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December, for most people, means holidays and celebration, a season of light and joy. But for singers at all levels, December means one thing — auditions. Take a look at the October and December issues of Audition Connection, and you will immediately notice the cluster of auditions occurring this month. Then flip to the Geographical Index for visible confirmation that New York is an epicenter of activity.

Whether you will be traveling to New York or make your home there, you will need to be prepared for the “audition season.” This article maps out strategies for making the most of your time and setting yourself up for a successful experience, as well as helpful planning resources. Though the focus is on auditioning for training programs, you can apply these ideas to all types of auditions.

Two experts share insight from their varied experiences, as both artists and administrators, on how a singer can manage the audition season in New York. Allan Naplan, now director of artistic administration at Pittsburgh Opera, knows first hand about making the rounds from his days as a professional singer. Diane Zola was also a professional singer, then later an artist manager, and now is director of Houston Grand Opera Studio.

There are obviously a great many auditions taking place in New York at the same time. Not all of them will be right for you. Thoroughly research each opportunity ahead of time using Audition Connection, Career Guide for Singers, and the company’s web site. Read the program description and learn about its current ensemble to figure out the level of experience that the company is looking for. Armed with your knowledge, apply for programs for which you have a reasonable chance.

Be honest in this process, caution both Naplan and Zola. Don’t fake an interest in a young artist program because you think that this audition will land you a mainstage principal role. As Naplan says “Don’t walk in to the room thinking you will blow us away, outwitting the company into giving you a mainstage role. In no way should a prospective young artist suggest that he or she is performing a house audition.” Zola adds, “Even if you are performing a mainstage audition, you should not expect a principal role. Your first opportunity with the company will probably be a secondary or cover role.”

If you are selected to audition, read all of the company’s materials thoroughly. Notice if there are call backs scheduled for the end of the week (as for Pittsburgh Opera Center), or if there are final auditions taking place months later in the company’s city (as for Houston Grand Opera Studio). You definitely don’t want to schedule your flight home for Thursday night, only to find out that you are called back to sing again on Friday. Further, as in the case of Houston Grand Opera Studio, make sure you are available for the later auditions should you be chosen as a semi-finalist.

Once you are selected to audition, you can begin to lay your plans. Determine your logistics well in advance. Map out the route to the audition location, calculate the travel time, and think through how and where you will practice during your stay. Organize the information in a way thatmakes sense to you. (See the Resources section below for more information.)

The companies that come to town for auditions will hear hundreds of singers in the span of a few days. They have two main objectives when scheduling — to fit in all the singers that they want to hear, and to order the auditions in the way that they need to hear them. For example, they may wish to hear all of the sopranos together, or may wish to mix it up so that they don’t have an entire day of tenors.

While it is true that you will have almost no control over the scheduling of your auditions, you do have certain responsibilities. First, Zola advises doing everything you can to make the proffered audition time work. If, however, an already confirmed audition conflicts with your assignment, “It is always best to be honest up front. Be honest and polite, and try to get a different time.” As Naplan says, “You will need to confirm the time regardless, so take that opportunity to speak with the audition coordinator about your time conflict. We will try to accommodate you if at all possible.”

An hour, even two, between auditions may not be realistic. It may seem like plenty of time, but unforeseen situations can arise. As an example, say you have an audition for Company A at 11:30 am, taking place at on the Upper East Side. Even though you arrive early, other singers have run into traffic or subway delays, and the audition monitor lets you know that the company is running at least 30 minutes behind schedule. Finally at 12:15, 45 minutes later, they’re ready to hear you. If your next audition, for Company B, is at 1:00 on the Upper West Side, you will be understandably panicked by now.

To avoid this, build extra time into your schedule. The planning you have already done to calculate travel time between audition locations can help you manage your time. A number of factors cause other singers to be unavoidably late, causing companies to run behind. In fact it is safe to assume that with the best of intentions, everyone will be off schedule. Knowing this, head off time crunches by allowing for more time than you think an audition will take. Again, be honest and polite at the outset. When Company B sends you an audition time, call and thank them for wanting to hear you, and explain that you have already confirmed an appointment with Company A, and ask if you can be scheduled at a different time.

Try to arrive on site at least 15-30 minutes before your appointment so that you are not rushed or late. Even if you end up waiting for a long time, think of this as an opportunity to relax and prepare, and to demonstrate your professionalism. If you are the one running unavoidably late, you can still act responsibly when you do show up. Call ahead of time, if possible, and apologize succinctly and sincerely to the audition monitor and the audition panel. Naplan advises you not to panic in this situation because companies anticipate delays. “Singers should know that they will not lose their chance to sing for us because we run out of time and have to leave. We leave time in our schedule at the end of the day to make sure that we hear everyone we wanted to. We understand that there are problems in New York, that everyone will run late, and have planned accordingly.”

One way or another, you’ve spent a lot of money to be in New York. Everyone wants to have a good time, but remember that you have come for auditions, not to play. As Naplan says, “Be professional. It’s in your best interests not to do anything to derail your success for that week.”

Of course, your chances of getting sick rise if you are sleeping on floors, sharing rooms, using the subway, and in general interacting with a lot of people during the cold and flu season. As tempting as it is to enjoy the nightlife and visit with friends until late, remember the basics of keeping yourself well. Get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, keep warm, eat well, exercise regularly, take your vitamins, and so forth.

However, try not to be extreme and make yourself crazy. Naplan advises singers to avoid the neurosis brought on by constantly thinking “Oh man, I’m here for auditions, and this will determine my entire career!” Rather, he says, “Take care of yourself, but try to make your time in New York as ‘normal’ as possible, whether you are a visitor or resident.”

Should you get sick, take the appropriate actions immediately. First, decide if you are in a condition to sing. Every professional who has contributed to Audition Connection advises you not to sing for a company, especially for the first time, if you cannot sing well. Time and again, they have said
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