auditions

Performer Misconceptions

Show business is tough. No one’s denying that. But people tend to say things about performing and Broadway sometimes which just strike me as a bit off. So, without further ado, I’m going to be addressing the issues I have with four common Broadway misconceptions.


Getting on Broadway is about being the most talented.

It is. But there’s so much more than that. It’s about checking the boxes.

Broadway isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ deal. The casting director will have specific – sometimes very specific – preconceptions about what they want and who they want for it. You could put a fresh new spin on old material, and yes, even if you can belt a high A like nobody’s business, sometimes that’s just not what they’re looking for. Maybe they specifically want someone of a certain race (a practice I despise, but that’s beside the point) for the role, or maybe they want the entire ensemble to have a particular ‘look’. Maybe they’re trying to find a replacement for an outgoing actor and they don’t want to pay to re-fit the costume (I’ve actually spoken to a Broadway actor who said that they got turned down at final callbacks for one show, then got cast for the very next show they auditioned for, both for that very reason). If you don’t fit what they already have, both metaphorically and literally, even if you’re a just as (or more) talented actor, singer, or dancer as those waiting in the audition room behind you, you might not get the part. It’s just showbiz.

Changing the key is taboo.

Yes, I know no one ever wants to tell their director that they want to change the key for fear of derision and scorn. But sometimes, it really is necessary – and not only that, it can help so, so much. I will admit that songs are often written with a specific key in mind – different keys do sometimes convey different emotions simply by way of the ‘sound’ they produce, something I’m sure those with perfect pitch often sense either consciously or unconsciously. But I say changing the key doesn’t ruin a song - it just lets a performer put their all into their performance in a way the original key wouldn’t have allowed them to. In Legally Blonde, the key for the ending of So Much Better has been lowered three full times since the first demo recording – originally written in A major, the song was first shifted down to the original Broadway key of G major then all the way down to F-major for all subsequent professional productions (as licensed by MTI). And yet, the sheer power of the song hasn’t been changed at all – most people, quite frankly, haven’t noticed, and I for one am continually impressed by the blonde belters who pull off the number with pizazz. During his tenure in Newsies, Dan Deluca had the key of Something to Believe In shifted down a step from G major down to F major, a key change allowed him to pull off one of the most romantic performances of the song I’ve ever seen.

The lead performer is always the best in the cast.

This one goes along the same lines as the first one about being the most talented. The lead might not have the best voice or acting chops in the cast, but they might have the best work ethic or, dare I say it, the star power and appeal to draw audiences to a show (yes, I’m talking about stunt casting), all things essential to a show’s financial success as a business. In other words, they just happened to tick the right boxes. But that in no way diminishes the talent of the rest of the cast. The supporting character might not have the high G in their repertoire that the lead does and which might be necessary for a certain role, but given the chance maybe they too could make a full audience cry on cue. The understudy might be an up-and-coming talent who simply doesn’t have yet the resume of the established lead actor (Jeremy Jordan, known for his Bonnie & Clyde and his Newsies exploits but lesser well known as a former understudy for the role of Tony in West Side Story on Broadway, comes to mind). Suffice it to say that someone having top billing in a show’s Playbill doesn’t equate to them being the best in the cast



The best performers are those that never fail.

For this last one, I think the following saying conveys my thoughts better than anything else: “Don’t judge a blooper reel by a highlight reel’s standards.” You might have seen a star deliver moving performance after moving performance to an enthralled crowd of thousands leaping to a standing ovation. But you probably haven’t seen them cry after being turned down for the part again or rip up their sheet music in frustration after the tenth vocal crack of the day on that one high note (Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde comes to mind – not vocal cracks specifically, but you can tell from recordings she struggled at times with the ending note in “So Much Better”, even if the rest of the performance was good enough that you were too distracted to notice when she took a breath in the MTV recording of the show). You probably haven’t seen them shudder with nerves in front of an opening night crowd or fall in rehearsal three times in a row. And I know for a fact that some of the best performers in the world have done these very things. Why? Because the best performers aren’t those who never fail. Those don’t exist. The best performers are those who work through and work with their failures, using them to make themselves better and more consistent as performers and stronger as people.

Audition Jitters and How to Beat Them

Shilo Nelson

So you've got an audition coming up. Whether this is your first audition or you've had dozens of them, chances are you still have some pesky butterflies in your stomach. I'm going to start by letting you in on a little secret: no matter what you do, you will probably still be nervous. Let yourself be nervous. You're putting yourself out there, and most likely it's for a role that would mean a lot to you. I'm not going to tell you how to not be nervous, but I'm going to tell you how to remain positive and confident in spite of your nerves.

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock / Getty Images

The first step is to be prepared. This one is probably obvious. Practice your song and your monologue as much as you can. The more familiar you are with your material, the more confident you will be. If it's for a pre-existing show, listen to the show. If it's a brand new show, read the character descriptions and come up with some ideas of how you'd like to play it.

Sometimes the only people who see your audition are the people you're auditioning for, but especially for dance auditions you may be auditioning with others. Even if you aren't, you'll probably see people warming up and rehearsing. Remember Cathy in "The Last Five Years"? She notices all of the other girls auditioning and can't help comparing herself to them. Depending on who you are, different things will help different people to not compare themselves with others. You could try not to pay attention to them. Focus on your audition and what you are doing. Everyone has something unique that they can bring to a role, including you. If ignoring them doesn't help, or it can't be avoided, make friends! Sometimes we have a tendency to put other performers on a pedestal, but they're all feeling the same nerves. Talk to the other people in the room. Ask them what part they are auditioning for, what was their favourite role, talk about theatre. You're auditioning for the same show so there's a good chance that you'll have something in common.

Remember that you don't know exactly what the director or casting team is looking for. They may have an idea of what they want the character to be, but sometimes even they don't know what they want until they see it.

When you are rehearsing for the audition, critique yourself (get others to critique as well if you want) but here's the catch: don't just talk about what you want to improve on. It's just as important to recognize what you do well. Often when we're nervous about an audition, we are afraid that we will make a mistake. It can be harder to recognize your strong points, but the more you acknowledge them the more you will start to believe them. Figure out how to highlight these strong points in your audition. Do you have amazing comedic timing? Do you have remarkable range? Maybe you can emote your ballad in ways nobody else can. Find the very best of you, and let the casting team see it.

This may seem silly but smile as much as you can (if you're doing a scene or a song that isn't a happy one, obviously portray that), but while you are waiting and while you are introducing yourself, smile. If you look happy and confident, eventually you'll feel it.

Now, what if you don't get the part you want, or don't get in at all? Let yourself be disappointed, just like you let yourself be nervous for the audition. But don't let sadness take over. Auditions are learning experiences. Once you're through grieving, ask yourself what you have learned and what you can take from this audition for next time. On that note, let there be a next time. What I've found helps me most after not getting a part is finding my next opportunity. Give yourself something else to hope for and don't give up.

This is easier said than done, and it was something that I heard many times before it finally sank in, but it's true that there are several factors that contribute to not getting a part. These factors are often things that you as a performer have no control over. It can be hard not to take it personally but keep reminding yourself that it usually isn't personal. Yes, there are directors who play favourites but that's a different matter. A good director will be encouraging. If they say that they want you to keep trying, believe that they mean it! They may have you in mind as a perfect fit for a future project down the road.

Think of your favourite performers, the ones that inspire you. Remember that they have all been there. They still feel those nerves in the audition room, and they still feel the disappointment of not getting a role. That will always be a part of theatre. It is the hardest part, but it's not the end.

 Break a leg, you can do it!