The Audition Process

Throughout my professional career as a performer, dancer, singer and actor, I have consistently been asked one question from younger performers: “Should I pursue a professional theatrical career?” My response has always been the same. If you have to ask, the answer is probably “no.” Any theatrical career carries with it a very different lifestyle, complete with an enormous amount of rejection. I have frequently spoken to other working choreographers, singers and dancers and artists about how they answer this often-asked question, and generally I’ve received similar answers. The late Bob Fosse consistently pointed out that 80-90% of the members of Actors Equity, the union that governs stage performers, were unemployed.

Therefore, if you can find any other career that they feel would bring them fulfillment, you should pursue it. Show business is a very difficult life, requiring much sacrifice. I feel I would be remiss not to mention considering this question before an individual undertakes any type of audition in the theatre.

Now that this fundamental question has been considered, I would like to give you a brief outline of the types of auditions a performer will encounter, as well as some of the practical aspects that all performers face within this process and a few general observations from a life in the theatre.

The triple threat of acting, singing and dancing

Because this subject is virtually limitless, this essay will focus on auditions for what are termed triple-threat performers. This pertains to performers who are not only actors, but singers and dancers, as well. I will also describe the audition process for dance-only roles.

There are several differences between auditioning for a play as opposed to a musical. When reading for a musical, the scenes tend to be more concise, tightly and economically written. The actor auditioning for musicals needs to provide an extremely rich subtext because in most well-constructed musicals, the climax of a scene is not in the writing, but rather in the song and/or dance. The song and/or movement are extensions of the plot and contain the scene’s highlight of emotional life. This is a crucial difference between reading for a straight play and a musical. For a musical, one needs to learn to extend the emotional line of the writing from the end of the written line through the movement, lyric and the melody.

One other piece of advice regarding a successful triple-threat audition: Generally, those conducting the audition need to watch you objectively and judge you. Thus, they won’t be available to act as the other half of the personal relationship that exists in the scene you’re performing. Therefore, you will need instead to imagine a third party (generally, the audience) to whom and/or with whom you can sing or dance. Your chief objective during any part of this type of audition is to create a relationship with that third party – the audience, imaginary or not, or your fellow dancers – a relationship that is warm, loving or needful. This will allow the auditors to do their job, to objectively judge the performers, and ultimately cast the piece being performed. For instance, when singing a love duet as an audition piece directly to the auditor, ideally the individual conducting the audition would smile back encouragingly and send back feelings to the performer. But, most auditors tend to stay more objective, in order to judge the performers and cast the play. Therefore, on behalf of most auditors, I suggest that you use the technique of imagining a third party, or the audience.

Exclusively dance auditions

Auditions for roles involving only dance can be conducted in several ways. One primary job all performers need to work on (hopefully, early in their careers), is to find representation, or an agent. This is an extremely useful tool in the audition process. If you can obtain a competent theatrical agent early in their career, the agent’s job will be to set up auditions for you. This is probably the most effective marketing tool a stage or screen worker can have in obtaining auditions. It is similar to having a third party set up a job interview, or blind date. You come into the process with a positive recommendation, and appointment.

Having an agent set up your auditions is very much preferable to what are known as “cattle call” auditions. In such auditions, up to 500 or even more performers are seen after they respond to an advertisement in one of the theatrical trade papers, which lists available positions in a production and a time when an unlimited number of hopeful performers can congregate for a limited amount of positions in a production.

The cattle-call process can be an extremely demoralizing type of audition. To begin with, approximately 500 or more dancers congregate, are given a number for identification processes and give the auditors a resume of their work in the theatre and an attached 8” x 10” glossy photograph for identification purposes.

After this process, the auditors conduct the process of “typing out.” This is a process that the dancer really has very little to do with. It has more to do with genetics than anything. The dancers are divided into groups of approximately 10 dancers at a time and asked to step forward. Individuals are then singled out by number and those who fit the “look,” who fit the producers’ idea of the physical look of the roduction, are asked to stay. Those not called by number receive a “Thank you very much,” which means “Goodbye.” All of this is done without the assembled dancers ever taking one dance step.

After all of the applicants go through this initial, very demoralizing process of typing out, the remaining dancers are asked to step forward again in groups of 10-15 and asked to do a double pirouette on each side. For those who don’t know the definition of a pirouette, it means a double turn based on one leg at a time. After completing this most basic of dance movements, another “typing out” happens.

At last, the dancers who remain are taught a dance combination by either the choreographer or dance captain. They are then divided into groups a final time and put through the dance combinations several times, group by group.

The final cut is made by reshuffling the groups, doing the combinations a final time. One group of dancers (identified by number) is asked to step forward and thanked for their time. This is the final rejection. The remaining dancers are given a contract, and given pertinent information regarding the production such as a rehearsal schedule, dates and other important information.

Therefore, as mentioned at the start of this essay on auditions, being a performer requires serious thought and consideration of the sacrifice needed for a life in the professional theatre.