Rocking Audition Education: How Sheri Sanders is Revolutionizing Audition Prep
OnStage Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Last year we did a feature on a popular upstart from Broadway performer Sheri Sanders titled "Rock the Performance". The site not only featured custom cut sheet music for auditions but also provided video tutorials from Sheri herself teaching audition prep.
Since we did that piece, it's been quite the year for Ms. Sanders and her program. I wanted to catch up with her to talk about not only what she's been up to but also getting some good advice for young artists looking for help with auditions.
CP: It's been about a year since we last did a feature on you, what's been going on? How has your year been?
SS: I’ve had a really big year. The last time we talked, I was introducing Rock The Performance, my website with custom cut and arranged popular music in all genres for Pop/Rock Auditions. This year my online training program has blown up 3 times the size; with University Licensing options, a Teacher training accreditation program AND now my iconic Rock The Audition technique for young people.
Also, my life wouldn’t be complete without squeezing an acting job in in the middle of all this. I covered an entire company of actors in the Off-Broadway Rock Musical Chix6. A very exciting experience where I got to practice what I preach . I stepped in at some point for everyone but the 12 year old girl!
CP: You recently announced a new partnership with Hal Leonard, can you tell me more about it?
SS: After years of taking songs from say, Musicnotes.com tunes and consistently fixing and creating better arrangements in my classroom while we work, I made an agreement with Hal Leonard to get the rights to 1,000's of my favorite popular tunes to cut and arrange into audition cuts: Motown, Disco, Punk, Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop has been the biggest challenge for me, because everyone wants to sing it, but no one understands it historically.
So I have to find ALL kinds of Hip-Hop songs, with different kinds of messages and arrange them into 16 and 32 bar cuts -so that the songs have a rap and a hook in it. Some are beginners and they may rap to Shake it Off, or Walk this Way. Some are white girls, and they shouldn’t be singing Trap music because they don’t know what its like to be trapped in a drug lifestyle in Atlanta. So they need to sing Superbass, or Trouble, where there's no possibility of appropriating of race going on. People of color have been deeply affected by race tensions, and sometimes need a place to live those feelings- so 2pac, or Common are wonderful music for that .This goes for all the styles. So its my job to make sure everyone has a song to sing.
CP: How has the process been different working with teachers?
SS: Here’s where it’s been the same. In my teacher training program, teachers have to sing popular music to learn from me- just like their students do. They are terrified, if not MORE terrified because they haven’t been singing, they’ve been teaching vocal health and how to move a plot. They have a visceral experience with the music and it is HUGE and liberating. This is trusting the technique, and being emotional when you sing- it’s what everyone wants in popular music auditions.
Whats different? Once they nail it, they have to then teach from that visceral experience and pass it on to others! So I teach them style, and how to synthesize the voice and the body and the emotions. Then we get to come up with a shared language so they can bring my techniques into their own unique individual teaching styles.
CP: I see you're going to be quite busy at BroadwayCon (I'll be there too!), can you tell me a little bit about how that got arranged and what your program entails?
SS: I pursued BroadwayCon to teach there, and never heard back. BroadwayCon, much like anyone else who just doesn’t know me, doesn’t get the impact of why the work I do is so necessary until they see me in action with students.
So I invited them to sit in on a my 4 week rock class in the city. Now this is an ADVANCED class, where my students study with me on my online platform, and then in 4 weeks we bend 4 songs into 8 totally different styles of popular music. For example, they saw a student sing Taylor Daynes “Prove Your Love”. I had her do it for an audition for the new Donna Summer Musical which is authentic Disco, then bend it for The Wedding Singer which is a musical comedy that lives in the world of 80s pop/rock.
I got an email a week later asking me what I would do in 80 minutes. I told them that in 80 minutes I can assign 7 students a pop/rock song, one for each genre of popular music currently represented on Broadway. In my workshop we are going to take everyone through the relationship popular music has with Musical Theatre in the order in which life happens. Cool, right? They just needed to see it to believe it!
At BroadwayCon, I am also launching my training program for young people that I created in partnership with The Theatrical Buzzfeed Phenom, Theatrenerds.com. We are sharing a booth all weekend so young people can come by ask me any questions they have about popular music and the tunes they need to sing for pop/rock musicals!!!!!!
CP: One thing I think is obvious out there is how many teachers aren't really that qualified to be teaching budding professionals. Do you know of any warning signs people should be on the look out for?
SS: College prep is a HUGE Money Maker. Because this could "make or break” an an actor in terms of their future. There are 25 times more Musical Theatre programs than their used to be. That means 100 more actors who are the same type as your child every year.
I was just doing a teacher training at MTEA, a community of teachers who are hungry to learn, change and grow with the current market. We began the conversation about what colleges want, and how the “college prep experts” are showing up for their clients, and how to all get on the same page. It’s going to eventually insist on colleges training college prep teachers. But here are my thoughts for now.
Colleges want people to come in with 2 things: an honesty of emotion, a sense of their 17 year old selves.
Where the Colleges need to have a “come to Jesus” moment about this: Every college is asking for different things. So you have a high school student prepping to audition for 13 schools, and has to prepare 13 different “audition performance packages”.
One of the teachers at MTEA said, "they are actually just overwhelmed and traumatized at that point. It’s too much to ask of them." So we need to come up with a unified agreement on what that is. I sat in a few college auditions last year, one was a unified ( 8 colleges), and after they did their “audition” they all got asked for pop/rock. None of these young performers had it prepared. Someone even said, “I have ‘Look At Me Now” from the Wild Party. That's not pop/rock. So if there audition package is “16 bars of legit, 16 bars of contemporary pop MT, 16 bars of pop/rock, and a monologue that’s a minute, that is a very CLEAR audition package that students can NAIL! Let’s empower the students.
Now, I have some college prep friends who are GREAT. Broadway actors who are teachers. Educators who really understand young people. They understand the market, and they are in service. I am talking about the college prep people who make a killing on terrified families. I have many friends who are college educators who have students come in to audition and they have to either peel this incorrect coaching off of them to find the truth of that young person, or they are left to imagine whats underneath because there's no time.
The current state of Musical Theatre wants REAL kids. Real emotions. When I sat in on those auditions, I cannot tell you how many kids were told to be angry on their material. Screaming anger. We were shocked. Who told them that was appropriate? Who told them that would give these schools a sense of what they were like as artists? As people? Anger is a defense mechanism. So they just read as belligerent and unclear.
So. Parents, before you blow all your money on college prep, ask yourself the following questions:
An expert is aware of how to tap into each individual young person and find their unique spirit, know how to share that in a way that it appeals to educator, so they can foresee how this eventually suits the professional market. Is that their reputation? I mean, they can watch Broadway shows online now. They can get enough information on the market at home in their pajamas. And those great college prep teachers are out there. Look for them.
Also, I’d REALLY love to see some college prep people have scholarship programs. What about all of the 1,000's of young performers who don’t have the privilege of working with a college prep teacher? The only good news about that, is that they may come through authentically. Maybe.
There are a ton of cool ways to study with Sheri Online. Go to www.rock-the-audition.com to find exactly what you need, wherever you are on the planet.