Survival Kit for Drama School Musical Theatre Auditions

Musical Theatre Musings thought that for their readers out there that were aspiring performers an article on auditions for drama school may be useful and who better to pen it than James Hall.

James Hall is a musical director and singing teacher based in London. He is often found behind a piano auditioning many hopefuls for drama schools or roles in shows. James has led multiple workshops for young people focusing on audition technique, acting through song and finding the right audition material. He regularly teaches at Laine Theatre Arts and many of his private students have gone on to study at Arts Educational School, Mountview, Guildford School of Acting, ALRA, The Urdang Academy, Italia Conti, The Brit School, University of Chichester and others have gone on to perform professionally around the country and in West End shows. 

First, put yourself in the shoes of the people on the panel. What are they aiming to do from the audition process?

  1. They need to recruit the next year’s cohort. They need a diverse range of people who are ready for training. Not West End quality but ready for training and are employable when they graduate.
  2. They want to see the potential in all the candidates they see, they want you to be confident and for you to do your best. They are on your side.
  3. They are not just looking for the best people in the room. They are looking for a number of things that will potentially gain you a place. Your singing might have been a bit off that day but they might still offer you a place if they thought you had a great personality or they loved the way you moved or how you acted the song. They all know how nerve racking auditions can be and they can usually tell if you’re having an off day.
  4. They will also want to see auditionees have an eagerness to learn and determination to succeed as they will want to enroll students who have a great work ethic.

 Drama School Audition Checklist

  • Research the institution, their alumni and current student training opportunities.
  • A want to learn and thrive at the college/institution.
  • Determination to succeed.
  • Confidence and personality.
  • Ideally having high ability across all skills or to have as much flexibility in all areas as possible, although previous training or experience might not matter depending on the institution.
  • Potential for training and employability after graduation.
  • A sense of realness and perspective
  • Well prepared and smart.
© Simon Whitehead Photography

Choosing the right audition material is a vital part of the process and should not be rushed. It could take weeks to find that ideal song or monologue but it helps to be thorough in your search. Don’t just settle for the first thing you like or are recommended.

  1. I get my students to find and rehearse on average about ten songs that we think could be work for auditions.
  2. Then near the audition we choose our top two songs, one contemporary and one legit and then another one of each as back up choices in case the panel asks for something else.
  3. Sometimes we choose songs specifically for the institution or depending on the requirements e.g. some places want an unaccompanied song.
  4. Always take backup songs as for one particular auditionee a few years ago; it secured her a place on the course.

Choosing an Audition Song Checklist

  • A song that demonstrates you in your best way and doesn’t highlight any weaknesses.
  • That fits the requirements of the audition notice such as style or time period.
  • Has an accompaniment that supports you and is not ridiculously complicated for the accompanist to sight read.
  • Shows a range of skills such as different voice qualities, tone, range and acting through song.
  • A song that is not overdone.
  • A song that is not too repetitive.
  •  Written for a character around your age or that you can connect with and generally should be the same sex.
  • Will make you memorable as a performer.
  • Has a narrative that goes somewhere or resolves that you can interpret.

Ensure you have a personal connection to the song as you’re not auditioning for a character but as yourself for a place on a course, so a personal connection is really important. E.g. if you’re a kind, caring, confident person don’t pick a song that is about a rude, bad tempered ego driven person.

Preparing and rehearsing your songs is again a process you don’t want to rush. Throughout this process you should be doing the following:

  • Research the song, composer and the musical it comes from.
  • Analyse the text, context and subject matter including the setting and time period.
  • Speak the words first and perform as a monologue.
  • Have a grasp of the journey of the song and how you’re going to present it.
  • Check the key, generally we expect songs to be in the original key so is it too high or low?
  • Rehearse the problematic/challenging areas with your singing teacher.
  • Experiment with the material and characterisation to think about how you are going to perform/interpret it.
  • Focus on how the emotion of the song feels and not how it looks to an audience.
  • Physical gestures should be spontaneous and not overly choreographed.
  • Check that any cuts don’t disrupt the dramatic context of the piece and musically makes sense.
  • Check that your song is under the required time limit.
  • Get feedback from a range of people and video/record yourself – watch back and evaluate.
  • Rehearse in your chosen outfit to ensure you’re comfortable.
  • Rehearse what information you need to give to the accompanist e.g. any cuts or changes in tempo
  • Ensure your sheet music is correct and you’ve rehearsed with it.
  • Ensure your sheet music is clear and taped together correctly with all cuts marked clearly.

