For over thirty years I taught the Auditioning course at The Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theater here in NYC. At last count I have sat through over 20,000 auditions during my lifetime in show biz. That’s a lot of awkward moments and a few incredible ones.
Auditioning is an art of its own and very few people ever really get it down. First of all it comes replete with nerves. Normally when an entertainer finishes their moment it is met with applause. That’s the culture. But in an audition, when one is finished, it is only natural to be met with a number of critical eyes and at best, silence.
Even the very talented are very fortunate to be “accepted” one out of ten tries. Failure to get the job is the norm for even the best of talents. It’s a tough world.
Sitting on the other side of the table, as I have done so for over 40 years, has been exciting, tough, boring, awkward and sometimes even painful, and I could regale you for hours with story after story of fascinating moments of human failure and success.
As much as I’ve done it, it never ceases to stimulate the old juices in me to yet again go down that road. Last week was no exception.
On Thursday I saw over 40 singers audition for 4 roles in Is Anybody Listening – Concert Theater and Webcast at the Sheen Center rehearsal rooms in NYC. This was not an open call where anybody could come in if they were patient enough to wait in line all day, but rather a call through a casting director who scheduled top talent through their New York agents..
Still, each singer had only 5-minutes time allotted them to come in, do their thing and knock us out.
Once again I was amazed at the energy of these special creatures – the Broadway kids, the recording artists, the studio singers, the church singers. They sang their 32 bars of an up tempo tune and (in some cases) another 32 bars of a ballad and we had a few words and then they were gone – back out into the streets, and on with their lives.
We called back the cream of the crop, about 15 of them, the following day and spent about 15 minutes with each working with them and finding out more about their vocal instrument, their acting ability within a song, their true sense of pitch, their innate sense of rhythm, their stage personalities, their charisma, their dedication, their ability to handle the curve ball, their ability to take direction, their vocal range, and probably most important, their ability to focus under fire and their grace at being a joy to work with.
A lot to gather in 15 minutes, but hey, I’ve been doing this for 40 years, so repetition teaches one to watch for certain things very carefully in order to make the right judgment in the end.
My overall rule is this: The audition is a microcosm of the entire experience you will have with the talent. So if they’re 10 minutes late to the audition, you’ll end up firing them in rehearsal for being late all the time. If they’re a little bit pitchy in the audition, you’ll end up firing them at some point for singing off key. If they treat the pianist improperly because they’re nervous, they’ll make enemies in the cast. And if their nerves affect them a lot in the audition, then how good will they really be opening night when everything really counts in front of the NY critics?
Another thing I often do during callbacks is to, in some way in the course of the experience, throw them a curve. They say in baseball, “You’ll never make it to the majors if you can’t hit the curve ball.” The same holds true for show biz. Everyone is always trying to be on his or her best behavior in an audition. It’s only natural to want to put your best foot forward. But I want to find out how you’re going to act three weeks into rehearsal when everyone’s struggling to learn the lyrics, remember the choreography, sing the right part and absorb the daily changes constantly thrown at them.
So I throw a few curveballs – just to see how they might handle the unexpected.
In the end, after the last note has been sung and the holding room has cleared, we, the staff, sit around the table, spread their pictures out on the table before us and talk each person down with all our thoughts about how good they were, how graceful they were, and essentially if they were the right type for our show. There’s always someone who just knocks our socks off, but just doesn’t fit the type. These, for me, are the toughest to turn down because, well … I just love talent! When that person can really bring it, I don’t have to even think. The chills that run up and down my spine when they’re singing tell the tale. So after they do so well and prove themselves so solidly, it’s really tough to turn them down just because they might not “look” the part.
On those two days of casting, seeing 60-100 performances, we were very fortunate to have at least 20 chill moments. NYC is always full of exceptional talent. The streets just ooze with it. And I must say that those two days were better than a Broadway show! The talent is just amazing.
Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin & Oscar Hammerstein Casting
In the end we hired two. We’re still considering one of the others but waiting to decide based on a whole slew of things.
But the two we hired brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. The tears were tears of joy at the talent that poured from them. And I just keep thinking, “Wow! I get to work with them! I get to have them in my show.”
Now if we can just raise the rest of the money …
But that’s another story.