Another audition season is encroaching, which means it’s time to unpack last year’s dance bag, take out the torn, crumped, messy pieces of paper from the folders of your rep book, and reflect on the industry and your place within it before diving back in.
We spend countless hours in what feels like purgatory- a place where all we seemingly have control over is breathing while we wait to hear our fate- will we get seen that day? Will we sing 8 bars or 32? Will anyone be asked in the room to stay and dance? Will we get asked to do all of the sides in our 55 page packet or just 1? Etc.
In reflecting on this, I’ve decided that living in purgatory and feeling like branded cattle as we’re lined up outside of a room only to walk in and be expected to make musical theatre miracles happen in an empty, undecorated, sometimes hot sometimes freezing, white box full of strangers or people we know who are desperately hoping we waltz in and do our thing effortlessly, without ever having run it with this piano playing artist before, in under 2 minutes, isn’t necessarily inspiring me to be the creative artist I know I am. And it’s brought up a lot of feelings about the whole idea of “should”.
Should. Should is the past tense of shall. The dictionary.com definition of shall is two parts. 1- plan, to, intend to, or expect to. 2- will have to, is determined to, or definitely will. I’ll come back to this.
In my musical theatre degree program, our teachers attempted to prepare us for the real world of auditions by guiding us on what we should and should not do. Being that my program was only two years long, I decided I didn’t know enough about the business, so I continued taking classes post-graduation- a variety of acting, dance, and singing classes, but I predominantly focused on taking business skill classes and “pay to play” with casting directors. Five years later, it seems I have reached a tipping point where I am full of other people’s should and should nots, and I need to empty out the pot to make more room for ME! I realize I have yet to define my own should and should nots because I’ve been too busy attempting to please every other casting director, agent, manager, director, music director, coach, accompanist, voice teacher, acting teacher, branding consultant, and dramaturg I’ve ever met.
So, in order to clean house, I have made a list of audition rules I’ve interpreted from my years of advice seeking from others. I’ve titled the list “Arbitrary Audition Rules I’ve Made Up”. In retrospect, I think it’s not accurate to say that I’ve made these things up. I can’t take the credit. Perhaps I misconstrued the note someone gave me. Perhaps a friend from whom I learned about this “rule” also misconstrued the note from someone else. I will take fault for not clarifying with the rule giver on the purpose or necessity of their rule, but I will also assume that anyone from whom I learned any of these ideas was teaching it from their own past experiences, their own educational background, or their desires to keep me “safe”. Perhaps the new title should be “Arbitrary Audition Rules I’ve Learned From Someone or Interpreted from An Unclear Experience Along the Way”.
Here’s my list:
Arbitrary Audition Rules I’ve Made Up
Stand on the X.
Maintain a small V of focus so that the table is always included.
Don’t turn your back to the table ever.
Don’t stand too close to the table.
Don’t stand too far away from the table.
Wait your turn.
Be perky when you enter the room.
Wait to be spoken to.
Only speak when spoken to.
Sing EXACTLY sixteen bars. No more, no less.
Never use a bell tone to start.
Always use a bell tone to start.
Hurry up and rush through giving your tempo/feel so as not to waste time.
No writing (from the people behind the table) is a bad sign.
Writing is a good thing.
Writing is a bad thing.
Looking at my resume is a good sign.
Looking at my resume is a bad sign.
If you don’t do the whole packet, they hate you.
If you mess up, just keep going.
If you want to start over, don’t, just keep going.
Starting the song again deserves an explanation and profuse apology.
Being thanked is a bad sign.
Never say anything that implies that you’re assuming you’ll get a callback or book the role (“see you later”, “bye for now”).
Always wear heels.
Always look polished/put together (aka wear make up and have your hair respectable).
Always wear form fitting clothing.
Most of the time, wear a dress, especially for period pieces.
Don’t wear patterns or other “distracting” wardrobe pieces.
Never stray from singing what the breakdown says.
Don’t waste their time.
Don’t ask questions.
Don’t touch anything.
When asked about your dance ability, saying you’re not a dancer-dancer gives you negative points.
If they look bored/tired, they aren’t listening, they’re waiting for you to finish.
The list makes it clear that you should simultaneously be doing one thing while also not doing it at the exact same time. OHHH NOW I GET IT! Why haven’t I done this all before? It’s just musical theatre- Isn’t it simple enough?!?!?!
So let’s go back to should. What SHOULD you take away from all of this?
You shouldn’t take away anything. You could take away a few pity inspired headshakes, a laugh, and a sigh of relief that you aren’t also pursuing this as a career. You could take away a sense of camaraderie- that you are a fellow soldier in the confusing trenches of musical theatre and perhaps a sense of community wherein you’ll now unite with me to rise up against the shoulds of yesteryear. You could take away the lesson that we shouldn’t try to do so much. That in fact, really, the only rule is that there are no universal rules as a creative. That, if you try to box yourself into a rigid four-walled structure, you’ll burst from the inside as your inner child fights her way out kicking and screaming demanding some fresh air, some toys, and a lollipop.
What if there are no rules? What if we each make our own rules?
Join me in my fight to be the purple cow this season.