Susan was a little late, but ready for the audition. She was in great vocal shape; she had her interpretation down and felt she had created a great overall package to present when she sang for the people at the audition. As she entered the waiting area, she stopped to say hello and chat with several colleagues she knew. Among the faces she didn’t know were other singers as well as several accompanists. Susan had decided to save a few bucks by using the accompanist provided by the company and suddenly found herself debating whether that was really in her best interest. As she waited, she listened to the singer right before her. It was Gabriella, a fellow soprano with much more experience that was sounding very polished and professional. To make matters worse, she was singing the aria Susan had planned to sing first. She wondered if maybe she should start with something else. The voice in her head started raising her fears and doubts. She couldn’t stop the voice.
It was her turn to audition. She felt clammy and unsettled. She tried to get her mind back to how she felt earlier – confident and self-assured, but that incessant voice kept her attention. As she handed the music to the accompanist and walked to the curve of the piano, she realized she had forgotten to tell the accompanist about a cut she was planning to take. Would it seem unprofessional if she went back to the accompanist to tell him about it or should she trust that he would just make the cut because it was always done that way?
By this time that distracting, unsupportive voice had completely taken over. All she could hope for was that somehow some magic automatic pilot in her psyche would take over and do the job for her. She was nervous; her mouth and throat were dry and her breathing was shallow. At this point finding the emotional feelings the music and text let her feel when she was calm was out of the question. The voice in her head was in full swing. Everything was out of control and seemed to be going wrong; she just wanted to be done.
Does this sound familiar? It may not have happened quite that way, but it has happened to me more than once especially when I was beginning my career. The mind is a wonderful tool, but if you let it start wandering, it immediately defers to what I like to call the “Brat”. It’s that incessant, insidious voice that argues with you; the one that brings you down as it brings up all your imagined personal faults and failures. The “Brat” is really good at self-sabotage in the most inappropriate moments leaving little peace of mind to be present and focused on the job at hand. And often it seems that the more important the audition, the more one becomes attached to the outcome making it twice as difficult to stay focused and present.
“Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.”
~ Pema Chödrön
I’m not sure there is a “magic formula” for alleviating the fear factor of auditioning. Some people actually enjoy auditioning, so it doesn’t affect everyone. For those of you that it does affect in a negative way, I want to present some ideas that might be helpful in making auditioning just another component of your career.
Before we discuss auditioning techniques, I would like to give a routine to follow to help you get off to a great start.
On the day before your audition:
• Review your audition information and make sure you know exactly where the audition takes place and how long it will take to get there. Decide on your mode of transportation. If you are driving, leave enough time for unforeseen situations like a flat tire, excess traffic, accidents, etc. If you are in the city take a cab, if you can afford it, and save by taking the subway home. However you travel, be sure to give yourself enough time to arrive and settle in, get comfortable, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, do your centering technique, etc.
• If you have decided to bring your own accompanist, make sure they have directions and a thought out travel plan too.
• Assemble your audition notebook. Review your music for page order, clearly marked musical cuts, and memorization. Remove anything you are not prepared to sing.
• Pack another complete PR packet in case those you are auditioning for don’t have one. Also, prepare a list of 5-7 arias you are prepared to sing at your audition.
On the day of the audition:
• Get up at your usual time, and follow your usual routine. Keep busy and practice your audition techniques throughout the day, including warming up vocally, eating well and getting your physical body awakened. Laugh a little. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
• When you arrive at the audition venue, if appropriate, let those that you are auditioning for know that you are there and ready to sing.
• Do not spend time talking to your colleagues. If you run into someone that you want to speak to, simply say hi. Explain you will catch up with him or her later, but that you need to focus on your audition.
• Do not bring a bottle of water in with you. If you need to stop between songs and go out to get water, do it, but don’t bring it in with you. Very unprofessional. (I know from experience that it is better to have water that is either semi sweetened with juice, etc. or has a little salt in it. This does quench your thirst and keep your mouth moist. Regular water can dry you out as it simply passes through your body.)
• When you enter the audition space represent your personal brand — you. Smile and say hello. Be friendly and courteous. Offer them your list of selected arias and ask if thy need your PR packet.
• Take your time once you have greeted those you are auditioning for. Give your music to the accompanist, walk to the curve of the piano, smile, lower your eyes and head a little and take 3 slow, deep breaths, each time focusing on breathing in your character from your toes up. Make each breath deeper and deeper remembering the visualization you have been performing every day. Then lift your head and as the introduction begins, breathe life out into the music. When you sing, breath life into your character through your voice. Thrill yourself!
• Remember that you are going for your optimal performance each time, nothing more nothing less. (Perfect if subjective – optimal is realistic. It’s the best you are able to do under the circumstances and in this moment.)
• If people compliment you on your singing, simply say thank you with a smile, no matter how you feel you did.
• After the audition, if you have the need to vent if you feel you didn’t do well, give yourself say a half hour in which to do it. Set a timer. Get down and dirty, roll in it, be really hard on yourself and when the buzzer goes off, stop, change gears and get on with whatever comes next. Don’t allow yourself to think about it again.
