Audition Best Practices

In his book Acting Professionally, Robert Cohen suggests that an actor needs a strong personality. For him, the most undesirable quality for an actor is to be bland — a "good little boy or girl"— nice, dull and unmarketable.

Musical theatre is a frankly presentational form of theatre — generally, we do not burst into song or dance at moments of crisis. This raises the stakes for the musical theatre performer and emphasizes the need for a magnetic stage presence, a confident air and a unique personality.

These qualities should be evident in a musical theatre audition. They can transform a routine audition into a memorable one and make us eager to enroll you as a student.

The personality you project is the basis for your audition. It includes the clothes you wear, the way you introduce your material and your ability to answer questions. Even the materials you choose to perform can be revealing. But remember, please, personality is not an alien persona affected for the occasion — it is just the simple use of the characteristics that make you distinctive as a performer and a human being.

To assist you in selecting suitable songs or monologues, you may want to consider some simple DOs and DON'Ts of Musical Theatre auditions.

  • DO avoid overly familiar material, songs that are performed continuously. There is a wealth of material from which to choose without resorting to "Much More," "I Can't Say No," "All That Jazz," "If I Were a Bell" or "Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine."
  • DO avoid songs associated primarily with particular artists. "New York, New York" is Liza's song, "Don't Rain on My Parade" is Barbra's and "Over the Rainbow" is Judy's. Comparisons are inevitable.
  • DO avoid the current hit from the current Broadway smash or revival. These songs are simply performed too often at auditions to work to your advantage.
  • DO NOT present a choreographed routine. Dance skills are evaluated at the dance audition. DO, however, approach the material with a free body and move whenever appropriate. Body movement should be relaxed (not casual) and should not "illustrate" the lyrics (pointing at your head then at your watch on the words "I know now.")
  • DO select material suitable for youthful performers. Many students hide behind phony elderly voices and mannerisms, the characterizations that won them acclaim in the high-school play. Remember, we want to see who you are.
  • DO select material suitable for youthful performers. Many students hide behind phony elderly voices and mannerisms, the characterizations that won them acclaim in the high-school play. Remember, we want to see who you are.
  • DO NOT attempt songs obviously created for mature characters -- song such as "I'm Still Here," "Send in the Clowns," "Fifty Percent," "Rose's Turn" and any Sondheim song written for a mature character.
  • DO beware of choices that are difficult to perform under stressful conditions. Many of the patter songs ("If," "Another Hundred People," "Funny," "Giants in the Sky") are notoriously difficult and require careful coordination between pianist and singer. These songs are hard to perform without adequate rehearsal and under the naturally competitive circumstances of an audition.
  • DO avoid excessively emotional pieces. It is difficult to build a sentiment quickly and convincingly. In her concert appearances, the legendary Lena Horne sings the song "Stormy Weather" twice because, as she says, she has to "build up to it." And consider that selections like the transformation scene from Jekyll and Hyde without the benefit of costume, make-up and lighting are often unintentionally hilarious in the unforgiving light of an audition room.
  • DO NOT imitate your favorite performers. Don't moonwalk like Michael, pout like Bernadette or clutch the air like Mandy. And please don't wear a white half-mask or a lion's head.
  • DO NOT outstay your welcome, argue if you are cut off in mid-note, or be evasive about your head voice, chest voice, legit experience, range or dance expertise. Answer questions in a straightforward manner that expresses your individuality. "Well, I can move!" ranks as the most often-heard evasion in answer to a question about previous dance training.
  • DO bring sheet music in the correct key and with all cuts or repetitions clearly marked. DO place your music in a binder or tape the sheets together for the benefit of the accompanist. DO speak clearly to the pianist and articulate the tempi by singing a few phrases. This is preferable to snapping your fingers or yelling "Faster," "Too fast," or "Slow Down" in the middle of "Ol' Man River" or "Corner of the Sky." And please note that if we do not feel your songs adequately represent your vocal range, we may ask you to perform some simple vocal exercises at the keyboard or present another song.
  • DO pick monologue material that reflects your strengths as a performer, suits your age and demonstrates the image you wish to create. Differentiate between monologues that have literary value (good pieces of writing) and those that are dramatic (they play well). Opt for the latter.
  • DO select a piece that allows you to make strong acting choices. Most importantly avoid those hackneyed pieces that elicit groans from the adjudicators ("Tuna fish" from Laughing Wild, "I brushed my hair" from The Fantasticks, "Peter Pan" from 'Dentity Crisis, "Sunbonnet Sue" from Quilters and pieces from the often-performed Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, The Odd Couple, Night Luster, Nuts and Boys Life.) Avoid monologues from anthologies, and, of course, read the entire play before attempting to perform the speech.
  • DO NOT select pieces that attempt to shock with their use of bad language or obscene physical action. Auditors are never shocked but often bored! Present the material naturally, and remember that you are using the words of others in order to sell yourself. Through your choice of material and your performance behavior, show yourself to be a person of taste, confidence, sincerity and sensitivity.
  • DO NOT perform material written for a character significantly younger or older than you are and avoid pieces written in dialect. We want to hear your voice expressing emotion or making us laugh. Yes, you may use a chair, but no props or costumes — and if you must do "Glass Marbles" from Talking With, please DO NOT drop them on the floor!

