This is a post I promised way back here. I’m gonna be talking material choice. Here are the types of things I consider when choosing audition material.
What are you auditioning for?
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be surpised by how many people don’t take this into consideration. If you’re auditioning for Lend Me a Tenor, now might not be the best time to pull out your big death scene monologue. If you’re auditioning for High School Musical, you probably want to save that sheet music for Climb Every Mountain for another day.
Choose material that is similar in tone to the show you’re auditioning for, but unless asked, never perform a song or monologue from the actual play. You might look at other plays by the same other; other songs by the same composer.
Lose your Monologue Book
Monologue books are great resources for classwork and even for competitions, but the problem with them is that everyone else probably has the same books. I’ve watched three people audition with the same monologue in one afternoon. The third person can’t help to have two strikes against them because I’m getting bored before they even start.
The best way to get monologues is to read plays. A lot of plays. And I don’t mean flipping through the pages to find big chunks of text because you’ll be missing out on some great stuff. I often do pieces that I’ve strung together from several pages of a character’s dialogue.
What’s the Journey?
Choose pieces that have a journey (or wrestle a piece into having a journey). By a “journey” I mean that the character is in one emotional state at the beginning of the piece, and through the piece they transform to another emotional state. Don’t pick pieces that are all yelling, or all crying, or all anything. They are boring. If you want to show that you can cry, for example, then start happy and transform through the movement of the monologue. Or start sad and transform to a state of understanding. Oh – and if you want to yell, yell once – one sentence. Any more and they’ll be clawing their eyes out.
Keep it Short
I’ve sat in on auditions and, sad to say, you can tell in the first few words of a monologue whether or not you ever want to see this person again. A long monologue in an audition is an exercise in self-indulgence. Keep it in the two minute range. If they like you then they’ll want to see more (that’s a good thing!). If they don’t like you (or if you’re just not right for the project/season) then you’re not wasting their time or aggravating them.
You can see this for yourself when you watch American Idol. You can usually tell in the first couple of bars whether or not they’re going to Hollywood. They’ll often cut a very good singer off very quickly because there’s no point in continuing, the decision is obvious. Likewise they’ll let a very bad singer go on and on and on, but they only do this because it makes good TV.
Contrast Contrast Contrast
Generally speaking they’ll ask to see two things. Sometimes it’s two monologues, sometimes a monologue and a song, sometimes even two songs. Be sure to choose two pieces that, while still in a comfortable performing range for you, are quite different from each other. Show them as much range as you can possibly show.
Exception: If you’re auditioning for a specific role then you’ll want to want to narrow your pieces to characters similar to the role. You’re trying to make they say to themselves, “Well if she can do this then she could easily handle that.”
Here’s how I chose my pieces:
- What am I auditioning for?
My audition is what they call a “General Audition.” I’m auditioning for a season of shows as opposed to a specific show. This theatre is doing a fairly contemporary musical (but there really aren’t any roles in it for me), a comedy musical theatre revue, an adaptation of the Narnia books, and a classic musical. There’s one role in the season that I’d particularly like to play so I chose pieces that are going to try to suggest that character to them. I’m going with a character from a Norm Foster play and a Cole Porter song.
- Lose the monologue book
Done. My monologue isn’t in any monologue book and isn’t even a monologue in the original play. I’ve assembled it from several pages of dialogue.
- What’s the journey?
My monologue, as written, doesn’t have an emotional journey for the character. It comes from an early part of the play and the character’s just being introduced. But it’s written well enough that a journey will work quite nicely . The character is a slick salesman-type and so I’m going to be cocky and confident at the beginning, then slowly get frustrated and belligerent by the end.
The song has a great inherent journey from sly and coy to specific and overt.
- Keep it Short
The song (even as written) clocks in at a minute and a half. Perfect. I’ve done this particular monologue before at about 2.5 minutes but I’ve cut another minute out of it to bring it down to about 1.5 minutes.
- Contrast Contrast Contrast
Both the song and monologue have contrast, and the characters are both quite different from each other.
On Wednesday I’ll share my best tips for the actual audition, then on Sunday I’ll tell you all about how the audition actually went!