Auditions: A Glossary

Audition Glossary

Some of what follows may seem basic and obvious, but when you’re just starting out, nothing is obvious!  Many thanks to my illustrious friend and colleague, Warren Freeman, Voice Prof at Catholic University in DC.  Be sure to click the links for more info!

accompanist: a professional piano player hired by the theatre to “sight-read” your sheet music. This means they may have never seen your music before and are relying on you to give them clean, legible sheet music and tell them enough information to help you have the best audition possible. Be very very VERY nice to them, because they work hard and have to deal with stressed-out performers all day (and sometimes, they might even be the music director)!

Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, or just “Equity“): the union for professional actors and stage managers in the United States. Membership can be obtained a few different ways, usually by working at Equity theaters for a certain minimum number of weeks, or by getting a special contract with the theatre that gives the actor membership right away. Equity helps their members in many ways: for instance, they require safe working conditions and minimum wages for each kind of theatre. But once you take your Equity card, you are no longer allowed to perform in or stage-manage a non-union show.

book (or audition book): a three-ring binder of music that you bring with you into the audition room in case they ask for a second song. Each song in your book MUST be memorized, polished and performance-ready! Ideally, it should be organized by genre and have a list of your songs at the front so you can quickly access the one you want.

breakdown: a list of roles available in the show, including a basic description of each character.

bring sheet music“: photocopied or print-at-home music of the song you want to sing, organized in your audition book and clearly marked with your cuts to make sight-reading as easy as possible on the accompanist. 

callback: if the casting team thinks you are right for a role, they’ll often ask you to return at a later date to sing and/or dance again. You may be asked to prepare another piece, or specific material for the role you’re being considered for. Sometimes the callback will be held later the same day, sometimes it will the next day, or it may be weeks or months away. Remember what you sang for your initial audition, and even what clothes you wore. It’s a good idea to present yourself in the same way you did at the audition, because it worked the first time or your wouldn’t have gotten a callback!

casting director: a person or team of people hired by the producers of a show to help them find the right actors for each role. There are several casting offices in New York City, and the associates at each one have their own specialties and styles of musical that they like to cast. Get to know them and what they expect from you! Take classes when they offer them at places like Actors’ Connection and One on One, and keep detailed notes about their preferences.

contract: the audition notice will contain some details about how much you’ll get paid and how long the show will run if you get the job. Equity contracts have specific rules regarding pay and working conditions which you can find on their website.

ensemble: a non-principal performer (sometimes also called “chorus”) who supports the story of the show. These roles may have “features,” which include featured solo singing, dancing, or acting parts. Sometimes the audition listing will indicate that the ensemble will be “as cast,” meaning that the director will use the performer in multiple roles to fill out the situation for each scene. Visit The Ensemblist website for stories about these hard-working performers on Broadway!

Equity Chorus Call (ECC): an audition, either for dancers or singers, in which groups of 20 or more performers are lined up at a time. Dancers usually learn the dance together and then present it in small groups, while singers usually go in one by one. Time is limited, so you probably won’t get to sing more than 16 bars. Non-Equity members may be allowed to audition after all Equity members have been seen.

Equity Membership Candidate (EMC): a program for actors working toward their Equity card that requires working at an Equity theatre and paying a small fee. This allows the actor a few of the benefits of full Equity membership, including priority over non-Equity members at auditions.

Equity Principal Audition (EPA): an audition for leading or featured roles in a show. Actors sign up for time slots at the beginning of the day and then return at their assigned time to sing a short song. If the audition isn’t too busy, you can show up without a time and wait for an opening. In my experience, it’s more likely that non-Equity will get to audition at an EPA than an ECC, but if the show is new or very popular, sometimes they won’t even have time for all of the Equity members.

future replacements only“: sometimes a show will already be cast even before the first posted audition notice. This is often because they’ve had a private workshop of the show and found people for the roles that they knew already or through agent submissions. In this case, they might be required by Equity to hold a call, and will indicate that all roles are cast and they’re seeking people for the future, or possible understudies only.

headshot and resume, stapled together“: The industry standard is an 8×10 color headshot with name at the bottom, stapled back-to-back with a one-page resume of theatrical credits and other pertinent information. Make sure you trim your resume to match the size of your headshot! Two staples is best, one in the center of each short edge. If you want to get fancy, use small circles of scotch tape in between the sheets on each corner for a smooth, staple-free look.  Or be really fancy - order your headshots printed on heavy paper so that you can print your resume in 8x10 format on the back.  Professional, easy.

lead sheet: a type of simple sheet music that only has a melody line with lyrics and chord symbols above it. Some pianists will be comfortable playing from a lead sheet, but many won’t, and several audition listings will even say “no lead sheets.” For best results, buy sheet music that has a written piano part AND the chord symbols above it.