In the following paragraphs we offer some general advice about the process of auditioning, at CCM or elsewhere. The advice may be "common-sensical," but it will help you present yourself in a mature and professional way.

  • Look your best. Dress casually but neatly in clothes that allow freedom of movement. Present yourself as a prospective student who will be fun to teach and highly employable after graduation.
  • For the dance audition, you may want to invest in some basic dance wear. Women should wear character shoes, jazz shoes or ballet slippers, leotards, tights, dance skirts or non-bulky warm-up wear. Men should wear jazz or ballet shoes, tights, t-shirts or shorts. Sneakers are not recommended -- how can you do a double pirouette when your Nikes keep you nailed to the floor?
  • DO consider your deportment. That means the way you behave (and are seen to behave) from the moment you arrive at the audition to the moment you leave. Show that you are well prepared and have done your research about the school and the program. Ask intelligent questions, exude confidence as you enter the room, say your name with authority, answer questions in a provocative way, look your best, thank the faculty for their attention and leave with the air of a job well done. And if you are really interested in pursuing the program, write a note to the faculty on your return home.
  • DO be confident. Like yourself. Be proud of who you are. In short, make the faculty want to teach you. Arouse their interest through the sheer force of your personality. Dare to be different -- in other words, true to yourself.
  • DO ask questions about the school or the program if you wish. Remember you are auditioning the faculty, too. But how shall we say this -- keep the questions logical and to the point. Take the opportunity to talk to our current musical theatre majors— they'll be happy to give you the dirt on the school, the faculty, the classes and the productions. Just remember, they often give us feedback on the behavior of prospective students, too.

For auditions in Cincinnati, please do not bring taped accompaniment or sing acapella. We cannot let you perform without piano accompaniment. Please do not expect the pianist to transpose your music on sight and, please, do not ask us to watch you "lip-synch" to a pre-recorded tape! For auditions in other cities, bring your accompaniment on an I-Pod or CD (no cassette tapes, please.) We will provide the sound equipment, though, of course, you are welcome to use your own.

No one can succeed in musical theatre without skills in its three component areas. These are the areas we assess during your audition. We try to gauge your level of accomplishment in each and in all three as a whole.

But we are also looking for more than mere accomplishment. Your skills must be complemented by drive, commitment, confidence and like-ability. Your performance can be greatly enhanced by the way you present yourself -- in fact the "packaging" can transform a pleasant audition into a striking one. Your aim is simple: to convince the auditors that you are the student we most need for the success of our program.

With careful planning you can do just that. If you can audition successfully for a college program by applying these simple guidelines, you will have acquired a skill that will stand you in good stead throughout your career in musical theatre.

Audition Evaluation

We are often asked how we evaluate auditions. The method is quite simple and the "secrets" are set out below. At CCM, we contend that a well-prepared audition will reveal two major aspects of the performer. Loosely described, these conform to who you are and what you can do. In the first category, we would like to see your personality, your strengths, your love of the arts, the uniqueness that makes you "you." In the second, we will be evaluating your skills: your voice, your physical presence, your intellect and your emotional availability.

