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That Which You Cannot Control...(And That Which You Can!)
Darren K. Woods
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Audition Connection4/1/2006

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As humans, we do what we can to control our circumstances, shooting for the best possible outcome. As singers, we have been told that control means presenting the most polished and prepared performance possible in an audition. Many of you have read The Ten Audition Commandments in this publication, in which we discussed at length the practical tools that can help an artist develop into a person who can successfully audition: things like carefully selecting repertoire, working with a drama coach, proper attire, good resumes and headshots, and many others. However, the successful audition depends on controlling the things that you can, as well as learning to cope or even put a positive spin on the things which you cannot (or simply don’t know).

Auditions are job interviews — this is a plain and simple fact. As artists, we tend to think of them in much narrower terms — thinking that the entire audition experience is solely a judgment of our talent. There are, however, many other factors that play into getting the job, and many of those happen when you are not singing! The following is another “top ten” of some observations that I have made in my more than ten years of hearing auditions and more than twenty years of singing them!

1. Always sing repertoire that you know well.
Those of you who have listened to me on this subject know that this is almost a mantra to me, but no successful audition comes from playing to the repertoire of a company or by learning an aria quickly. Regardless of a company’s upcoming repertoire, your set of 5-6 arias should represent who you are and what you sing. You are human, and you might be nervous! That is why singing your best aria, the one that goes wonderfully 99% of the time, is your best bet. Further, you should never hastily prepare an aria for an audition; you must have worked on each piece and performed it for other people before trying it out at an audition. If you have learned something at the last minute in the hopes of being considered for a specific role, you will not be as prepared, nor will you present yourself as well. Trust the audition panel to make the leap from what you are singing to what we are casting.

2. Prepare yourself before you enter the room.
Is your music in order in your folder? Do you have your repertoire sheet, resume, bio and headshot, and are they presented in a neat and logical way? Many times in the heat of the moment, nerves will kick in and you’ll forget those things. It looks very unprofessional for you to enter the room and announce your aria, only to have us ask you if you have materials, and you have to go and find them. It wastes our time in tight audition slots. Also, just because you submitted them online, there is no assurance that they will make it all the way to York. Always carry an extra set of materials (or two) — in case you need them. If the panel has actually carted them to New York, you will be told that we already have them.

3. Talk to your accompanist outside the room if possible.
When you walk into the room, your focus needs to be on the job at hand and on the panel. If you greet the panel and then head over to talk to the pianist to discuss tempi or cuts, you are wasting valuable time and creating a sense of being unprepared. You want to talk in, stand by the piano and perform.

4. Enter the room with confidence and assurance.
Believe it or not, we can literally smell a desperate singer. An artist who exudes the feeling that their entire life is wrapped up in our liking them and hiring them puts an immediate negative feeling on the entire experience. The tension is palpable and likewise, uncomfortable for all of us.

True, we on the panel are there to make a business decision based on the way you sing, look, and the way you interact with us. However, auditions are often based on things beyond your control. Are you taller than the artist you have to act against; do you look like you fit the costume coming with the production; can you tap dance, juggle, etc. — many, many things are totally beyond your control. You cannot (and most likely, will not) know these elements, nor are they the least bit important in the scheme of what you are to accomplish. You are there to show the gifts you have — not to “get the job.”

Worrying about a situation over which you have little or no control is a habit that is often hard to break. One way to handle this fear or feeling is to create a character for yourself that is your “audition character.” This character is confident, sure, and eager to perform. You put him or her on the moment you get up in the morning and maintain this character until you have finished the audition and have left the room. As absurd as this sounds, it does work. You have trained to play characters — Susanna, Tamino, Aida — why not have a confident audition character that you can put on as effectively?

5. Take the temperature of the room.
You’re not taking an actual physical temperature, of course, but gauging the demeanor of the panel. Are they talking to each other, writing, or are they speaking to you? Do they seem friendly? If they are not looking at you, when do you start singing? Of course, the answer will be different for each panel and therefore a situation that you cannot control. If they are talking or writing, wait for an appropriate time and say “hello.” If that fails to get their attention, just wait politely until the panel acknowledges you. Sometimes the waiting will seem like forever, but they will eventually ask you what you want to sing.

At auditions for Fort Worth Opera, we like to engage the artist as soon as they walk in the door. We will greet you, comment on something on your resume, and we want you to be friendly back to us; sometimes, if we know you, we’ll get up and give you a hug! We will often ask you what you want to sing and call you by your name. In that instance, go with the flow and don’t announce your name (the one we’ve just called you by) and piece as if it is a recital. For us, “I’d like to start with Gilda” is great! We are assessing your ability to talk to people, as well as your ability to think on your feet and roll with the punches. We will know shortly if you can sing or not, and if you can, we want to be sure that you are the type of person with whom we would work well.

6. If the panel is talking while you’re singing, assume the best!
Most of the time, when a panelist is talking to another panelist, they are talking about you in a very positive light. Again, you cannot control what is being said, but isn’t it better to assume that they like you and are talking about future productions in which you could be used? Our conversations frequently go like this: “We heard her last year and really loved her.” or “Yes, I remember, we should hear some coloratura as I think she would be really great for Rosina.” or “Where is the rep sheet, I would really like to see how she handles a long legato line.” or “Oh, she sang Gilda in Santa Fe”. Yes, other panels may be ordering lunch. If they are — guess what — you can’t control it, so don’t trouble yourself with it. Sing, perform, and assume the best.

7. If you get stopped, keep your cool.
Obviously getting stopped in mid-aria can be very good or very bad: there is not much in between. If you are stopped, listen carefully and see if the panel wants to hear anything else. I have often stopped sopranos after a verse of Rusalka because I wanted to hear another selection. We rarely stop people during their first aria, even if we want to. On the rare occasion that you get stopped and “thanked,” you should politely thank the panel and leave.

8. Let us do our job.
Nothing upsets me as a panelist more than an artist who begins the audition by telling
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About the Author: Darren K. Woods is the general director of both Fort Worth Opera and the Seagle Music Colony. A special thanks to Kristin Cowdin, artist manager at Guy Barzilay Artists, for her contributions to this article.
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