Open Forum

Acting audition for musicals

  • 1.  Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-08-2019 10:38
    Hey everyone -
    Just looking to see what has worked best for you when you assess the acting abilities of your students at auditions for musicals.  I have done a variety of ways and am looking to change it up this year.  Would love to hear from you what has worked best!

    • Do you have them prepare something ahead of time or do cold reads from the show?
    • Do you use monologues or games? 
    • Do you let them choose the character to read for with a variety of scene options or do you assign everyone the same scene? 
    • Do you schedule them in individual time slots of in smaller groups?  If individual and doing scenes, do you have the stage manager read with them or another auditioner?

    Just curious to see what people have found most informative in the brief time you have at auditions.

    Christina Kemmerer
    Upper School Theatre Director
    Brooklandville MD

  • 2.  RE: Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-09-2019 08:53

    First of all, I should say that we usually have a very large turn-out for our auditions, so we have to consider the available time.  While we hear every student sing, we do not hear every student read.  Once we have heard the students sing, we confer with our music director, who alerts us as to which students could actually sing which principal roles.  There is no point in reading students for speaking parts if the music director already knows that they can't sing those roles, whether it be a matter of vocal range, timbre, or sheer stamina.  (When we staged 1776, she told us quite flatly that there was only one boy in the whole group who would be able to sing all of John Adams' music.)

    We usually do cold readings in pairs or small groups.  (If the groups get too big, it's hard to assess individuals fairly, especially in short scenes.)  We want to see them interacting with partners, which is harder to assess in monologues.  But our readings aren't really completely "cold"; we give them sides and partners, and send them out in the hall to read over them a few times together before we call them in to read.  If they seem really off in their readings, we will even re-direct them and give them a chance to try again.

    We do select a variety of scenes, partly because our attention would flag watching just one scene over and over, and partly because we try to have students read for roles that they could reasonably play in the show, and that would obviously be different for one student than for another.  We select balanced scenes where every reader gets a chance to show us something, and we also select scenes where the characters are actively pursuing clear objectives.

    We ask students on our audition form if there are any particular roles that they are interested in, and if there are any roles that they would refuse if offered.  We try to let students read at least once from at least one role that he or she finds especially interesting, unless their choices are pipe-dream fantasies.  However, we explain to the students that we can't possibly read every student for every role for which he or she may be suited, so they need to understand that no matter what role(s) we have them read, we're considering them for all parts other than ones they tell us they would refuse.  Often a student will read for a role, and will prove to be wrong for that part, but will, at the same time, show a quality that would be perfect for another role, so we can cast the student in that part without even reading him or her for it.  We often cast students in very small roles without having them read at all, based on what they show us in their singing auditions.

    Jeff Grove
    Theatre Teacher, Aesthetics Department Chair
    Stanton College Preparatory School
    Jacksonville FL

  • 3.  RE: Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-10-2019 10:33
    During callbacks for sung-through shows, I will have them demonstrate their acting skills beyond vocally interpreting the song. For “Jesus Christ Superstar,” for example, I had kids perform about 30 seconds of the callback song without singing any words-they had to do it all with facial expressions and physicality. When I had to test for chemistry and characters who had the more difficult acting arcs, I gave them contentless scenes that they were to first, play as the character they had been called back for, and then I would give them a scenario (you’re plotting a crime, you have a crush, you’re in a helicopter about to crash) and tell them to show me different choices and creativity.

    “Even when the dark comes crashing through-
    when you need a friend to carry you-
    when you’re broken on the ground-
    you will be found.”
    -“Dear Evan Hansen."

    Disario, Jodi
    Drama/English teacher and Director
    Willow Glen High School

  • 4.  RE: Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-09-2019 09:02
    Typically, we'll bring in a group of 10-15 students for a musical audition. We have all of them sing first & then read from the script. I'l prepare audition packets beforehand with scenes from the show, telling students to prepare one scene that they'd like to read at the audition. They'll read with others who are also auditioning, hopefully getting two at a time. I suggest preparing a scene with someone else to encourage this, but I stress that they do not have to have a partner at the audition. We'll pair them up if needed.

    At callbacks, I'll use the same packet (maybe add some new scenes), but I tell kids to be ready to read any of the roles. Again, they'll have these beforehand to prepare (usually just 24 hours). They'll sing again & use songs from the show--ones we assign to them so that they can better prepare, & we'll run through the songs with he accompanist at the beginning of the callback.

