Audition Tips

College theater majors: To BFA or not to BFA, that is the question

College theater majors: To BFA or not to BFA, that is the question

High school sophomores and juniors start your engines. It is time to begin considering colleges for next year's college application process. With many of you planning to visit schools during spring break, I thought it would be both helpful and fun to guide you towards the right performing arts degree with a little self-assessment quiz. Scoring is below. In the coming months, Denise will explore questions about college admissions in a series of free upcoming teleseminars with theater professionals from several well regarded programs throughout the country.

7 Audition Mistakes Young Actors Can Avoid

For more than 30 years, I’ve worked with young actors and found that many of them fall victim to the same simple mistakes. Talented children are regularly passed over in auditions because of bad habits that parents sometimes don’t even notice. If you’re on the lookout for these common mistakes and can fix them, you might find your child getting more attention in the audition room. Here are seven mistakes you can help your kid avoid.

What is the Proper etiquette for Auditions and Working?

Q: What is the proper etiquette when it comes to auditioning and working? What do my child and I need to be mindful of?

A: Here’s a great list of points to remember that will keep you prepared and looking professional:

AUDITIONS:

  •  Ask your agent what clothing is appropriate.

  • Don’t forget pictures, your resumé, and anything else you’ve been asked to bring.

  • Check in with whomever you need to.

  • Be mindful of other actors preparing for their auditions, but don’t socialize with them. Concentrate on you! (Without being rude of course.)

  • For callbacks, don’t change your child’s clothes/appearance. Why tamper with what worked?

 

ON THE JOB

  •  Know the rules and regulations regarding the employment of minors. You’re responsible for your child’s safety and welfare!

  • Bring your child’s social security card, work permit, and identification number as well as any other required information or documentation.

  • Sign the contract before your child begins work. Speak to your agent if you have any questions/concerns about it.

  • Bring at least three hours of schoolwork if your child is being tutored on set.

 

IN GENERAL:

  •  Be professional and courteous.

  • If there is informational material available ahead of time, get it and be VERY familiar with it!

  • Know exactly where you have to be well before the appointment date. It never hurts to check it out beforehand, including parking options, etc.

  • Arrive at least 30 minutes early! You’ll be surprised to realize how much more relaxed you and your child will feel when you’re not rushing.

  • Only you and your child should attend the audition. Don’t bring other children, relatives, pets, etc.

  • Never leave your child unattended, but don’t get in the way of the set and its workers.

  • Speak up if you are concerned about anything. You can always speak to an agent or the union under whose jurisdiction you’re working.

12 Steps to Success When Auditioning for Commercials

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You’ve gone on so many commercial calls, but you are not booking the job. Take a look at my 12 simple commercial guideposts to see what may be missing so you can nail your next audition.

1. Energy. Pay attention to the sales clerk the next time you go to buy something. Would you rather make a purchase from someone who is enthusiastic or just “ho-hum” about their product? You want to make the sale in your audition, so turn it on!

2. Natural and Conversational. Read the copy as if you are talking to your best friend. Make sure you are sincere, honest, and believable. Now add energy and you’re two steps closer to landing the job.

3. Smile. This should go without saying, but smiling will take you a long way in this business. Allow your charisma and personality to shine through.

4. Color. Use your voice to paint a colorful picture. Use your adjectives to highlight what makes the product special.

5. Variety. Change it up. Find the highs and lows. Where can you be soft spoken? Louder? Secretive? Sexy? Get the idea?

6. Inflection. You can go up or down or stay the same. Pitching down can sometimes be a boring or negative choice. Try pitching up at your next audition to brighten your read.

7. Product Name. This is perhaps the most important thing you will say. Make sure it stands out and is clear and highlighted.

8. Warmth and Humor. The company may be hiring you to be the spokesperson for their product. Be likeable and genuine. Find a moment to bring some humor into your audition. Advertising sells to the consumer. What better way than with wit, charm, and a bit of fun.

9. Articulation. Diction, diction, and better diction. Practice with tongue twisters so you can warm up the muscle before you audition.

10. Turnaround. What is life like before the product is introduced and what is it like after? Be mindful of words such as "and," "because," "then," "but," "so," etc. This is where the change up occurs and can be demonstrated.