monitor: a person either hired by the theatre or provided by Equity to streamline the audition process for the casting team. They sit at a table, usually in a “holding room” outside the audition room, and organize who will go into the room in what order. At an Equity audition, the monitor also makes sure that the theatre follows the rules provided by the union for each type of audition. These people pay attention to how actors behave, and if you act like a diva in the hallway, there’s a good chance the casting team will hear about it. So mind your manners at all times!

open call: an audition that everyone can attend, regardless of their union status. These can be the busiest of all auditions, so be patient and prepared to spend several hours in cramped conditions. This is why they’re sometimes known as “cattle calls.”

principal role: a leading or featured performer that only plays one role in the show, as opposed to “ensemble,” which can play many roles. Equity shows will often have separate auditions and contracts specifically for these principal roles.

required call: an audition that Equity requires the producers to hold before a new show opens, or on a regular basis for long-running shows. Certain shows, such as Broadway or national tours have these auditions even if there are no roles currently available. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, because casting directors say they often discover new talent at these required calls.

sides: a few pages of dialogue from the script or sheet music from the score given to actors so that the casting team can hear you read or sing parts of the role. Sometimes these are given to you on the day of the audition, and sometimes they will be emailed to you in advance of your callback. You don’t have to have them memorized, but it’s a good idea to be as “off-book” (memorized) as possible so you have the freedom to make acting choices and take adjustments from the casting team.

submissions: when a show is not required to have general auditions, sometimes they will request that you email or mail a headshot and resume along with a cover letter if you feel you are right for the role. If you have an agent, he or she may “submit” on your behalf, or you can “self-submit” directly to the casting director’s email or office.

transposition: changing the key of your sheet music. If an audition says “no transpositions,” it means that the pianist will not “sight-transpose,” or change the key on the fly for you. You CAN, however, change the key on musicnotes.com or sheetmusicdirect.com to match the key you want to sing in. Be aware that changing the key too much from the original may make the music look terrible or make the song sound really different. Use discretion, and make sure your music is printed in the key you want to sing it in!

typing may occur“: a “type” or a “type-out” is allowed at auditions where there is not enough time to hear every actor sing. The casting director will bring groups of people into the audition room and then send some away based on their headshot and/or physical type. Sometimes this will happen at a dance audition by asking each dancer to perform a basic step, such as a double pirouette or a time step.

What to prepare“: this section will contain instructions for the performer that the casting director uses to help you decide what to sing for the audition.

Break a leg!

Song Interpretation: An Overview

I know we spend a lot of time in our lessons on on the technical study of singing: vocal techniques, breathing techniques, support and physicality, enunciation..…etc etc etc.  It can sometimes feel in lessons, I am sure, that all you’re doing is learning technique, rather than living in this beautiful and odd art form/craft called musical theater that you love.

But remember:

Technique allows us to give a performance that is spontaneous and new every time.

This brings me to the technique of song interpretation.  Song interpretation is not feeling the emotion of the song and hoping your audience comes along for the ride.  Remember, we can’t play emotions.  It’s the audience that gets to feel all the feels when your performance soars beyond the mundane and predictable, and you do that by preparing: doing your homework and focusing on the techniques that support this art.  Preparation gives you freedom in performance!  Some of the questions below will be easier to answer as you gain knowledge (musicianship) and experience (acting or audition classes, shows).  But get into the habit of doing this work for every song.

Songs in musicals move the story to new places.  But we aren’t singing in a musical most of the time (except in our heads, of course!!)- we’re auditioning, singing by ourselves in a strange room to some people behind a table.  Auditions allow an artistic staff to see how we connect to material, relate to a partner, live as a character, and flex our creative muscles all while singing - this is a tall order and if we don’t have a plan for how to pull that off, the situation can be fraught.   We must inhabit our audition songs fully, both musically and dramatically.   If we’re armed with a plan, the audition seems less scary.

The following questions will help you get inside your song and make it your own. You can stick with the original awesome story of the song, or you can create details to make the song come alive in a unique way.  This work is appropriate for either approach.  But either way, the audience (auditioners, etc) will need to see you actually experience an honest moment with an imaginary scene partner, or other.  Sometimes, creating an original story for your song helps you get more specific.  Whatever you do, make sure your choices are strong!

This is not meant to be perfect.  This is meant to be a guide as you grow your repertoire.  Get used to doing it and it will get easier.  You will love the results.

Song Interpretation: The Worksheet

SONG INTERPRETATION WORKSHEET print it out here!

THE BASICS: Title, Composer, Lyricist

  1. Who wrote your song?  Who did they write it with?
  2. When did they write it?  What year, what’s it’s category? Golden Age, contemporary etc?
  3. Why did they write it?  Show? Movie? TV? Revue? Political statement?
  4. What is the show about? (briefly)
  5. Who is your character?  What happens to them in the show, very briefly?
  6. Any words or references you don’t understand?  Look them up!  Google is your friend.

YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION

What hit you the first time you heard this song?  A certain phrase? A section of the melody?  Write down what you experienced.  Keep these thoughts in the forefront as you do this work.

 

THE TEXT, or the lyric…..

Are any of the following put to use in your song?

  1. Metaphor
  2. Imagery
  3. Onomatopoeia
  4. Alliteration
  5. Rhyme

 

JUST THE FACTS:

Your answers to the following questions need to be based in fact - try not to be subjective. Yet….

  1. Who is this story about?  Who is the singer?  Don’t make it complicated, don’t use “I…” “This is a story about Eliza….”
  2. Where does the lyric take place?  Be objective.  “She just left Henry Higgins’ house and is in the street…..”
  3. Economic bracket? Schooling?  Age?  

GETTING PERSONAL - YOUR SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION -do not use the situation in the actual show:

Read the lyric over and over, then decide….

 

  1. Who are you, the singer?  Use the first person and be very specific.

 

 

  1. To whom are you speaking?  This person will become your focus.  Name this person; be sure the silent partner that you choose will provide you with conflict.   
  2. When is it?  
  3. What just happened?
  4. What is happening?
  5. What might happen?
  6. Where are you?  What is the world of the song?  Be specific.
  7. Where did you come from?
  8. Where are you now?
  9. Where might you be going?
  10. Why are you telling this story to this person? which leads us to……

WHAT DO YOU WANT:

  1. Objective: A strong “why” (a strong need or want) will always make your performance clearer (and this assignment easier to pull off!).
  2. Obstacle: what is preventing you from getting what you want?
  3. Change: what changes during the song?
  4. Beats:  Choose your verbs/tactics! Where are the beats in your song??  Assign a verb to each.  See Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus or any other resource on verbs for actors.
  5. Moment before:What happened right before you sing?  Is there dialogue? If so write it out.  (It should not be from the actual script - make it up!)
  6. Movement: Movement shouldn’t occur unless there is a need.  Your verbs will help you find the natural easy movement of your body.  Remember - there is strength in stillness.  

THE MUSIC Work on the musical connection to the best of your ability.  It gets easier….

The musical composition of a good musical theater song will feel like it’s coming from within the character - heartbeat, excitement, fear, love etc - and it will fully support the text.  There is a musical monologue of your subtext……

MUSICAL FORM  

How do the following inform the story and your character?

Play the song, listen to an OCR recording, have your accompanist record a practice track.  Then consider the following, making notes. How do these aspects of musical form support the/your story?

  1. Intro or vamp or bell tone: it can set key, tempo, mood.  Sometimes it’s what the composer actually wrote, and sometimes it’s something a publisher came up with. You have choice in what you use and how you use it.
  2. Verse - does it have one?  Contemporary music sometimes (not always!) doesn’t. If there’s a verse, learn it.  You may not perform it or use it in an audition but you MUST know.
  3. Chorus - or the main part of the song. What is the structure?  Musical Comedy, American Songbook, Golden Age tend to a noticeable structure or form - AABA, ABAB, etc etc etc.  Sondheim has moved from recognizable form to a more fluid structure for his music, and some contemporary composers have followed suit.  Take note of how your song is crafted.
  4. Postlude, conclusion epilogue, playout. How will you use it?  Remember your performance does not end until the accompanist’s hands come off the keys.  Stay with it!

MUSICAL COMPOSITION 

How do the following inform the story and your character?

 Key Signature: ________________

Time Signature: ________________

  1. Do either of these change over the course of the song?  How does that affect the character?
  2. Melody: Main melody, and the bridge or release.  What are the hallmarks that make it special?  How does the melody support the story?
  3. Harmony:  How does the harmonic progression of the song support the story?
  4. Rhythm:  Anything special here?  Does it follow standard pronunciation of the text, or does it deviate on purpose?  Does it help illuminate the story in any way?
  5. Phrasing: How a song is phrased can be based on the lyric (start here!), the melody (is it happening over an important harmonic change?), the rhythm.  The point is to serve the text in the clearest possible way. 
  6. Markings: How does the composer use dynamics, and other markings to serve the story?  Any markings you don’t understand?  Look them up!  They’re often in Italian….
  7. Air:  Music without words in a song can be referred to as air; also as fill. What does it say?  When is it important in your song and when is it not?  How will you use the air, the fill?

YOUR SUBTEXT (this is the fun part!):

Separate the lyrics from the music; write them out in your notebook, leaving a few spaces between each line.  (This also actually helps you learn your lyrics - bonus!)

Create a useable subtext using the information you have mined above, writing it in the spaces underneath the lyrics you wrote in your notebookFor your purposes, subtext is something personal that you can recall which brings out the same emotional response as the lyric.  The subjective interpretation is your unique version of the story, and it fills in the blanks not supplied in the lyrics.   Do not ignore the musical discoveries you have made in creating your subtext! Use your verbs to delineate beats.