Bonk's Notes about auditioning for the MIT Musical Theatre Guild

compiled by Edmvnd W. Golaski (golaski@alum.mit.edu)
February 2001
Updated May 2002

Goal: increase general clue among actors of how the audition process works, what directors are looking for, and how to audition to maximize their happiness.

Disclaimer: The information below may not be relevant to all theatre groups, or even to all MTG directors. It's meant as a rough guide, and tends to reflect the attitudes of recent MTG directors.

Overview of Auditioning

What the directors are looking for

The directors are looking for the best fit between actors and roles. They don't simply put the best actor in the biggest role. Instead, they're hoping to find people who "have it in them" to play the role the way the director wants it played.

Another criterion is how the actor takes direction; this is a chemistry thing between the actor and the director. The actor can make some improvement in this area, though, by being respectful, listening carefully, and making an effort to follow the direction given by the director. Feel free to ask questions if you don't understand. The last thing you want to do is get attached to a way to read something, and fail to change when the director gives you direction.

Another thing - the directors are looking for what you do right, rather than what you do wrong. Mistakes are expected, so don't focus on them. Instead, focus on showing off what you're capable of. The directors want you to do well, so they're on your side.

Philosophy corner

While the actor's ego may crave the largest role, getting a role that's the right fit is probably more conducive to happiness during the production period. We would argue that it's in your best interest to be yourself, show off what you do well, and trust that the directors will put you where you can, er, shine.

Typical MTG auditions

Before you enter the room.

Check your attitude and ego at the door. This is community theater, and directors aren't going to want to spend a month or two with someone who's arrogant, obnoxious, egotistical, or argumentative, regardless of how well they act or sing.

What they'll do to you

Generally someone will give you an audition form and some forms related to the casting and notification policy. At some point they'll want to take your picture. Read and understand the casting and notification policy - we do things a little strangely at MTG.

Filling out the audition form.

Be illustrative rather than exhaustive in discussing your experience and relevant skills. We don't need to know exactly which twelve musicals you sang in the chorus for, but knowing that you've been in the chorus for that number of shows is helpful. If you played principal roles, mention the show, the role, and try to give a sense of the scale of the production (workshop, community, semi-pro, high-school, etc). Skills (juggling, sword-play), dance, and vocal experience are also useful to put down. Again, give a sense of your experience, rather than cataloging everything explicitly.

Come prepared to write down your schedule conflicts during the production period.

If in doubt, put it down.

Be honest and clear. Misunderstandings can cause trouble later, and blatant lying can get you fired from a show.

Warmup/Range Check

Show up warmed up if at all possible. The warmer you are, the better you'll sound.

Your prepared song

How to pick the right song

Try for something which suits your range and personality. Avoid songs with lots of non-singing bits, or figure out a way to skip over them. If in doubt, pick something which is less challenging but that you can sing well. Avoid songs which are nauseating.

how to sing the song

Interpretation is good - it shows you know what the words mean, but don't go overboard. If you need to read the lyrics off of the sheet music, that's OK (that's why we say bring two copies of the music), though you'll be more free to move if your hands aren't occupied.

You probably won't get to sing the full song. If there's a particular passage you want the directors to hear, arrange to get to that part soon.

The vocal director is looking at your vocal quality, musicianship, whether you can act while you sing (do you pay attention to what the words mean), and various technical details (tuning, etc).

The director is looking more at the whole package. Does your voice and body language suit the song you're singing. Are you entertaining to watch/listen to.

Try not to be nervous (yeah, easier said than done). No one expects perfection from you. Just do your best.

what to do if things go poorly

Keep going, and do your best. Don't keep restarting. Don't apologize for messing up. Don't tell us how badly you think you did.

a note from the audition pianist

(by Stephen Peters, audition pianist for a bunch of shows). MTG pianists aren't paid, so they tend to vary in quality. Sometimes you'll get a pianist who can glance at your music and play it perfectly. Sometimes (often) you'll get someone who can pick out the melody and a nice bass line, but not much beyond that. Sometimes they'll know the song you want to sing incredibly well, sometimes they won't have ever heard it before.

Because of all this, you should help the pianist out as much as possible. Count off a tempo that you'd like to start off with. If you just want to hear the melody line, say so. Maybe hum a bit of the melody so they know what to listen for. If you can choose a piece with a simpler accompaniment, that's probably better than a fast Sondheim piece that changes keys every eight measures.

