Whether your dream is to light up Broadway or star in the latest Usher video, the key to getting the gig is how you approach the audition. Since musical theater and music video are two very different industries, you need to adjust your audition style for each. Here’s what to expect and how to prepare so that you can land a dream job in the Big Apple or Tinsel Town.
Musical theater, Broadway-style
In Your Dance Bag: Jazz and character shoes, ballet slippers, pointe shoes, resumé, headshot, leotard, fishnets, songbook.
What to Wear: Though NYC auditions tend to be more traditional (basic dancewear) than L.A., it never hurts to bring clothes in the style or period of the musical. “If you’re going for Chicago, wear something black and satin with fishnets and character heels and maybe even a slinky dress,” says Jessica Hendricks, a dancer, teacher and choreographer who has appeared on Broadway in Hair and Grease as well as in commercials and films. If the musical calls for swing dance, bring a dress and tennis shoes. Whatever the style, keep a couple of generic outfits in your bag just in case.
How to Get Noticed: “The first thing that I look for is a dancer who can pick up choreography quickly and dance it back at me in the character they are auditioning for,” says bicoastal choreographer Rhonda Miller, who works in both musical theater and music video.
Sometimes the best way to stand out is to blend in. “A lot of musical auditions are for ensemble tracks,” says Hendricks. “So the fact that you stand out may not always work.” Often, different choreography will be given to correspond to different roles. For instance, when Miller held auditions last year for a production of Annie, she gave different combinations to the orphans than she did to the servants, so be sure to tailor your performance to the role you’re auditioning for.
Prep Work: If it’s a revival, read the script, listen to the music, watch a video of the production if possible and determine what your role as a dancer would be in the show. Familiarize yourself with the style and period of the setting. If it’s a new musical, ask your agent for details and consult casting notices in Back Stage.
Inside Track: According to Miller, Broadway choreographers don’t teach many classes throughout the city, so it can be difficult to make yourself known to them. In order to learn their styles, go to as many auditions as you can.
Music Video, commercial
In Your Dance Bag: Headshot, résumé, snacks, alternate outfits, a selection of shoes, including sneakers and boots for hip hop as well as jazz, tap, character and ballet shoes, plenty of makeup and hair products and accessories galore (leg warmers, arm warmers, glasses, hats and jewelry).
What to Wear: In L.A., the “look” is essential. Stella Choe, a 14-year veteran of the L.A. dance scene who currently works for dance agency Bloc and as an assistant choreographer for Michelle Johnston of “American Dreams,” recommends at least three outfits: something hip hop, something burlesque and something classic like dance pants and a bra top.
How to Get Noticed: Music video auditions tend to last all day, with hopefuls sometimes numbering well over 500. In order to stand out, keep your energy high. “You can’t be distracted or wishing that you could be running errands. [Tough competition] is part of the business, so keep a
positive mental attitude,” says Choe. The best thing is to be comfortable with yourself. “The people who have a good sense of themselves are ahead of the game.”
In L.A., choreographers are looking for the whole package. “L.A. dancers are not afraid to be themselves,” says Hendricks. “You have to walk in with your own look and know they are looking for more than just movement. They want to see the personality you bring to whatever movement style they give you.”
You should also feel free to work the judges’ table. “They’re all about eye contact. They want to see if you have that charisma that will come through on camera,” says Miller.
Prep Work: “If you’re auditioning for Alicia Keys and have no idea what her music sounds like, get online or go to a record store to get a flavor for her it,” recommends Miller. Also look for a picture of the artist for a sense of his or her image. If the casting notice, calls for, say, a Marilyn Monroe look, rent Seven Year Itch to get yourself in character.
Inside Track: Many L.A. choreographers, particularly those who teach hip hop, instruct at area studios. Taking their classes will put you one step ahead, because you get to know their style and preferences.
Quick audition Tips
• If you walk into a cattle call audition and there are 50 other dancers who look just like you, don’t let it shake your confidence. You never know if you will be the right person that day. “You could be the top singer, dancer and actor in the room, but you might not be the 5-foot dancer they’re looking for to fill a specific costume,” says Hendricks.
• Follow directions precisely. If a choreographer asks for a double pirouette, don’t do four. “That says to me that you can’t follow directions,” says Miller.
• Always look like you’re having fun, are easy to get along with and enjoy the music.
• Enroll in a couple of acting classes, recommends Miller, to help get into character in an audition.
• Find your personal charisma. Miller suggests standing in front of your bathroom mirror after an audition and performing the choreography. “As you’re dancing, ask yourself if you have that passion,” says Miller. “It’s one of those things that’s individual for each dancer.Everyone does the same choreography, but what else comes out will make you different and will help you get noticed.”
Be Game for Anything
You should always be prepared for the unexpected, because you never know what you’ll be asked to do. When Hendricks auditioned for a Godiva commercial, she had to perform in a space no bigger than two feet by two feet. “We had to step into a box and do all of the movement that we learned in [a much bigger] space,” Hendricks recalls. “And then we had to learn how to snap a whip. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? I train every day. I want to move!’ They also put us in ’40s-style bathing suits to see how comfortable we were in them. So the audition was based on how you moved in a confined space and how comfortable you were in those old-school one-piece bathing suits, cracking a whip.” (She got the part.)