your friend and you may be having an allergic reaction to their cat. 

(A) Curse, inwardly, at the choice they make. Sing it worse than the first aria because your high notes sound more tired and thin than you know you are capable of singing. Limit your acting to focus on technical limitations. Forget the words. 

(B) Rejoice, inwardly, at the choice they make. Sing it better than the first aria because it is a piece you could sing in your sleep. 

(A) Say thank you. Leave, hug friends, change shoes again, and book it out of the studio. 

(B) Express delight at singing part of a third piece. Let them know where you are based. Graciously thank them for a positive audition experience. Leave, hug friends, change shoes again, and leisurely head out of the studio. 

(A) Go to the airport. Stop yourself from calculating every cent you spent getting here today and what you could have made if you’d stayed home. Remember that even a failed audition is a learning experience and accept that not every time is going to be a win. Share your feelings of failure with those closest to you. 

(B) Go to the airport. Smile in public. Remember that they may not hire you, but you sang well. Share your feelings of success with those closest to you. 

 

Audition Day: Equity Principal Audition (EPA) 

Wake up at 7:00 a.m. Roll out of bed, jump into sweatpants, and pick up your prepared bag containing music, headshot and résumé stapled together, audition outfit, hair/makeup tools, dance shoes, and a good novel. 

Head to the subway. Momentarily panic that you forgot your headphones, but sigh with relief that they are in your pocket. 

Arrive at the studio and head to the holding room. Ask where the end of the union line is and sit down on the floor at the end of the snaking line. 

Enjoy your book for an hour. Wear headphones to avoid strange conversations with overcaffeinated actors. 

When the monitor begins the calls, have your union card ready to show. Exchange remarks about how quickly the online appointments disappear, necessitating early arrival. 

Tell the monitor what time you’d like. (If you are non-union, the monitor will announce based on the capacity of the day’s call whether you will be seen at all. Equity membership candidates may sign up on the list with Equity members; non-union sign up after all union members and Equity members have signed up.) 

Go get coffee, breakfast, head to a warm-up room or, as many singers do, sing to yourself in the subway stairs or on a less crowded sidewalk. 

Return early just in case. Check in half an hour before your appointment time. 

Get in line when your name is called. Quietly review your 32 bars or short selection in your head. 

Brightly greet the people in the room and give your music to the pianist, giving the tempo with a brief conducting pattern. 

Sing for approximately one minute. Know by the way they say thank you if you will get a callback or if you’re not the right fit for their production. In most cases, feel like your time and talent were valued. In some cases, feel like you should have stayed in bed. Hear about the audition later that day or a few days later about a callback. 

 

Audition Day: Open Call, or “Cattle Call” 

Wake up as early as humanly possible for you. Arrive to the building where the studio is by 6:30 a.m. The building will not open for another hour. There are already 18 people in line ahead of you and four of them are dressed for the audition and fully made up. 

Ask the person behind you to hold your place in line so you can run to a coffee shop. Offer to pick them up a coffee and make a new friend. 

Enter the building and enjoy the quiet space with the other early arrivals. Wear headphones to avoid vocally exhausting talking.

 

Become overheated when people continue to arrive. Cheerfully help the monitor open the studio windows. 

When the monitor arrives, sign up in a numbered block, not a time block. Use headphones to block out the increasingly loud talking as later arrivals sign up and chat with friends. 

Get in line when your name is called. Mentally prepare your 16 bars. 

Brightly greet the people in the room and give your music to the pianist, giving the tempo with a brief conducting pattern. 

Sing for approximately 30 seconds. Be prepared to stay and dance and possibly read sides in the room or wait for a callback email. 

 

Audition experiences vary, and how you feel based on sleep, anxiety, and preparedness can influence your audition day. Not every audition will be successful or your best—you can use those variations to better improve your personal experiences over time. When you’re auditioning regularly, patterns will emerge for what yields a successful audition: time of day to request or arrive, whether talking to others helps or harms your mental state, and what you feel comfortable wearing or even how much coffee is a good idea before you sing. 

Give yourself time, trial-and-error experiments and, most importantly, positive self-talk before and after every audition. 

Joanie Brittingham

Joanie Brittingham is a soprano and writer living in New York City. She can be reached at joaniebrittingham@gmail.com. Visit her blog, Cure for the Common Crazy, at commoncrazy.blogspot.com or see her column, Big Apple Sauce, on the arts scene of New York, at the website JuicyHeads.com.