Advice for monologues is very similar to song choice, additionally:

  • Ensure you choose material suitable for the audition such as contemporary, classical, Shakespeare, comedy etc
  • If you have to do more than one monologue ensure they are contrasting.
  • Don’t forget to think about vocal delivery even for a monologue e.g. diction, tone, pitch, pace etc.
  • Avoid heavily depressing topics such as rape and death etc.

Advice for the dance part of the audition:

  • Bring clothing that isn’t too tight and restrictive or too revealing, again something smart and comfortable to dance in that allows the panel to clearly see your posture, arm and leg line.
  • Wear something that helps identify you amongst the group such as a ribbon holding your hair up or a pair of leggings that have a distinctive pattern.
  • If possible ensure you can stand somewhere where you can be clearly seen and you can see the teacher/choreographer.
  • Listen carefully to instructions and details.
  • Always give everything a go if you find something challenging.
  • If a routine or exercise is really simple still give it everything you’ve got. It’s usually simple for that reason.
  • Often less is more, ensure you can perform the basics really well e.g. your kick might not be as high as the person next to you but you may have the better turnout. Quality not quantity.
  • Don’t try and show off or do more than that’s been asked of you, it can often come across negatively.
  • Be respectful to your fellow auditionees.
  • Use any spare time you may have to go over or rehearse movements or phrases.
  • Try to enjoy it and show the panel that you are enjoying yourself even if you’re not.

The day of the audition:

  • Ensure you have enough time to get to the venue and perhaps choose a route that is as stress free as possible. I often recommend travelling the day before or if you’re using public transport (especially in London) do a dummy run the week before so you know where everything is.
  • Have a good healthy breakfast (or other meal).
  • Steam the night before and on the day for 10 minutes.
  • Ensure you have everything you need and take spare copies of everything.
  • Arrive early and allow yourself enough time to get changed etc.
  • Ensure you do a good thorough warm up beforehand if the institution isn’t able to facilitate one (some do and is part of the audition).
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they can dehydrate you. Take water.
  • Avoid food that’s high in sugar, instead eat foods that have slow releasing energy and definitely do not take any throat lozenges including Vocalzones!
  • Remain calm and don’t over practice while you’re waiting.
  • Enter the room with confidence and a smile, remember your audition starts as soon as that door opens.
  • If you are in the room whilst others are performing remember that you are being watched all the time and you should be respectful of whoever is performing when you’re not.
  • If appropriate say “Nice to meet you/How are you” etc to the panel but don’t be put off if they don’t seem very friendly, being on an audition panel all day can be draining.
  • Remember to give them the impression you want to be there and you’re passion for the subject/course

Self tape advice

  • Clear a space to perform in that has a neutral background such as a plain white wall with no pictures or shelving etc.
  • Use a space that has lots of natural light if possible.
  • Try and use a high resolution camera. If you don’t have one a good quality camera on a smartphone or tablet should be fine.
  • If you can, use a seperate high quality microphone. I personally recommend the Zoom H4n recorder as you can record directly onto SD card or directly via USB to a laptop or computer.
  • Always shoot landscape.
  • For songs and monologues make sure you are presented equally in the frame of the camera with your head and shoulders present. Try and judge a good distance, not too close and not too far away. You don’t need your whole body in the shot.
  • For dance routines make sure you know where the edges of the frame are so you don’t disappear out of shot (you can use some tape on the floor for that.) Again make sure you don’t end up too close and ensure all of your body can be seen.
  • Announce your name and title of the piece before you start or have it in text on the video.
  • Ask someone to stop and start your recording for you and to start any music.
  • For songs ensure your use a clear, high quality backing track. A piano accompaniment track is always preferred and there are plenty of accompanists and musical directors who offer these services, especially if you have cut a song.
  • Check the balance of backing track with your voice and ensure the track is not too loud.
  • Check time limits.

The beauty of the self tape is that you can do as many takes as you want. I recommend recording three attempts, watching them back and making notes. Choose the best one or do another three takes. Send your favourite ones to your teachers for feedback.

Good luck with your auditions.

By James Hall BA (Hons) PGCE ATCL (Musical Theatre)

Singing & Theatre Arts Teacher, Musical Director, Piano Accompanist & Composer.

For any further hints, tips and even singing lessons contact him through his website – James also offers online lessons and these can be booked via his website.

If you like this article you might also like my articles on if am dram shows should be reviewed, and my Who Sang It Better Series which includes She Used To Be Mine and Burn.

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