• When you get home fill out an audition chart. (Found in my book.) This allows you to keep track of your progress and any information you might need in any follow-up.
• Write a hand written thank you note, if appropriate, to those that you auditioned for saying you enjoyed the auditioning experience and look forward to working with them in the future.
• Know that the more experience you gain with each audition, the better they will become, so enjoy the journey!
” A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to it’s old dimensions.”
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Here are several auditioning techniques that can be used to help you focus and center yourself before, during and after an audition. Start practicing these auditioning techniques now and do them every day. They don’t take much time, but as we all know, to become good at anything we have to practice it. These techniques have to become a habit for them to work. Don’t try to do them just a few days prior to an audition and think they will work. It takes a commitment on your part to incorporate this into your daily routine.
Practice in your imagination creating the sound of your voice as a finished product before you ever start physically singing. Hear yourself, in your imagination, making the onset of the first note of each of your arias or songs without ever opening your mouth. Sing the first phrase of each aria in your imagination. Feel the sensation; look at it from all sides.
I believe breathing is the key to centering ourselves. It lets us focus from the inside out. It keeps you present and out of the thinking mind. The benefit is, that when it comes time to auditioning you will be more able to stay present and focused. Here is a great technique for finding your center point. This is done often in Yoga. It’s best to close your eyes. Don’t get judgmental, there is no right or wrong about this.
Lay down on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach about 2″ below your belly button and at the same time press lightly into your belly so you can imagine going 2″ into the inside helping to define that point. This is your center. Get out of your head and into your center. Practice taking a slow inhale through your nose focusing your attention on that center point in your belly, not allowing your chest to move. Exhale slowly through your open mouth, again focusing on that center spot in your belly. Notice that you are very centered, calm and relaxed. Do this 10 times. You can do this many times a day, if you want.
Practiced visualization that is done repeatedly over a period of time is a very powerful tool. It will become your default system and can be easily accessed. The first several times you do this visualization, you might want to have someone help you though it by having them read it to you until you can remember the sequence yourself. Give yourself 15 – 20 minutes to work on this process. Try to do it every day. Make sure you have the time and energy.
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Make sure you are comfortable and sitting straight. Start by saying out loud to yourself, “Let the mind and the body come to rest”. (Just saying these words by themselves will, over time, trigger this process.) Close your eyes and allow yourself to take a deep breath through your nose. Hold it for just a second and slowly exhale through your open mouth letting your tongue be wide and relaxed. Notice how your body is feeling calm and relaxed, but alert. Do this 3 times paying close attention to the relaxation of your body and your tongue.
Next, allow your hearing to go out and include everything you hear in the room you are in and beyond. Don’t name anything, just listen and rest here. As thoughts come into your head let them pass and return to listening.
As you become even calmer see yourself as if you are watching yourself perform on stage dressed in detail as the character in the aria or song you will be offering at your audition. Take your time in making the picture detailed and complete. If you are singing to someone else, create that character or characters and dress them in their costume as well. Watch and hear the scene unfold with all of it’s emotion, atmosphere, objectives, and obstacles. Add the music as you watch yourself on stage performing. Now, see yourself stand and walk up onto the stage standing next to yourself as the character and slowly breath that character in, in full costume, make-up and wig, starting with tips of your toes and working up to the top of our head or hat until you become one. Watch through your minds eye, as each inhale moves you further up the body as you slowly and fully transform yourself into the costumed character. With each exhale you become more invested in experiencing the full emotional impact of being this character.
When you are there in every aspect of the character, envision being in the audition space, and performing the aria or song with your full focus and attention on living and breathing the intention of the character. Hear and feel the music. Watch the faces of those you are auditioning for thoroughly enjoying your performance.
When you have reached the end of your audition, return to your seat in the audience. Rest here for a moment and when you are ready, open your eyes and return to the room you are in. Give yourself a few minutes to fully come back. If you are feeling disoriented, let your eyes follow the line around the room where the ceiling and walls meet, paying special attention to sharp angles made by the corners.
Now you have several tools in your arsenal for combating the anxiety and fear one often feels when the word “audition” comes up. We become anxious and fearful when we feel we have little or no control over a situation. With these powerful exercises you have more control over the situation and the ability to free yourself from becoming attached to the outcome by bringing your focus back to breathing and the character. Beginning an audition well starts a positive chain reaction paving a path for your creative energy to flow. Regardless of the employment outcome, a successful audition is one in which you show your optimal best. It’s about being present and enjoying the journey.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Next month I want to talk about how best to create that character that we used in the visualization process. Knowing how to build a concrete character is of paramount importance in today’s market because there is less money available to performance venues for lengthy rehearsal periods. There is little time for in depth character and relationship work. Knowing your character and his/her relationship to the other characters gives you confidence and a leg up on a solid performance.
If you have a subject that you would like discussed, please email me at [email protected] and let me know.