Monday, August 13, 2012

Audition words to the wise

On August 4 I attended mock auditions open to the public at Opera Breve Vocal Institute, a summer young artist program held in Texas. Those for the musical theater students were much like an audition masterclass, with immediate feedback from Associate Artistic Director Ben Sheaffer and OBVI Artistic Advisor Rich Affannato, while those for the opera students were more formal, simulating the real audition experience.

Rich Affannato
Sheaffer and Affanato gave excellent pointers to the musical theater students, tailored to the level of proficiency and accomplishment of each singer. I think nearly all the pointers would also useful for opera singers. Some examples:
  • Auditioning is a totally different skill set from performing, and you might never use it in performance.
  • Walk in confidently.  You will always have nerves. Don't allow them to make you appear apologetic, or at the other extreme, too effusive. Civil, confident, open. Say your name and what you are singing.  Have your book and materials in good order.
  • Within the first few seconds you must evaluate the room. Determine whether the auditioners are open and friendly or terse and business-like, and don't take either seriously. Determine how much space you have to use.  
  • Don't engage the auditioners in your performance. It keeps them from doing their job. Focus on a point above their heads.
  • Don't be afraid to be still in an audition. (An exercise they recommended was to practice an audition with no body movement at all.) Don't move toward the auditioners while you're singing--it frightens them. Really.
  • Ben Sheaffer
  • Know what the audition is about, what is being cast, and know if you are a good candidate. Tailor your audition, your product, to that.  Auditioners will be thinking about what they're casting, and whether you are a good fit. You sometimes have 30 seconds or less to show that you are. (n.b. I usually advise opera singers to take a more general approach unless specifically instructed to prepare an audition for a particular role. But there are those in the opera world who disagree with me on that.)
  • Auditioners care less about your song's original context than what you can show with it. They are looking for smart actors who make intelligent choices.  
  • If the audition format is to perform two song excerpts ("cuts") without a break, finish the first completely in your acting and presentation before beginning the second, OR make your immediate segue deliberate. Make it clear this is a choice you are making.
  • If the pianist gives you a single pitch to start and you need to hear it again, or to hear the first few pitches, or a chord, don't be afraid to ask--that is much better than starting off in the wrong key. 
  • The "secret" trick:  Create your own back story to your song. Use a story that works for you. Make it totally different from the original context of the song. Show intelligent choices using your own story. (This reminds me of a story an opera director and teacher told about some former students who used a pack of flash cards with different emotions to pick at random each time a way to act their auditions arias.)
  • Know the emotional range of the song you're performing, and where each line belongs within that range.
  • If you use a standard or very commonly performed song, invest at least as much thought, commitment, and focus as a more current song. 
  • Have a back story behind "ah" or other non-word syllables just as you would with meaningful text.  What is it that you can't just speak, but you have to sing at the top of your lungs?
  • Regardless of the song choices, there should not be a discernible difference in the level of commitment or preparation between songs. (OK, that one is mine. I don't want to know from your performance which song or aria you've been doing for years and which is new for you.)
I've spoken of writing an "Auditioning 101" article with the sort of information so many young singers need to hear. There isn't a lot I'd add to this. Much of what I heard that afternoon gave me new insights into auditioning, and being a veteran of both sides of the table, it all makes incredible sense.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I don't audition much any more, but this is great advice, and fun to read about anyway. Some of this advice (at least the first few pointers) would work well for any kind of interview--or first meeting; Isn't life kind of one big extended audition?

Thanks for sharing your experiences.