Musical Theatre Diaries Pt. 2 – The Auditions

My least favourite part of the musical theatre process is the audition process. But yet it is also the most essential part of the process and something that cannot be avoided. Let me start by telling you what I do and then I will explain why I don’t like it – but also how I overcome some of the obvious issues.

The outcome for an audition is simple – you want to get the best cast you can for the show you are doing. You need to match singing with acting and potentially dancing. Someone who can sing, dance and act might be the perfect person for the role, but then they might not be. The process therefore needs to be systematic and it also needs to be helpful to the students.

This year I met with all those interested 3 weeks before the audition date. At this meeting I launched the show and talked them through the process. I then provided sections of music & script and also backing tracks to help them. I didn’t ask them to prepare huge scenes and with the help of the drama staff we selected bits that would stretch them and hopefully unveil the characters they had within them. For the songs I chose short passages, but passages that showed their strengths and also pushed them to those higher notes. Giving them all of this material is crucial as they need to know what they are doing.

At the meeting I also discussed the criteria that we as staff use when we are running auditions. I wanted to be even more clear this year than I have been in the past, and this is what was said to students in terms of what we as staff consider when casting:

  1. Commitment shown to the music/drama department including previous shows, ensembles and other rehearsals.
  2. Aspirations for future study at school & higher education
  3. Academic progress and Attitude to Learning
  4. Ability to attend rehearsals and other key dates in the process
  5. Singing, Acting & Dancing ability

Whilst age or year group isn’t a factor we also say that we will aim to honour the commitment shown by students who are higher up in the school as younger students have years ahead of them to get a leading role. IN terms of just being in the show, we open the chorus up to all those who want to be in it, provided they are a member of one of our choirs or ensembles. We don’t hold chorus auditions because we know they can sing and we want the show to be open to all.

After the meeting I asked them to go away and think about the part or parts they wanted to audition for and then fill in a form stating their intentions. This is good because you are then able to offer support to students in a fair way and meet with them to help them. It is always good to make sure that students go into the auditions knowing what they are doing. I went through the songs with anyone who wanted me to and so it was fair.

In the actual auditions we audition each character one at a time, singing first, then acting. They all sing as a group a couple of times and then they perform to each other. The aim behind this is not only transparency, but it also gives students a chance to see everyone. When we eventually announce the cast we hope that students agree, having seen all the auditions, that the person who got the part deserves it.

Auditions can drag on, and so it important to be fair, but also clinical in your decision making process. Everyone deserves a shot, but then you may have to do a call-back and keep just 3 or 4 back. Auditions are brutal in many ways, especially for young people, but that is the only way of being fair and finding the best person for the role.

Once auditions are done and deliberations have been had, it is then cubical to get the cast list up and out and I often run to my office and hide!

So why do I hate it so much?

Well maybe hate is a strong word, but I really find the audition process hard. The main reason for that is that I hate disappointing and upsetting students. It is so hard to choose one or two for leading roles, especially when there is so much talent in the room. This year it was so hard to choose a Beauty and a Beast, and those who didn’t get the parts were all just amazing. The week after announcing he cast is always a quiet one in the music and drama areas as students come to terms with it. It is important to hear them out if they are upset, but also it is important to be clear that it was a fair process and the outcome is what it is. I really do not like upsetting students, but what I aim to do is give as many of them parts and opportunities as possible – throughout the year I have numerous concerts and events for them to sing at.

So auditions. They are hard, more so for the young people, but also staff. Hard, but essential. So just be clear, be fair and make the best decisions for the students, show, school and cast.

I can’t wait to get this show on the road, it really is a great one!

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