The 5 Perils of Open Auditions

  • Holly Lucas

Frantically searching for sheet music online? Planning to leave your house at 5 am just in case? Fantasising about stepping into the room and the casting director immediately offering you the leading role? Sounds like you’re planning on attending an open audition.

Welcome to the cutthroat world of open auditions; a minute glimpse into the world of theatre and, for the lucky few, a step in the right direction. You could be discovering delights around the world on cruise ships, sweating your way through 5 second costume changes at overseas resorts, or even find yourself gracing the big stages of Broadway. The most recent announcement in the UK was that the long awaited West End production of Frozen are holding open auditions across the country. Now let’s just imagine how many Elsa’s and Anna’s are practising in their bedrooms right now…

But it’s not all glitz and glamour. First you have to make it through the sea of eager performers all looking for their big break. It’s time to take on the 5 perils of open auditions.

 1. Big City Lights

Ever noticed that open auditions only seem to be held in big cities? Enough of the whole ‘main hub of activity’ nonsense - I’m a small town girl (cue music) and trying to make it big when it takes 3 hours to get anywhere and costs an arm and a leg to be seen for an audition that will last approximately 1 minute is making this much harder than it needs to be.

2. The wide-ranging, 16 bars only, non-musical audition song

We would like to hear 16 bars of a song that shows your range but is not from a musical to be considered for a part in this musical…

This is a standard requirement for many open auditions. Two things are very wrong with this request.

Numero uno - the best 16 bars of any song are usually midway through or towards the end (by all means, name me some songs if you think otherwise!) Coming into a song halfway through without the emotional lead in is pretty damn hard, especially if you’re trying to tell a story with it. Imagine I Dreamed a Dream, for instance. Now, the whole song is wonderful, but I think the best 16 bars come later on when the real emotion kicks in. Imagine I asked you right now to start singing from, ‘He took my childhood in his stride’. No preparation. Just do it. 

This leads me nicely into number two.

Do you remember those reality shows where they tried to find a lead for the latest musical? They’d have hopefuls battling each other every Saturday night until eventually the audience voted on a winner. Every week, EVERY WEEK, they made them sing a pop song. I’m not sure if they just failed to remember that the whole point was that they were auditioning to be in a musical, but let me tell you friends, musical theatre and pop are not the same thing. They are so unbelievably different; the writing style, the sound, the emotions. Give us a chance!

3. Queue smiles

I’m all for meeting like-minded people, but perfect your Barbie smiles folks because you’re going to be holding them for a long time.

Some important notes to remember before you embark in the line that starts 3 streets from the stage door:

●      You will unintentionally receive everyone’s life story within a 1 metre radius.

●      They will all have had some sort of training. Once I was told by a girl that they attended Italia Conti. I politely told them that I was once a munchkin in a school play.

●      Everyone will be super smiley, intensely pretending to be interested in your life whilst secretly comparing it to their own...before then comparing it out loud.

●      You will be asked what song your singing. Many times. They will tell you how they couldn’t decide between this one and that one and how they’re going to choose when they’re in the room.

●      There is always that one person who’s decided to sing a song from the show for their audition. Do not be fooled. They aren’t brave. They just haven’t read the instructions properly.

●      People will burst into song. This is Musical Theatre land, of course we do. They will sing every song apart from their audition song because they don’t want to give away the goods, but they want you to know what a fabulous voice they have.

Think Climbing Uphill from The Last Five Years. The lyrics are poignant in so many ways. ‘Standing in line with 200 girls who are younger and thinner than me’ could not be more apt for the reality of it.

 4. Pockets...for snacks!

Bring snacks! And water...but mostly snacks. If you are susceptible to becoming hangry, bring more snacks. You will be there a long time. A long time before you even get indoors, before you then have to wait for another 4 hours to be seen.

 5. You’re a number, not a name

You will be given a number and promptly your name will be forgotten. You will be called into the audition room by your number. You will be called up to the casting team by your number. If you’re lucky, they’ll call you by your name before asking to hear your wide-ranging, 16 bars, non-musical audition song, then they’ll need to look at your form again to check what your name was because they’ve already forgotten it after seeing 500 people already that day. Don’t take it personally - they’re just trying to get through the conveyor belt of auditionees.

It’s always said that West End productions simply want carbon copies of the first cast they had. I don’t know why and don’t know if I believe that’s entirely true for every one but, as this industry goes, first impressions count, and in the case of open auditions it’s usually down to what you look like. Sad but true. I personally prefer when casting teams ask for a photo or showreel by email first, then invite you to an open audition based on having already seen what you look like, rather than a total free for all. Saves a lot of time and money on both parts.

If you’ve never attended an open audition before I think you should at least once. Some people love them and some don’t. 99.9% of people attending open auditions will get the generic, ‘we’ll be in touch’, and never hear a peep again, but you never know, it might just be your lucky day!