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TBA Online: News & Features: June 2017

The Business of Showbiz: A Half-Baked Audition

Monday, June 19, 2017   (1 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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by Velina Brown

Q: I recently got a short-notice call to audition for a gospel musical, but none of the songs in my audition book were gospel tunes, and it's not really a style I sing in much anyway (I'm sure I could learn it in rehearsal). I decided to sing a standard musical theater song I felt really showed off my voice, but my question is: should I have gone with my strength, or tried to quickly learn the style they wanted, and maybe sound half-baked?

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.

A: When I put your question to a few friends and colleagues in the field Susi Damilano, producing director of SF Playhouse, exclaimed “What a great question!” She then offered “Going with your strength is always a good idea. Following that with a short version of gospel or adding gospel elements to your song would be the way to go. It really depends on what they asked you to do. If you don't address it at all they may think you are being resistant.”  

Darryl Jones, acting chairperson of the drama department at CSU East Bay and local actor/director shares “What I do, and what I tell my students to do, is to do my best to walk into an audition with a song in the style of the musical or [a song] that matches the description of what they are seeking in the audition posting.  I suggest getting close to the style. If it is a style you are not yet familiar with or don't feel will really show off your voice, I do say sing your best song that really shows off your range.  You want to showcase not only your voice but your ability to put a song over and your confidence.  If you are struggling to master a style that is new to you, it is likely that this will read in your audition. If you blow them away with what you can do, it is likely they will call you back to learn the music in the style of the piece.”

Leslie Martinson, associate artistic director of TheatreWorks, states “My short answer is: only bring in audition material which you know well. That means you'll need more than a couple of days to get a song or monologue ready." Martinson proceeds to share more food for thought, ”When you have an audition requesting a genre that's new to you, remember that theatre doesn't fit neatly into categories. Take some time to identify three or four elements of that genre, in that show. Does this particular gospel musical involve, for instance, strong melody lines; or bold, repeated lyrics requiring an emotional build; or long sustains with room for riffing? Perhaps it has a folk-music vibe, with close harmonies or a capella moments? Look at your existing book of audition songs (you do have one, right?) and see which songs share any of those elements, or which songs you could change up, with your tempo or interpretation, to more closely match the music of the show.” 

The more you can immediately show auditors specifically what they’re looking for, the better. However my colleagues agree that in every audition you should lead with your strengths. If you clearly demonstrate that you are a skilled musical theatre performer and convey a genuine eagerness to learn the new-to-you genre of music, you’ll more likely have a chance to show off your ability to learn in a callback. But if you lead with a song you’re not confident singing and give a weak performance, you may not get another chance to show how you would sound with more preparation. Nobody wants to see you out there “half-baked.” We want you fully baked! Um, you know what I mean! Break a leg! 


Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at


Verna Winters Studio says...
Posted Thursday, July 20, 2017
Excellent advice. I also tell my students to find out as much as they can about the production style, get the script, if possible, find out the character you're auditioning for. Then, try to find a song which most closely reflects that character, and apply those character (acting) elements to that song. This may change your practiced interpretation, but since you know the song well, it will be an easy adjustment, and show your potential for the part.