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Tips for RENT Auditions

Auditions for the 2017-2018 national tour of RENT are coming up soon! Here are some tips to help you craft a good audition.

DO:

be your authentic self.

dress casual and funky.

remember that the show is about Love, and choose material accordingly.

communicate the feel of your song to the accompanist.

choose material that reflects the world of the show and the characters

listen to the Spotify playlist we made of (mostly) all the songs we heard at last year’s Rent/Mamma Mia auditions. Every time we heard a song, we plugged it in; so if we heard “Creep” by Radiohead 10 times, so will you. Which songs do you think were successful, and which were not so successful? Which songs would YOU like to hear someone sing with a piano in an audition room?

DON’T:

wear a costume

try to fake a rock sound

sing a musical theatre song

sing “Alone” by Heart, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis, or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

Many people who don’t really know Rent or don’t understand it think that the show is about a bunch of angry people yelling at each other. It’s not. It’s about love, and it’s about family. Sometimes people who love each other get mad and fight; and sometimes life is shitty and you have to scream about it. But anger is not the heartbeat of this show; LOVE is. All aspects of love: Family, Friendship, Romance, Sex, Self-Love, Passion for your work, Passion for humanity. Those are good themes to work with when choosing audition material. Think about what character you would be in the world of the show and find material that encapsulates that character.

The most important question we need you to answer, musically, is how you handle the styles of music in the show. Each character enters their world through a specific musical style. Collins is Soul/R&B, Mimi is Rock & Roll w/a hint of 80s pop ballad, Roger is Grunge Rock, Mark is Alternative, Maureen is Blue-Eyed Soul, Joanne is Soul, etc. They mix it up, but they’re all rooted in something. Remember that essentially RENT is an opera. The stakes are high and the characters’ feelings are raw and amplified.

What we do NOT need to hear in your initial audition is how high and loud you can sing. We’ll get to that later in the process. The open call is about getting to know YOU, your authentic style, and your funky personality.

Thoughts on this week

It’s been a terrible week for me, as I know it has for many of us across the country. I have had a difficult time focusing my attention on work, on my family, on anything except this terrible election outcome. It is a dangerous time to be female, gay, Jewish, brown, black, disabled, an immigrant, a Muslim, or anything but a cisgendered straight white male. All of us in my office fit into one or more of those categories. And most of our fellow Americans do as well. We’re scared, we’re confused, we’re stunned and we’re pissed. And we’re each of us a target.

On the other hand… we are so lucky that we have this job to come to every day. Our mission has never been more successful than it has in 2016, nor more essential than it will be in 2017. We have fought for inclusion and representation on the stages that bear our casting credit and we have won many of those battles, and we will KEEP winning. Every day we get to come to the greatest city in the world and direct our energies toward creating art that will spread the message of love and hope and inclusion and kindness across ALL of the country.

I spoke to a colleague about this last night who shared with me her fear and sadness about the cast of RENT traveling to a deep red state. “These beautiful souls, spreading a message of love, people of color, queer people of color, in the middle of a state that hates people like them and loves guns.” The thing my colleague is holding onto right now is that we in the arts get to be a beacon of love and kindness and tolerance around the country. “And there,” they went on, “in the audience in West Virginia, are all these little blue dots.” I know some of those blue dots — I went to college in Winchester, VA, just 15 minutes from the WV border. Many of the kids in my school were from there. Little queer boys and girls in the middle of nowhere, singing and dancing and hiding from bullies, some in their own immediate family. Finally in college they were able to open up and be themselves, and all because of the arts.

Hold on to that thought as you wake up every work day. We are the beacon. We will be driven and inspired by the themes of our shows: optimism, kindness, empowerment, family & friends, and love. And We Shall Overcome.

Let’s get back to work!

With love and hope,

Joy Dewing CSA

90 Seconds of Glory

UPTA.

TCUTA.

SETC.

NETC.

MWTA.

StrawHats.

If reading these letters makes you want to pop a Xanax, you’re not alone. Compressing all of your talent, skill, and artistry into a 90-second sales pitch can be a harrowing challenge, and no, it doesn’t show you off in the best way possible; but that’s not the point of those 90 seconds. The point is to introduce yourself, to say “Here’s me, and here’s what I do. If you’d like to see more, call me back!” So if you’re desperately trying to shove every conceivable facet of your talent into your “package” (that’s shorthand for your 90-second audition package, don’t get it twisted), then you’ve broken the cardinal rule of show business: Always leave ‘em wanting more!