11. Focus. Where are you looking? Hopefully into the camera, if that is where you are directed. Memorize the first and last lines so you are looking up and are present. In the first line you reel them in and capture their attention. The last line is what you leave them with. Make an impression.

12. Have Fun. If you are not having fun, it may be time to go back to your day job!

The next time the commercials come on while you are watching your favorite TV show, don’t get up. Watch and see what tips from this list you can spot and how they make the message resonate for you.

How to Deal With the Stress of a Last-Minute Self-Tape for Your Child Actor

You just received a message from your rep that your child has an audition…tomorrow. Because auditions have been slow, you are excited about the opportunity for your child. But then you realize it’s actually a self-tape with 12 pages of memorized material due in the next 24 hours. Your child isn’t even home from school yet and you’re already stressed because, on top of this self-tape, he also has a test tomorrow he needs to study for.

This stressful situation can be painful for both parents and young actors. To make it all a little easier, there are a few things you can do as a parent of a child actor:

Be prepared with equipment. 
Self-tapes are very popular today so make sure you have a home setup for tapings. Even though your child will have to memorize and be prepared with the material, if you’re prepared to tape at home with lights, backdrop, and camera equipment, you won’t have to make last-minute calls looking for a studio. It will also be helpful if you/your child knows how to upload the scene onto a computer to be sent off quickly.

Oh, and be sure your printer is working so you can have the sides handy—along with a highlighter—to start the memorization process.

Ask for help.
Parental anxiety and the desires to have your child nail the audition will stress your kid out and can get in the way of their best performance. If that’s true for your family, remove yourself from the mix and use a coach or taping studio. As an acting coach who does many tapings a week, I get last-minute calls all the time and will always try to accommodate young actors if I can, even taping clients at 10 p.m. if necessary.

If there isn’t time for a live coaching session, consider a Skype lesson with a coach to get some tips on the scene to make the taping smoother. Find a mentor you can trust and count on for moments like these.

Think outside the box.
If your child is a good student and has good attendance, you may want to consider letting them tape in the morning and head to school late. Discuss the situation with the school ahead of time to let them know your child is pursuing an acting career and ask for allowances. If the school agrees, it will take some of the pressure off. If your child is auditioning regularly and seems stressed, you may want to revisit the schooling situation to make sure it’s working for everyone.

Breathe and let go of perfectionism. 
Remind your child that this is all supposed to be fun, satisfying, and gratifying. Casting directors don’t expect perfection, especially when a young actor is asked to prepare many pages on short notice. The instructions say actors should memorize the material but if that is just not possible, instruct your child to become very familiar with the material. Then, he can glance at the script off to the side if he stumbles over the lines.

Ask for an extension. 
In some situations, you may be able to request an extension. Extensions aren’t always available but if you don’t ask, you will never know. Speak to your rep and explain the situation. An extra day could make all the difference.

Turn down the audition. 
Is it worth the aggravation? If your child has been very committed and never turns down an audition, weigh this decision carefully. Ask yourself how important this one is. Discuss this option with your child, then your agent and manager so you can make a choice together. It’s not wise to set a precedent of missing auditions but declining one or two will not be harmful if the situation is impossible.

The industry is using self-tapes so much these days and it’s a trend I don’t see slowing down anytime soon. Preparing for situations like these is wise. Be ready to move quickly and help your child do their best. Check in with your child to make sure they understand the commitment and that they’re still on board. Working hard under pressure is tough, especially when there’s no guarantee of a callback or booking so be sure to celebrate their hard work in other ways.

7 Steps to a Successful College Audition

It’s that time of year again when thousands of high school students are applying to drama and musical theater college programs nationwide. These schools get more competitive with each passing year—depending on the track, they can accept as few as 10 new students a year. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what type of school and program you’re looking for as early as your freshman or sophomore year of high school. To help you in the process, I’ve pulled together seven steps to help you prepare for a successful audition, starting as early as that first year of high school.