If you want to be technical about it, the second area is evaluated as follows:

  • Vocal and Musical Ability. Good pitch, a rhythmic sense, a pleasing vocal quality; articulation that is clear and appropriate to the context of the song or monologue.
  • Physical Awareness. General poise and stage deportment, freedom and ease of movement; general posture, use of hands in an unselfconscious manner, and the light and graceful carriage of the body. Ability to learn rudimentary dance combinations and perform them with accuracy and style.
  • Communication Skills. Energy that is focused, communication with the audience (sharing), involvement; identification with the subject of the song or monologue and the creation a believable "reality" on the stage. Understanding of the text and the “givens” of the song or monologue. Capable of experiencing a range of emotions and demonstrating the ability to share these with the observers.
  • Development of Style. The integration of the techniques of acting, voice and movement into the successful performance of selections from the musical theatre repertoire. The development of personal skills and an awareness of self.

We receive a lot of mail about auditioning at CCM. Most applicants agree that the audition is a fun-filled process and not at all intimidating. The Musical Theatre faculty strive to put everyone at ease. We regard the theatre as a celebration ― and that celebration begins in the audition room. We are looking for students who are as passionate about Musical Theatre as we are and can demonstrate their love to us.

Each year, at audition time, we receive many letters commenting on the experience. The following are some quotes from unsolicited letters received in the past few years. We hope they will give you a better idea of what to expect.

  • "Thank you for a wonderful audition experience. Although it’s hard not to be nervous at an audition, you helped create such a friendly environment that it made things a lot less stressful than I thought they would be. I've rarely been to an audition, especially one this important, where I’ve had so much fun. I am by no means a dancer, yet the dance audition was the best part of all. Getting out on the floor and dancing like crazy made me feel really alive. I know this was due to Diane Lala’s teaching. With professors like that, I can see why CCM is so highly regarded. I took a lot away from the audition and I will always remember the experience."
  • "After my audition yesterday, I am positive that CCM is the place I want to be for the next four years. I was very impressed by the professional manner in which the auditions were conducted. The students who performed for us were amazing. They showed such passion for their craft. They inspired me to do the best I could in my own work. I dream one day I will be in their shoes showing hopeful students what I have learned at CCM. It is clear why you are the top program in the country. Auditions are often stressful or unnerving, but you and your faculty made me feel right at home and allowed me to realize how much of a ‘celebration’ the audition process should be."
  • "The dance portion of the audition was lots of fun. I liked having the opportunity to work with Ms. Cory. Her combination was unique and I can't wait to show it to my instructors back home. I really appreciate the time, effort and kindness she lavished on us all. Your personality, politeness and desire to 'celebrate theatre' made the audition very enjoyable. . . . If I were to try to express my desire about attending CCM, it would take up another page in itself. To sum it up, attending a program that uses extremely rigorous training to produce the finest actors possible, with the commitment that the Marines have to their goals, is exactly what I want from the school that I attend."
  • "Coming to audition at CCM, I braced myself for the worst, expecting a school with such high standards and fantastic reputation to have a superior air about it. By the beginning of the audition, however, I realized I was wrong. The faculty and students were welcoming and polite. The orientation was informative and often hilarious. The students who performed for us were terrific – and obviously loved what they were doing. They were more than willing to talk to me about the program. They were exceptionally gracious and very encouraging about the auditions. Not once did I feel pressured or under scrutiny – rather, I felt the faculty was eager to see what I had to show them. I felt positive and confident as I left the audition room. On the way home, my parents asked me how it had gone. The only thing I could say was, “It was so much fun!” My mother laughed, thinking I was being sarcastic. She knew I had been terrified about how cold the students and faculty might be. I told her I had been terribly misinformed about the atmosphere at CCM. My audition could not have been a more pleasant experience! Thank you again."
  • "Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you to your fantastic faculty and amazingly talented students. I had a wonderful time! The greeters were so helpful and friendly. The students who taught the dance combination were great ― they listened to our questions and helped us until we got it right. And the student performances were truly top-notch. I fell in love with the lyrical dance piece. It was beautiful. The sophomore performance was hilarious and spot-on vocally. The tap number was perfection. I can only hope to be accepted into such a wonderful program. I would be proud to attend CCM in the fall."
  • "To be completely honest, I felt somewhat intimidated in the days leading up to my audition at CCM. I had heard many rumors that the conservatory was very cold and expected complete perfection of anyone even showing up to audition for the program. I was thrilled to have all of my preconceived notions wiped away upon arrival. I enjoyed every minute of my time at CCM and found the faculty and students to be incredibly kind ― people I could easily befriend, as well as work with and admire."