"Please come prepared with 16 to 32 bars of a Broadway song, similar to the style of the show, an accompanist will be provided. Please bring a head shot and resume."
That's a common audition notice.
But what does that mean? Do you have to have the headshot? What should you wear? Does any of this matter?
The answers: Yes. It matters, more than you may think.
With many different theaters, from community to professional, folks along the Wasatch Front have plenty of opportunities to participate — but first you need to get past that audition.
So, meet the panel:
Charles Morey — artistic director of Pioneer Theatre Company, director and playwright
Jim Christian — director of musical theater studies at Weber State University; director and choreographer at many theaters locally and regionally
Sally Dietlein — vice president, executive producer of Hale Centre Theatre
Richard Scott — artistic director of The Grand Theatre, director
Nolan Mitchell — director at The Empress Theatre
With over a century of experience between them, and thousands of auditions under their belts, they know about tackling the daunting question of how to prepare for a perfect audition.
"One of the things people fail to do is recognize that an audition is a combination of a job interview and a marketing transaction," said Christian, who dedicates a full semester to teaching the fine art of auditioning, "They have to acknowledge the fact that they are a product being sold on the open market — it has to have quality, it has to have appeal, and more than anything it has to be the kind of thing that once used, somebody will want to use again."
That seems to be universal among our panel.
"It's a very, very short job interview," Morey added. "You behave pleasantly and professionally, and do your job as fully and capably as you can."
Our panel was in full agreement on most things and differed slightly on a few topics:
One thing is universal: BE PREPARED.
"One really simple audition tip — and you'd be amazed — read the play! Don't just read the play, work on it and work hard on it. Actors I know who we book regularly, spend anywhere from three hours up to 40 on a single audition," Morey, said. "That's what separates amateurs from professionals. You're dead in the water if you walk into the room and say, 'I didn't have time to read the script."'
Dietlein: "Do your homework. Come in with a good understanding of what the play is. Get ahold of the script, and the music. Don't be clueless."
Christian: "By all means, read the play. Most people don't because a) they're lazy and b) they don't care enough."
Mitchell: "We've had people show up and say 'oh I have to sing?' Know what's been asked of you and be prepared."
Be honest with yourself
Are you tall? Short? Heavy? Thin? You need to figure that out — are you right for the part?
Christian: "I had a student who was no Ken and no Barbie. But he's getting all sorts of national commercial work because he's letting that work for him. Actors need to not insist on who they are. They need to learn who they are."
Morey: "Audition for the right role. Know who you are. That's the hardest thing, perhaps."
Dietlein: "Actors need to be realistic, especially with their age, and they need to be at peace and at home with their age."
Scott: "You've got to know your strengths and your weaknesses, it's essential."
Don't lie on resume
Don't lie. "Don't lie on your resume; you will be caught," Morey said, emphatically. "It invalidates the whole resume. Theater is a small world and I get calls quite frequently asking if I know so and so — it could cost you a job."
Christian: "Don't inflate your resume. You will get busted. I have seen my name on a resume before of people I do not know."
And everyone on our panel listed honesty about rehearsal conflicts, and willingness to take any part as another key factor.
Dietlein: "That doesn't put them out of the running. What really ticks us off is when they tell us after the fact. Then you are playing under the table and that really ticks us off."
Scott: "There are people who can only do one or two shows a year. If you're only interested in changing your life — which is what you do — because you have a desire to do a certain role, I don't think of it as a diva at all. I think of it as straight talk."
This is one area where our panel differed slightly. There is a fine art to picking your piece and it has to go above and beyond singing a song you like. And, you cannot sing the same ol' stand-by at every audition.
Christian: "Don't choose a song from the show, because you're precasting yourself and that's the director's job. Choose a song from the same composing team. Then what you're doing is showing a parallel character and that you've the skills to handle that repertoire."
Morey: "Don't sing something you're not sure you've got all the notes for — just because you like it. I prefer that they sing a song from the show. I can tell, very distinctly, who sings the best "I Could Have Danced All Night," who acts it the best, etc."
Dietlein: "We don't prefer to hear a song from the show because we hear the same song over and over again — it gets to be monotonous. It's harder to be fair that way."
Scott: "If you sing something from the show, you're taking a risk that your interpretation of the song is what the director is looking for. You're probably better off to do your best song; do what you're most comfortable with; do what makes you shine."
A headshot is a must. But for you folks dabbling in community theater, don't let that stop you; some theaters will even help. "We take pictures of people because we don't know everyone," Mitchell said. "In community theater people are trying to spread their wings. The talent is good — it's just hard to remember who they are."
Scott: "It should look professional and these days it won't cost you that much money. I think it should be nice quality since that's what you're up against."
Dietlein: "They're absolutely essential! It doesn't have to be a professional picture — anything to remember your face. You just sell yourself really short without one. Directors will say, 'I wrote that I like this person, but I can't remember what they looked like."'
Christian: "If you're going to a professional or semi-professional, then you have to get a headshot that is taken by a professional. Your passport photo is not a headshot, your high school year book picture is not a headshot. It's part of your marketing tool."
Morey: "There's a very clear difference between professionals and amateurs. Are you a pro or not? Pros have nice headshots.
What to wear
The unanimous conclusion: DON'T go in costume.
But it is appropriate to wear something that has the feel of the show. "If it's a Victorian theme, maybe wear a nice collar with their hair up," Dietlein said. "If it's a 1940s piece, a girl in skirt that shows some leg and with a heel. We also like to see the figure on a girl, and the shape of men — No loose baggy things."
Morey: "If you're coming into audition for a period play, say 'The Importance of Being Earnest,' don't wear torn jeans and a T-shirt. You want to wear something that says, 'I know what this play is about, I know what this world is."'
Christian: "As a general basic, get you hair out of your face. And unless you're 100 percent blind, don't wear glasses, because most of the time your character won't. We need to see your eyes, they're a big interpretive tool."
Scott: "Wear what you think you look best in; what you're comfortable with. Feel good in what you're wearing; That all contributes to how you're feeling mentally."
Mitchell: "If they're wearing jeans and a T-shirt and they're slumped over — that's just not the way to present yourself. Look sharp and hold yourself that way, it really makes a difference."
Perhaps, most importantly, once you've landed the job, how you behave the rest of the time is incredibly important.
Morey: "Reputation matters! That list gets around very, very quickly. I could list names of people who've screwed up badly at this or another theater. Maybe you'll get away with it once but word gets around and soon it'll cost you a job."
Dietlein: "Be careful of behavior that can give you a black eye. Theater is a very small community. But we do like to give people a fresh start. We hate to blackball people, unless it's a major problem."
Scott: "I know that I've cast people who didn't necessarily sing the song the best, but I've cast people who I just know are going to bring a terrific attitude to the job. It's not always about the A note — it's the total package, the total you."
Christian: "Directors talk to each other. They share stories. They share names. And your best resume is what other people say about you."