Crossover Corner : In the Room Where it Happens

Get an inside view of what casting directors are actually wanting from auditionees.

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

Recently a student of mine had the opportunity to do an internship with one of the premier casting companies in New York City. This student is a senior graduating with a BFA in music theatre and training to be a performer. I couldn’t resist the urge to find out what this student had learned while in the room where it happens, and I’ve summarized our discussion in the following article. 

 

Casting Process 

When asked about the casting process, this intern responded that every audition is filmed so that everyone on the team can watch it and have a say. Some performers freak out if one of the lead casting directors is absent during their audition, leaving the associates and assistants as the only ones in the room. But this doesn’t mean that you won’t get cast or your audition wasn’t important. It is a team effort, and all the casting directors will see your audition and give their input and advice in the casting process. Everyone has a voice, including the monitors and accompanists. 

The intern also noticed that everyone in the room is open and warmhearted. Even if they don’t know you from previous auditions, it is typically a very friendly environment. They genuinely want you to succeed and do well. Every audition is open ears, open mind, and open heart from the casting company. They are kind and receptive to everyone. 

Some performers overthink everything and overanalyze the facial expressions and body movements of those sitting behind the table and interpret those as signs that they had a terrible audition. Performers are often afraid of the casting company, but there is literally nothing to be afraid of at all. 

 

Vocal Technique 

According to this intern, casting directors very rarely comment on vocal technique because they don’t know anything about it. They can hear those who have a vocal ease and can tell if the material is easy for the singer, but they are not listening to vocal technique and are not voice critics. They are looking at the whole package and for people who can affect them with the material that they are presenting. 

If you crack on one note, the casting directors do not care. They understand that auditions are not always ideal circumstances. It may be early in the morning or you may have waited in a hallway or dance studio for several hours before coming into the room to sing. 

If you must stop and start over, it is not the end of the world. You’re not blacklisted if you make a mistake during an audition. Also, casting directors may remember that you had a great audition a year ago. It is very rarely strictly about what happens in the room at that one, current moment. 

 

Authenticity Is Key 

One of the most important things this intern learned is to genuinely be yourself. The casting directors want to see someone relaxed and not too eager but with their walls down, so they really get to know them. Your interactions with them while in the room are important. They are human too—and the more you interact with them as such, the more they will get to know you and then know how and when to cast you. 

Often as performers we are told that we must always find the “win” and the positivity in the material, but not every song is written that way or for the purpose of telling the positive part of the story. If someone can be vulnerable and truthful to a somewhat darker moment of a story, then that can really move people, even in an audition. Storytelling is important but it doesn’t always have to be positive or likeable, just relatable. Some performers are told that certain songs are too aggressive or sad to bring into an audition—but if you can sell it and it affects people, then you are going to be successful. 

Find yourself in your material. If you act a certain way while meeting and talking to the casting directors but then present something totally different in your material, the casting directors don’t know who you are. Take away all the extra fluff you do to try to show that you are really feeling something and just be yourself and be vulnerable. Those who are most successful are those who don’t hold anything back but don’t put on anything extra. They present the material with vulnerability and an “all-in” commitment. 

 

What about Previous Experience? 

The intern noticed that making sure you have summer stock jobs before you finish your BFA is not important. Casting directors are very open to hiring new people. If you have what it takes and bring in “the goods,” then they won’t hesitate in calling you back even if you have no previous experience. Conversely, there may be others who come in with great summer stock experience but it doesn’t mean that they will be considered over someone else who doesn’t have the same experience. They are looking at you and what you are bringing to the material. 

 

What to Wear? 

The intern noted that you will want to look presentable at your audition. Don’t wear workout clothes. You don’t need to dress for the role. But you should look like you care. 

Women generally come in more done up than men—but if you come in too dressed up and glamorous, it can put everyone on edge a bit because they might wonder what you are trying to prove or hide. Again, just be yourself.

This intern stressed the importance of wearing what is comfortable. Especially shoes! They are not looking at your shoes, so no need to wear “memorable” ones. Wear comfortable shoes that you can perform well in. 

Don’t wear anything that you are self-conscious about. Don’t wear anything that makes you feel restricted in any way or that will get in the way of your performance. 

The casting directors want to get to know you, and if you are wearing something you don’t normally wear, they can see that as you move and interact with them. Wear something that is yours and what you would normally wear. Come in dressed as yourself. They can tell your type and who you are and what you would be good at regardless of what you are wearing. 

 

Your Online Presence 

Another thing that surprised this intern was how often the casting directors used social media to gather information about performers—not to gather dirt, but just to get to know them. You should keep a social media presence. A personal professional website is great, but at the very least have an Instagram account. And be judicious in what you post: share things that will help you be known in the way that you want to be known.

 

Lastly, this intern said that they just can’t stress enough to be yourself and relax. Take comfort in the fact that there is room in this industry for everyone, and everyone has a shot. 

Christy Turnbow

  Christy Turnbow is currently teaching at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and has taught at Montclair State University, Penn State University, and Brigham Young University. She earned an MFA in musical theater voice teaching from Penn State University and a BM from Brigham Young University in vocal performance and pedagogy. She has been seen in leading roles in regional music theatre productions and national tours.