While coaching a student recently, I found myself going on at length about the importance of bringing “yourself” to an audition. As I went on, I realized that this has multiple meanings for me. Each of these is equally important and also perhaps equally contrary to what many students are taught in school.
The most obvious element to this is simply being yourself. What I think many young actors don’t realize when they first begin auditioning, is that the folks behind the table are just the same as anyone they’ve worked with on a show before. They are talented, passionate people with a love for their work, and the thing they are looking for at an audition–sometimes more than anything else,–is someone they will like. The actors they cast from this audition are people they are going to be stuck working with for the length of their show’s rehearsal period at the very least and just like you, they want to have a good time. I don’t necessarily mean “a good time” as in “hours of partying, fun, and frolic” (though with some companies that may be accurate) but this is a business people go into because they genuinely love it and part of what makes that sustainable is choosing fun, adaptable, talented people to work with. Forget everything you learned from voice recitals, college auditions, and drilling for the SETCs, and just be yourself. Be a polite, well-groomed, articulate version of yourself, yes, but don’t be afraid to be warm or to smile or laugh if something is funny, and above all show them who you are. When I was performing professionally, I was never the person who fit most perfectly into anyone’s preconceived notion of what they were looking for in an audition, but with a combination of talent and an easygoing, distinctive personality I was able to be someone people wanted to cast, and the directors I worked with would alter their preconceptions to make that happen.
Secondly, one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a professional performer is to recognize your greatest strength. At any given audition, there are going to be at least forty people (that is a completely made-up statistic, but you get my point) who fall into the same general category as you do in the minds of the auditioners. What is it that makes you special? Do you have an exceptionally fantastic singing voice? Are you an extremely strong actor? Can you dance circles around everyone else? Chances are, no matter how hard you’ve worked to shore up your skills, there is still one thing that you do better than the other people around you. Be honest with yourself about what this is, and use that in any way you can. Maybe what makes you special isn’t any one of these things, but the fact that you are genuinely competent in each (this is much rarer than you think). Or maybe the truth is that you are simply better-looking than anyone else in the room. If you’ve got it, use it. What makes you special is your foot in the door. Keep working to improve your weaker areas, but don’t hesitate to show off what’s best in an audition, and don’t be ashamed to take steps to cover up those weaknesses. If you are worried you can’t hit that high “A” every time, don’t sing a song that requires it. Find the piece that shows off your strength and nail it at every audition.
Lastly, and this is the one that’s going to get me in trouble, don’t let ideas of perfection train your uniqueness out of you. Some of your teachers may hate me for saying this, but sometimes your faults are what make your talent unique. I was listening to Rufus Wainwright in the car today. He’s one of my favorite singers, though his technique is terrible. He barely opens his mouth, giving him a lazy, nasal tone. He’s a heavy smoker, which makes his mid-range raspy and kills his breath control (this is most obvious in live performance). He slides all over the place, like he’s singing with a slow drawl. It is all these things, however, that make him sound like Rufus Wainwright and the truth is, I absolutely love that sound. I can’t get enough of it. I’d even go so far as to say that his studio recording of “Poses” is one of the loveliest performances in my entire CD collection. Now, I’m not suggesting that you should all start smoking and stop opening your mouths when you sing (no, please no), and certainly Rufus’ particular characteristics are not things generally accepted in theater. What I am saying is that there may be something unique about your talent that is contrary to accepted norms and it’s not necessarily something you should get rid of, at least not entirely. If it makes singing, acting, etc. harder (like Rufus’ smoking), then absolutely you should. And yes, if you want to get first class chorus work, you’d better work to have that perfect voice. But if you want to be remembered, sometimes that little imperfection is what will push you over the edge. If you think this is the case, don’t fear it. Use it. Even as you’re working to be your best, you want to be the best you, not someone else.
As you train for a professional career in theater, remember that the instrument for your work is you. Never lose sight of who that is and don’t underestimate its importance to your success.