For the most part, the pianist will try to follow you. If the music is going too slow or too fast, just adjust to the speed you're comfortable with. Make sure that the music you give the pianist has the melody and words marked on it, so they'll be able to follow or cue you if necessary.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, listen to the accompaniment before walking into the rehearsal room. Play it through yourself, or get a friend to play it out for you. Make sure it's in a key you can actually sing. There's nothing more nerve-wracking than practicing against a CD recording for hours, and then walking into an audition room only to find out that the accompaniment is written too high, or doesn't have that string section you were expecting to hear.

Readings

how to prepare

Read through the reading so you are familiar with the words. You don't need to memorize the passage, but you want to avoid tripping over the words. Make a choice as to how you're going to read it - what that choice is is less important than that you make a choice.

Don't make assumptions about what role you're being considered for based on the director's choice of reading.

how to read

Listen carefully to the direction the director gives you. Try to implement it. If you're not sure about something, ask.

what the director is looking for

Two things: First, can you play the role the way the director has asked you to read it. Can he or she "hear" you as the character.

Second, how well do you "take direction". Do you respond and change, or do you just do the same thing you did the first time.

Dialogue

how to prepare

Like the readings - read and familiarize yourself with the words. Make a choice as to how you're going to read.

how to read

Listen to the other actor while they're reading. React. That's acting.

what the director is looking for

Your chemistry with the person you're reading with. How well you play off of another actor. How well you listen. Are you plausible in the role you're reading (or in the role the director is considering you for, which may not actually be the role you're reading).

Audition Questions

The director may ask you a series of questions. They may be vague or specific. They may be to gauge your general comfort level with things that may come up in the production, or they may be very specific for certain roles. If in doubt, ask.

Examples:

Honesty is essential here. Nothing good can come of saying you're OK with something that you're not OK with.

Callbacks

There are many types of callbacks. Possible activities include: learning a song with the vocal director, and then singing it for the director, learning some dance steps and repeating them, and reading more monologues or dialogue. Expect things to be a little hectic.

Not everyone who will be cast is called back - if the directors know where to put you, they may not bother calling you back.

Then what?

the casting review board

The directors propose a cast to the Musical Theatre Guild's Casting Review Board, which must approve the casting before any offers of roles are made. The CRB does not know the names of the actors, but only their student status or MIT affiliation. The intention here is to avoid the situation of directors not giving sufficient consideration to members of the MIT community and in particular to MIT students.

A member of the casting review board often attends auditions, so that someone outside the casting process can comment on whether the audition pool was or was not sufficient to cast the show, should the director propose a cast full of folks with no affiliation with MIT.

In practice, the whole CRB process is largely a formality, and shouldn't be of concern to you as an auditionee. However, if you have questions about the casting process, the CRB representative and chair are good people to contact. Their contact info should be available at auditions.

accepting a role

(Note: the rules cited below were current when this was written. Check the papers you're given at auditions to be sure of the specific casting and notification policies.)

MTG policy requires all auditionees to be contacted within 48 hours of callbacks. That contact might be an offer of a role, notification that we are unable to offer you a role, or notification that we need more time to get back to you. Initial contact is usually attempted by telephone, so if email works much better for you, you should say so explicitly on your audition form.

Once you have received an offer of a role, you have 24 hours to contact the Guild with your decision. This is in fairness to those who may have casting offers contingent on your acceptance of a role.

If you haven't heard from us within 36-48 hours of callbacks, you should attempt to contact the producer, the CRB chair or representative, or in the worst case, the MTG board (mtg-board@mit.edu). It's possible that we tried to reach you and were unable.


Thanks for reading this far. If you've got questions, feel free to contact me or the MTG managing board.

Performances will be in
La Sala De Puerto Rico

January 30-31 and February 5-7 at 8 PM, and February 1 at 2 PM

Tickets are
$6 - MIT and Wellesley students
$10 - MIT faculty, staff, and community; all other students; seniors and children
$15 - General public

Discounts available for groups of 10 or more people.

Production Staff and Cast

The MIT Musical Theatre Guild is currently looking for candidates for the following positions for its IAP 2015 production of Lucky Stiff: Technical Director, Scenic Painter, Master Carpenter, Props Designer, Lighting Designer, Master Electrician, Sound Designer, Sound Engineer, Publicity Designer, Publicity Manager, Program Designer, Costume Designer, Master Seamstress, Hair and Makeup Designer, Reservations Manager, House Manager, Box Office Manager.

Please email lucky-dir @ mit.edu as soon as possible to express interest in any of these positions.