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1. Find the right program for you.
BFA? BA? BM? Conservatory? Emphasis on dance? Every school is different, even down to the degrees they offer. So make sure you do your research and figure out what it is you want to study for the next four years. Learn the difference between a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Music. Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll want to study onlythe dramatic arts or if you want to get a full liberal arts education. Do you want to study abroad? Do you want the chance to learn how things work behind the scenes? All of these are questions you should know the answers to before starting the search as they will likely narrow the list down significantly.

Develop a list of questions to ask potential theatre departments and start visiting college campuses early. You will be spending four years there, so consider where you’ll be happy living. Decide if you want a small or large school, access to a city, and whether you want to be in driving distance or an airplane ride away from your family.

2. Prepare for your audition.
Applying to college is incredibly time-consuming: studying for and taking standardized tests, collecting transcripts and letters of recommendation, writing essays, submitting applications. But don’t forget that you need to add audition prep to this list! When I work with high school students, we begin preparing their monologues junior year so they have ample time to choose and practice their pieces wisely, and also to film the video pre-screen.

Every November, I get a frantic call from a student asking for help and though technically there is still time, it feels like a rush job. Start early.

3. Choose appropriate material.
Unless you’re applying to a non-audition program, you will need to choose several monologues and songs for musical theater. Most schools ask for two contrasting contemporary monologues. Some require a classical piece. Your pieces need to be from published plays, not monologue books, so make sure you actually read the entire play, not just your selection. Schools will be unimpressed if you don’t know the origin of your character. Find pieces you connect with, show contrast, and are age appropriate.

4. Execute songs and monologue. 
I highly recommend working with a coach on the selection and performance of your songs and monologues. Auditors don’t want to see formulaic performances—they’re looking for honesty and whether you’re present, relaxed, focused, and able to enjoy the process. In your pieces, make sure you know who you’re talking to and have a strong intention. Take the audience on a journey showing how your character changes from beginning to end.

However, it isn’t just the audition that matters. Schools with top programs aren’t easy to get into academically so grades and test scores matter! You must be accepted into the school itself to be considered for the theater or MT program. Your essay counts and may be why one candidate is chosen over another. Schools are looking for good citizens who are disciplined with an exceptional work ethic. How you interact with others in the room is important. Just like you want to be happy for the next four years, so does the faculty.

5. Be ready for the interview.
Schools can tell a lot about you from the interview. Work on your interview skills, be yourself and be ready to give thoughtful answers to questions asked. Research the school so you can speak about why you chose their program. Whether it’s the faculty, alumni, philosophy, or networking opportunities, have specifics.

6. Don’t forget the prescreen and tapings.  
Each school has its own admission process and many require a pre-screen video (due in the fall) that will determine if you get an invitation to audition. This tape showcases your acting and, if applicable, singing talent. Make sure you understand the material and are making choices. For musical theater programs, you will not get past the prescreening if you have vocal damage or pitch problems. You don’t need professional equipment to tape but make sure you are filming with no distractions and adequate lighting.

7. Get ready for audition day. 
You’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time so it’s understandable to be nervous. But make sure to leave your nerves outside or turn them into excitement and energy. Be yourself, be alive, let go of perfection, and enjoy the process you have worked so hard on while letting go of the outcome.

How to Transition from Child Parts to Teen Roles

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Your cute curls are now a ball of frizz. 
Your milky white skin has turned into a face map of Switzerland. Metal cages glisten as you smile, and your voice sounds like your father’s. Welcome to teenage bliss! Although you may feel like your career is in shambles because you are not getting as many auditions as you had when you were younger, take a breath. Believe it or not, the journey ahead is neither bad nor good; it’s just different—and that can be exciting.

Take Classes to Learn Technique
As you become a more mature actor you will be required to master skills that are beyond your natural ability. Enroll in an ongoing acting class. Whereas I worry about the over-coached child actor, teen actors need training, especially in technique. Sanford Meisner says, “Acting is living truthfully in the moment under imaginary circumstances.” It sounds easy, but it takes practice. Work regularly with a teacher and group that you trust.

Expand Your Range of Skills
Train in new areas, and get out of your comfort zone. If you are an actor who naturally moves well, up the ante. Try out a new style of dance to become more competitive. Now that your voice is settling in, take lessons regularly. Now that you’re coming into your own voice, learn new ones. Read my article on dialects.

