Now that the winter recess is over, one of the first things I will be doing is holding auditions for our spring musical. Each year I and two other teachers put on a musical, usually from the Broadway Jr. series. Our show includes students in grades 3-8, and rehearses 2-3 times per week for ninety minutes after school. For many of the younger students, this will be their first show, and for most of the students, their audition for our show is or was in past years their first time auditioning for anything. With this level of inexperience, we have found that it is helpful to teach the students how to audition, and to give them practice auditioning, before they take the real one.
There are always students who are reluctant to do anything in front of others, singing among them. To ease everyone into auditioning, I start with group singing of the songs I want them to eventually use for their audition. After that, I have groups of four students sing the song together in front of the rest of the group. Next, I have individual students sing a phrase or two of the song, each student singing the same phrase. When I get to this point, I will start with the most confident students, and give a mini-master class using their singing of the phrase. I will explain that I am listening for projection, singing technique, and expression. Limited or occasional mistakes are nothing to be worried about at this point. I have the student sing the phrase one or two more times, and focus on projection, technique and expression. At this point, if they want to try it standing in front of the group, I encourage it, or they can still sing seated in the group.
We generally have a turnout of about forty students, so everyone does not get a chance to sing by themselves, but all do get to see how it done, and all get to learn the music they will be singing for the audition. After I have led them through these things, the director leads them through a similar routine for acting. Students are given sides to read, and the director goes over character descriptions, and what he will be looking for in their acting, which is essentially the same as for singing; projection, expression and speaking technique. Students have 5 minutes to read over the side and come up with an approach to reading the part. They are then called up in groups according to what characters are called for in the side. Students act an receive feedback as they go.
The final segment is dance. The choreographer will lead the group through a standard dance audition, teaching the group a simple unison routine that is then done in smaller groups. None of this counts toward casting our show, and no formal notes or scoresheets are filled out, although exceptional performances are noted and kept in mind for the actual auditions. Occasionally a student will show substantial potential but will not intend to actually audition. This makes us aware of his or her talent and provides an opportunity for us to encourage him or her to go through with auditioning. Often just recognizing a really good mock audition is enough to cause the student to change his or her mind; they often had not realized or considered that they would be successful at this.
Now that the students have at least a working knowledge of the material they will be using for their audition, they are as prepared as someone who was experienced enough prepare themselves. The next day or two we will hold the actual audition. Though we encourage everyone who plans on auditioning to come to the training session, it is not required. Students from previous shows or with previous acting experience that could not make the training session are especially encouraged to audition anyway. I find that students like being asked, and some will wait for a personal invitation, especially the older students. It is an opportunity to encourage my students by pointing out their high qualifications, and really is necessary to fill out the cast.
At the actual audition, students who are trying for a major role must sing alone. Those who just want to be part of the ensemble sing in groups of four, and everyone, regardless of their intent, takes the acting and dancing portion of the audition. Every now and then we “discover” someone who didn’t intend to have a speaking part, but who has such a good audition that both the student and we discover they have heretofore unknown ability. After the audition, we will usually cast the show that afternoon, unless there are still major vacancies to fill. Once the show is cast, we begin rehearsals the next week, and will rehearse until the May production.
This year will be my sixth year doing musicals. Through those years I have found doing the shows raised the prestige of my program, brought the school community together as parents and teachers get involved, and provide excitement for the students. Many of them look forward to starting the show from the first day of school, and impatiently wait until January to begin. We do a cabaret show of scenes, skits, theater games and songs in November, which gives the students experience on stage without the demands of a full-scale show, and this also helps prepare them for the main stage production in the spring. The method we have used for preparing students to audition and perform shows has worked well, and can easily be used for other types of auditions as well.