Selecting Material

This topic is an entire blog unto itself; but here are a few bullet points to help steer you in the right direction.

  • Review this comprehensive “overdone” list. It’s very sensible. It’s not completely up-to-date but it sure is a good start.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, avoid songs that are obscure just to find something obscure. They’re probably obscure for a reason. 
  • There are exceptions to both of the above rules.
  • Read this list of “Songs I Never Mind Hearing at Auditions.” (Disclaimer: I’m married to this guy.)
  • What do you do? What’s your “thing”? What are your strengths? Your material SHOULD represent the answers to those questions. 
  • What are your weaknesses? Your material should NOT represent those.
  • We don’t need to hear the money notes. Don’t select material SOLELY for the reason that it has a high Q# at the end. 
  • IF and only IF you are a BELTER (male or female): Please do not yell at us. Everybody loves a fierce belt but nobody wants to be shouted at all day long. Fierce = control & refinement. 
  • IF YOU ARE NOT A FIERCE BELTER THEN DO NOT SING A FIERCE BELTER SONG. 
  • Not everyone needs to be a belter. I am never mad at a sensible warm mix.
  • IF SINGING IS NOT YOUR PRIMARY SKILL THEN DO NOT SING. “But I want to get seen!” You don’t want to get seen being anything less than your best. Do your BEST work for some of the people, not your WORST work for all the people. Or, to put it another way: NPFT
  • If your monologue has lascivious clowns, your mother’s ashes, or a murdered fish, find something else.

Those 90 Seconds
(or 60, if you’re not a singer (see above about not singing))

Listen to me.

Are you listening?

NO SERIOUSLY. LISTEN TO THIS NEXT PART VERY CAREFULLY:

Nobody cares if TIME is called on you. 

Here’s the thing. You have 90 seconds (or 60, if you’re an actor-not-a-singer) to deliver the goods. You will practice your “package” and time yourself 96,000 times before the big day. You will come in WELL under the limit every time. And then on the big day, the time/space continuum expands and somehow you’re just getting to the good part when 

“TIME!”

is called and you stutter, panic, mumble and stumble offstage with your head hung low. But guess what? NOBODY CARES. So if you go over time and you hear the timekeeper hollering 

“TIME!” 

like you’re on Top Chef or something, just stop talking or singing and take a breath in and let it out. Then say your name & number, smile, and strut offstage like you just won the damn Tony. 

Other tips to make the most of your 90 seconds of Glory:

  • Take your time walking onstage.
  • Don’t cheese the audience. It’s not a pageant.
  • Practice saying the word “availability”.
  • Make sure your starting note is clear.
  • Don’t rush the ending. Take a moment to breathe before you say your name & number.
  • Say “availability”. Say it now. 

Dance Callbacks

  • Go to the warmup! Several companies watch warmup, some even leave before the audition starts. 
  • Dress warmly: Hotel ballrooms are always freezing cold.
  • This one is especially for the movers among you: Don’t ever stop moving! Keep practicing until it’s time for you to walk in the audition room. Your body might know it but your mind will freeze under pressure (and vice versa). 

Callbacks

So here’s the weird thing about SETC, UPTA, etc.: Callbacks take place in the company’s hotel room. THIS IS THE ONLY INSTANCE IN WHICH IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO AUDITION IN SOMEONE’S HOTEL ROOM.

  • Bring a refillable water bottle and keep drinking it.
  • Bring a pitch pipe/download a pitch pipe app on your phone, or bring accompaniment tracks for your callbacks. Hotel rooms don’t come with pianos (at least, not the ones that theatre companies can afford!). Sometimes the company will bring a keyboard but mostly you’re going to sing a cappella; so having your own tracks ready to go is always impressive (and more fun).
  • If you get a lot of callbacks, prioritize. You don’t have to go to all of them. Don’t feel bad; it’s ok if you want to give us a pass. Just slip one of those reject slips under the door and let us know. Don’t just not show up.
  • Plan to stay at least an extra half-day, preferably an extra full day, just in case you don’t make it to all your callbacks. Some companies do morning or afternoon callbacks so if you miss them at night you can hit them the next day.
  • Have a repertoire list ready to hand out. If a company rep asks you “What else do you have?” You don’t want to be stumbling. Have a list ready to go and you’ll save everyone lots of time.
  • When singing a cappella, always keep the beat. Don’t skip beats just because you’re not singing. You have to hear the band in your head, because we will. Here’s Intern Noellia to demonstrate:

THE RIGHT WAY

THE WRONG WAY:

One more word about callbacks: It’s hard, but please try not to compare yourself with your friends. You just never know the reason companies respond more to one artist than another in any given season. The fewer callbacks you have, the more you can prepare for them!

