I think I hate them as much as actors do.
I hate them partly because they are barbaric. Playwright James Kirkwood once said, "I think the audition system, especially for musicals, is the closest thing to the Romans throwing the Christians to the lions. It really is brutal." The other reason I hate them is that auditions are often a crapshoot. You do your best to figure out who's right for each role, who will be good to work with, who will be open to trying crazy things, who will give the work everything they've got. But it's hard. We have a pretty great track record at New Line – it's rare that someone fools us in the audition and gets cast when they shouldn't – but it does happen.
What makes it even worse are the bizarre types we see at every audition, none of whom have ever seen our Audition Tips page apparently. So as a public service (and yes, also as a public shaming, because negative reinforcement works), here are a handful of the crazy types we encounter during our audition process. The names have been changed to protect the clueless.
This may sound a little hostile, but just keep in mind that we have to sit through all this, audition after audition, year after year. Mocking these people is my therapy.
The Merman – This type of actor believes that REALLY LOUD is Best. (Helpful Hint: It's not.) They literally stand in front of us and scream their song at us. I don't mean they sing loud; they scream. Sometimes, if we're lucky, there is pitch involved, but often there isn't. They just yell at us. It's mostly women who do this, only occasionally men. Don't scream at us. You're hurting our ears and we will not cast you. I think we have American Idol to blame for this.
The Pirelli – These are the people who rewrite the end of their song so they can show off their high note. I hate that. It's masturbatory and it doesn't impress me. We're not looking for "money notes;" we're looking for actors. And beyond that, as someone who deeply loves the musical theatre, I hate the lack of respect these people show in rewriting someone else's work just because they think they're hot shit. In most cases, that'll get you crossed off our list immediately. And almost none of the people who do this are actually hot shit. Here's my question to these folks: If you don't respect the song you audition with, why should we think you'll respect the material we'll be working on? The song is not yours to rewrite.
And can we all please agree – from now on, no more going for the money note at the end of "The Impossible Dream"! It's not written that way. There's no high note at the end. This song is not meant to be a kick-ass show-off piece. It's not meant to be loud or big. It's a prayer, in the dead of night, in an empty courtyard. It's a song about humility, about living a worthy life. Anybody who sings this song like it's an American Idol audition doesn't understand what they're singing.
The Spin Doctor – These people walk in cataloging for us all their health issues, sometimes in agonizing detail worthy of George Romero, you know, just as a friendly warning that they won't be singing very well today. Then go home and come back when you'll sing well – we do musicals. I guess they want us to hear them audition, imagine how much better they must be when they're well, and then hand them a lead on that basis. Ummm... No.
The Roseanne-ti-Christ – These folks are totally, literally tone-deaf and they have no idea. During our last auditions, one woman sang her entire song about a fourth below the melody. Another pretty much just droned on a single note (I'm being charitable in calling it a "note") for the whole song. I guess most people who are tone-deaf don't know they're tone-deaf because... well, because they're tone-deaf. But it sure is torture to listen to.
The Brad Majors – These are the people who are just fundamentally clueless. They have no idea how to audition for a musical (you'd think that's information you'd want to have before, I don't know, auditioning for a musical). These folks hand our accompanist (who is me, sometimes) the most awful shit – lead sheet (vocal line without a piano part), loose sheets of music (often curled so they won't sit on the music stand), kiddie "simple" piano arrangements, etc. Actors really need to read the instructions on our Auditions page before they audition for us.
The Cockeyed Optimist – We get a lot of these. This might be a subset of the Brad Majors. They find sheet music for their song online, they find a recording of their song online, but they never bother to check if the two match, and they never ask anyone to play through the piano accompaniment to see if it's what they think it is. It usually isn't. And they find that out only as they audition for us. These are the same people who'll put monstrously difficult piano parts in front of a stranger to sightread for them, at the moment when they're trying to look and sound their very best.
The Rock Star – Since we do a lot of rock musicals, we see this type a lot. They bring in an actual rock song (even though our instructions ask for a theatre song) to show us how killer they are singing rock and roll. Unfortunately, most rock songs sound pretty lame with just solo piano, so they end up looking more like a kid in his bedroom than a rock star. They think that because their friends are impressed by them at karaoke, when everybody's hammered, that we will be too. But we're almost never impressed by these folks, because we're almost never hammered at auditions. This isn't about being Kurt Cobain; it's about storytelling.
The Coneybear – These are the folks who just want to do a show, any show really, and they don't know anything about the show they're auditioning for, no idea if they're right for it, no idea what the roles are, etc. They just like doing shows. And because of their cluelessness, they always tend to bring a really inappropriate song. We always know we've got a Leaf Coneybear when they start singing a Rodgers & Hammerstein song for us. NEXT...!
The Guiteau – These are the self-deluded 45-year-olds who think they can play a lead in Rent or bare, and the 18-year-olds who think they can play a character in his 50s. Maybe in high school, not in professional theatre. Again, more women than men seem to have this problem, perhaps because lots of women think we really can't tell how old they are. We usually can. These are also the people who see that the audition includes a choreography audition and they have three left feet, but they audition anyway, do terribly, and then feel terribly wronged when they aren't cast because they know just how awesome they actually are.
The Meadowlark – We don't usually restrict an auditioning actor to only 16 bars of music to sing, as many big companies do (because they have to see more actors than we do), but sometimes actors take advantage of our loose rules, and they bring in a whole song, a really long, repetitious song, in which they sing the same chorus three times and of course it's exactly the same every single time. Often, it's not even a theatre song. And it's really annoying to sit through, because we can't tell if this person can act a song, because there's nothing there to act. At some point, I'll stop them, and then they'll get pissed because they didn't get to the Money Note they rewrote at the end. Here's another helpful hint: Don't sing the same verse or chorus twice unless it's different the second time. And if you sing it a third time, I might slap you.
The Cassie Clone – These are the folks who are determined to "stage" their audition song. I'll never forget one woman years ago who auditioned with "Send in the Clowns," and spent her entire audition walking in circles. Others come in with dance moves, obviously practiced gestures and facial expressions. Believe me, folks, nothing looks dumber. Have you seen Waiting for Guffman? We want to know if you can sing and act a song, and we don't care how well (or in most cases, how badly) you can stage a song. And you're not Donna McKechnie.
The Patty Simcox – These are the folks who call me after the audition to ask for feedback and advice, though they're really just looking for praise and an explanation for our inexplicable decision not to cast them, or even worse, to cast them in the ensemble when they know they're perfect for the lead. When I give them my opinion, they tell me I'm wrong and start an argument with me. If you don't want my opinion, don't ask. But DON'T ARGUE WITH ME about it...
Now in all fairness to the St. Louis theatre community, we also get a lot of amazing people auditioning for us – they're the ones we end up casting. We saw so many outstanding actors at the Rent auditions, far more than we had room for in the show, and that's also a downside to casting a show. You may see someone who's really wonderful, but doesn't quite fit any of the roles (or there are others who fit them better), but it's so hard to "reject" these talented folks. When we don't cast them, I hope that they'll audition again for us, for a show where we can find a spot for them, but I always worry that once we turn them away, they may not return...
Casting a show is so hard, and it's a miracle that it works out so well so much of the time. We just put together incredible casts for both Rent and Hands on a Hardbody, and I could not be more psyched about both casts, chock full of cool, interesting, talented people. About two-thirds of the Rent cast is new folks, and that's very cool.
The next New Line audition will be in June, for our fall show, which hasn't been announced yet, but suffice to say it has an ampersand in the title...
Long Live the Musical!