Stay Busy
If you aren’t getting professional roles because you’re in the throes of adolescence, don’t stop acting. Find opportunities that challenge your range. Audition for a local theater production, or try out for your school play. Playing different roles whether you are paid or not is another important way to expand your skill set. And don’t forget: Go to the theater and watch classic films; if you want to be a good actor, watch good acting.

Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Listen, I know it’s an awkward time in your life. You’re becoming a young man or woman. As a child, you are primarily typecast as a juvenile. To cross over into a successful young adult actor, you need to come to terms with your body and be aware of the image you project. Staying physically active, practicing personal hygiene, and finding a good mental balance are all part of learning to love yourself. Believe me, it shows up in your audition and under the lights.

Take Responsibility For Your Career
Soon you’ll be driving. It can be liberating to feel the independence of learning to steer your career. You’re old enough to communicate with your rep directly. Don’t let your parents do all the talking. Read Backstage regularly for auditions and tips for furthering your career. Make good choices. Surround yourself with friends and family who support you in a positive way.

You’re growing up, and that’s your new role. You may want to put your tutu in a box for safekeeping, but you’re not abandoning childhood; you’re embracing young adulthood. Yes, it will be challenging, uncertain, and even a little frightening. However, it can be the most exciting time in your life if you let it.

3 Tips to Help Young Actors Make Better First Impressions

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It has often been said that a casting director will size you up the minute you walk through the door. It turns out that research from Princeton University shows this to be wrong. It only takes about a tenth of a second! To me, there are two very interesting things about this. First, we make these judgments not just about appearance, but a whole host of traits. Second, these quick impressions last; additional evaluation time increases our confidence in these judgments.

Talk about pressure! This can make not only young actors nervous, but also their parents. And that often leads to trying to make everything perfect with pre-rehearsed answers to expected questions. Unfortunately, all that does is take the spontaneity and interest out of your child. Instead, follow these three tips to help your young actor make their first impression a good one.

1. Practice at home. Help your young actor get comfortable talking about subjects that are likely to come up in a casting call such as their hobbies, siblings, pets, school, and friends. The important part for a parent to remember is to focus less on specific answers and more on feeling comfortable with the subjects. Aside from guiding your child away from blatantly inappropriate or one word responses, let his unaffected honesty, clarity, and personality show. That is what casting directors want to see come through.

2. Make a game out of it. Get a group of friends and family to pretend they are meeting for the first time. Have each person speak with another for a few minutes and then write a one or two word positive “first impression” on a card taped to their partner’s back. Pick a new partner and repeat until all the participants have written something on everyone’s card. Have each person reveal what others said about them and discuss what we communicate when we first meet another person. This is a fun way to cover many basics of good communication such as eye contact, smiling, listening, posture, courtesy, and many others.

3. Head to the mall. Once your young actor feels comfortable talking about himself while role playing with family and friends, it’s time to practice with strangers. If your child participates in baseball, for example, head to a sporting goods store and have them talk to the salesperson about the equipment he uses, what they like and don’t like about it, and what the salesperson recommends. Your goal is to help your child practice and feel comfortable creating a rapport with adults they do not know.

Despite the fact that these are important life skills, for most children and many adults, they do not come naturally. Follow these tips to give your child the communication skills and confidence to make the casting interview a positive experience. Combined with talent and good acting training, you will put your young actor in the best possible position to land many wonderful new roles. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you prepare your young performer for interviews and auditions.

Don’t let Nerves Sabotage a Young Performer’s Audition!

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When people talk about stage fright, they often refer to full-blown deer-in-the-stage-lights, flop sweat anxiety. As an acting coach and teacher primarily for child to young adult performers, I more often see a much milder form that manifests itself during the audition. The nerves reduce a talented actor to giving a flat and uninspiring performance. Don’t let nerves sabotage your audition! Follow these five tips to leave your butterflies outside the door where they belong and land the role your talent deserves.

1. Be very familiar with the dialogue. Young performers often worry that they need to say every word exactly as it is written in the script. Take that burden right off your shoulders! Complete memorization may give some actors confidence, but it is not the main focus in the audition. Instead, focus on mastering the lines well enough so that the script, if you need it, becomes a reference tool instead of a crutch. Veering from the script in small ways is rarely a problem in an audition. Talk to your practice partner to be clear that the goal of running lines is proficiency, not perfection.