These combined auditions can be crazy town; but they’re an adventure. Enjoy the ride and don’t obsess over the outcome. 

See you in Memphis!

Diversity

I am a member of CSA, which stands for The Casting Society of America, the professional organization of Casting Directors. I am on the Board of Directors for CSA, where I serve on the Diversity Committee, along with my colleagues David Caparelliotis, Rosalie Joseph, and Stephanie Klapper. About a year ago, the committee sat down with representatives from the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts to discuss the topic of diversity in casting. It was mainly an introductory and exploratory meeting for us to ask the question: “What can we do to make this better?” Out of that meeting (and several follow-up meetings, as our group expanded) sprang a veritable geyser of discussions, arguments, stories, experiences shared and ideas pitched. We all agreed that something needed to be done, and that Casting Directors are in a unique position to promote diversity. But what could we do to move the cause forward?

Let’s start with what we CAN’T do: We can’t force a producer or director to cast any particular actor. We can advise, we can offer options, we can inspire new ideas and spark conversations. We can get actors in the room. We can take a certain amount of risk by bringing in actors who are somewhat outside of the parameters set for us by the creative team (a.k.a., the casting breakdown). But we have a job to do, and that job is to find the right actor for the role. If the playwright says the character is black, then the character is black. If I were to bring in white actors for that role, I would not have a job the next day. West Side Story is about racial tensions between white kids and Puerto Rican kids. Tony is white, Maria is Puerto Rican. The story is ABOUT race. If Tony is black or Asian, the story doesn’t work. Glee is about a bunch of misfit kids, one of whom is in a wheelchair, who start a fierce Glee Club together. If I bring in a fully-abled kid for that role who doesn’t use a wheelchair, I don’t have a… oh wait.

But here’s what we CAN do: We can do better than we have done. We can listen, we can ask you questions without fear, and we can seek understanding from each other. That is why are developing the “Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion in Casting Initiative,” a series of conversations and workshops designed to effect concrete change in how actors in historically underrepresented communities are afforded access to job opportunities. Our first event is a Town Hall conversation between Casting Directors and Actors with Disabilities. The goals of the event are:

•      for both constituencies to better understand the practical issues they encounter in their respective professions.

•      to discuss how CSA might better and more consistently work to increase audition opportunities and advocate for actors with disabilities.

Howard Sherman from Inclusion in the Arts will moderate the discussion.

Date:          Monday, September 21, 2015

Time:          7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.

Location:    The Actors’ Equity Building

165 West 46th Street entrance, 14th floor – Council Room

New York, New York 10036

•      RSVP is necessary, as space is limited

•      CSA members and disabled actors should RSVP by e-mail no later than September 14, 2015, noting their affiliation, to TownHallRSVP@inclusioninthearts.org.

•      The Town Hall, an open forum between casting directors and actors with disabilities, is open to union and non-union artists. It is intended for professional and professionally trained actors with disabilities who are pursuing professional careers.

•      The space is wheelchair accessible and sign language interpreters will be present; those needing other accommodations, please note it in your RSVP.

The other major development that grew out of our partnership with Alliance was a mission statement. We consulted with several representatives from the communities of underrepresented actors and came up with a powerful statement that makes it clear who we are and what we believe in.

CSA is committed to increasing access to casting opportunities for actors who have been historically overlooked in the entertainment industry – from actors of color to actors with disabilities.  In working with our creative and producing teams we will champion our core values of diversity and inclusion, by engaging in thoughtful and informed discussions and by introducing and advocating for qualified actors. CSA and its individual members are committed to doing our part to expand perceptions and to creating a rich fabric of representation in storytelling across all media that reflects our society.

Our next step is to hold similar Town Hall conversations with other communities of actors who have been historically overlooked and underrepresented in the entertainment industry. If you belong to one of these communities and you want to get involved, please reach out to us. We’re Listening.

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