    Depending on the show, I may have monologues (if it's appropriate for the show, like Working), or I may have an improv portion for shows like Godspell. Improv is also good to use to gauge who connects well with whom and who is willing to take risks &/or cover for others (I like this if I'm not very familiar with those who are auditioning). Improv can also help with nerves if used at the beginning as a warmup.

    Susan Nieten
    Theatre Teacher & Thespian Troupe Director
    Noblesville High School
    Noblesville, IN
    @NHSTheatre @mrsnieten

  • 5.  RE: Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-09-2019 12:14
    Our musical is curricular, with several levels of Theatre Arts and one vocal music course, Musical Theatre, all meeting the same class period.  We teach an audition unit first.

    The choir director, who is the musical director for the show, checks the range of each student and places them into SATB groups.  She then rehearses 16 bars from a song in the show with each of the groups.  After the groups have learned the music, student cycle through the choir room for her to give each of them some individual help.  The choir director also uploads the accompaniment for each 16-bar piece to Canvas, so students can practice in the right key outside of class time.

    I, as the director and TD for the show, select 8 to 10 monologues (25-30 seconds each) from various plays, each of which has some characteristic that matches one or more characters in the musical.  I encourage students to choose a monologue that contrasts with the 16 bars they will be singing.  Once students are off-book on the monologue, I am happy to watch them perform and give notes.  Some students ask me to see the monologue numerous times, which is great.

    On the audition day, students come in to find an arbitrary order of auditions.  The first 5 students line up backstage, then come out individually to sing their 16-bars and do their monologues.  As the fifth student finishes, the next 5 go backstage.  All of the students watch all of the auditions, either from the first couple of rows of the house or from the wings as they wait to go on.

    Based on those auditions, we hold "cold-reading" auditions from the script the next day.  The choir director and I come up with the list based on the auditions and how far we've seen students progress during the audition unit.  These aren't ice-cold readings, because we start the semester by reading through the musical, changing parts frequently, so students can be familiar with it before we start the audition unit.  Again, all students watch the callbacks.

    Then the choir director and I negotiate the cast and understudies.  We are always surprised at the final list, based on our informal talent inventory when we picked the musical.  Having the audition unit really makes it so much more fair for singers who have never acted and actors who are just discovering a singing voice.


    C. J. Breland
    Asheville High School
    Asheville NC

  • 6.  RE: Acting audition for musicals

    Posted 05-09-2019 12:28
    One thing I tried recently that had some very interesting results, was having students submit the first round audition as a video.  It is more and more necessary for students to submit videos for scholarship and college auditions so I wanted to give them some experience with this.  After the show was announced, I posted links to music tracks (without vocals) for several songs from the show or other similar style songs.  Students had a couple weeks to record themselves singing to the track and email to me.  Because we're a very diverse population with many financially struggling students who may not have access equipment to do this at home (they need one device to play the music and another to record themselves) my theater club officers and upperclassmen, scheduled several days after school or during lunches when students could come have them help shoot the video and give them pointers.

    Here are some interesting results:
    • I figured out very quickly which students were willing to make the time to prepare and to make the commitment.  It weeded out the kids who thought, "audition, oh this will be a hoot!" but would then bail when the rehearsal schedule got heavy.
    • It gave the kids a chance to do a second take (or third...) and submit an audition they felt good about.
    • I was able to find a couple kids who were amazing but just hadn't auditioned well in the past.
    • I and my music director were able to watch auditions separately and/or together as our schedules allowed and really discuss the students' potential without talking in front of them.
    • I was also able to quickly weed out the auditionees who were just very poorly prepared or were a definite no! In the past I've auditioned perhaps 100 to 150 students and cast 30 to 60. Our stage just can't handle anymore than that. With so many students, if you give each kid only 5-7 minutes, you're still looking at about 10+ hours of audition time, before call backs.
    • After this first round of vocal auditions, we created a call back list and sent specific song requests and scenes to prepare. We then saw those students live.

    I don't do this every time, but it was an interesting experiment and a great learning experience, for all of us!

    Jenny Brotherton
    Drama Coach-Teacher
    Scranton PA