2. Make a connection. Confidence in what you are doing in the scene allows you to shift focus away from how you are feeling and toward the rapport you are building with your reader. Make eye contact and react to the reader’s cues. You will notice that the more you connect with someone else, the less nervous you will feel and the better your acting will become.

3. Be pleasant, but don’t worry about pleasing the people behind the table. Young actors are often influenced by their desire to please. Whether that impulse is directed toward a parent, the casting director, or an agent or manager, it is best to ease that burden. Reframe your perspective on the audition. Let it be an opportunity to do the thing you love rather than a judgment of you as an actor. Remember that the casting director genuinely wants you to succeed. And never forget that your parents love you regardless of whether you act on Broadway, in front of the bathroom mirror, or not at all.

4. Own your passion and success. Teen and young adult actors are generally more prone than their younger peers to a crisis of confidence. The rough terrain of going through middle and high school and on to college can take its toll. I encourage you to do two things to minimize these moments of fear and keep them in perspective. First, keep a scrapbook, photo album, or memory box of mementos that connect you to the love and accomplishment you feel about performing. Refer to it often and let it be a source of happiness and pride. Second, continue performing in amateur productions when professional jobs temporarily dry up. Consciously notice how acting makes you feel. Use that understanding to reinforce your confidence at auditions and in all areas of life.

5. Decide who comes with you to the audition. Sometimes it’s best to go it alone and sometimes you do your best with the support of a loved one. Many of my students audition out of their parents view. Talk to your parents if their presence is inhibiting your performance and negotiate a safe and mutual alternative.

Auditions can be nerve wracking but also empowering. You are focusing your initiative and drive on learning the art and putting yourself out there to make your dream a reality. Wow, when you think of it that way, auditions are truly a celebration of you.

How to Audition for Musicals As a Child

Finding a great song that isn’t overdone can be a challenge. Especially if you are ten and have never been in love or had your heart broken. Let’s face it. There are only so many musical theater songs written for young performers. Picking age appropriate material is important so that you can relate to it, but you can also find songs that work by making some adjustments. Maybe a child has never been in a romantic relationship but I’m sure they can identify with losing their best friend or having a celebrity crush.

I am asked all the time about how to choose musical audition material. I decided to ask my collaborator in my upcoming musical audition workshop, vocal coach Bob Marks, to weigh in. Bob has coached hundreds of young performers on Broadway, such as Lea Michele, as well as pop stars, like Ashley Tisdale and Britney Spears.

Here are some of the questions he gets asked.

Student: Where can I find a song no one else sings?
Bob:
 Why would you want to sing a song no one else sings? In my experience, it’s a good idea to sing a song that is not overdone, but not one that the casting team has never heard. You want them to be listening to YOU, not just wondering where the song came from. And the accompanist may have a lot of trouble playing a song he’s never seen before. I think it’s best to give a unique performance and let them remember you!

I have to agree with Bob. And if there is a song you absolutely love, enjoy singing, can relate to, and shows off your voice and personality, go for it! Let them hear the song like they’ve never heard it before.

Student: What if I can't relate to my song because of age or gender?
Bob:
 There are many ways to relate to a lyric, and the private subtext you create (what you’re thinking while you sing), is very personal. You might be singing a love song to a pet or parent, not necessarily your spouse! However, if the people you’re auditioning for feel that the song is inappropriate for you, it might hurt your chances for a callback.

Well put, Bob. I have heard songs written for boys, sung by girls. And vice versa. If you can create a natural, believable story, by all means, sing it.

When auditioning, the song can be taken out of context from the show. How do you, not the character, identify with the song? If you are singing "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid," it is improbable to think you are a mermaid on land for the first time. Perhaps you can imagine you just landed a role on Broadway and play the awe, excitement, and exhilaration that would come with that notion.

I hear kids that have the most beautiful voices. The only thing missing is the story they are telling through their song. Who are you singing to and why are you telling them this? Pay attention to the “monologue” of your song. It’s what will get you the callback and hopefully the job!!!!