Some of the best-known songs in popular culture come from musical theatre, and even people who do not frequently patronize musicals recognize songs such as “Memory” and “The Sound of Music.”
Indeed, musical theatre is big business, selling millions of tickets each year and grossing high profits. Breaking into such a highly competitive business is difficult, but not impossible. Here are some tips for prospective musical theatre actors.
Take lessons. Natural musical and dancing talent is important, but there is no substitute for formal training. Voice lessons can help you project your singing voice and increase your stamina, both of which are vital to performing onstage. Learning an instrument, especially the piano (and the theory that goes along with it) can make you an even more versatile and intuitive performer, not to mention that playing piano at an audition may give you an edge.
Make a video of your performance. Practice is important, but seeing your performance on video will help you spot any problems or flaws, especially in a dance routine. Have your friends watch your video to see if they spot any potential problems. Digital cameras are inexpensive and allow you to quickly make videos and upload them to a computer for viewing and editing.
Have a good portfolio. This is essential for breaking into musical theatre. At the very least, have a resume and several headshots ready when auditioning. Also consider having a website, Twitter account, and Facebook page to create an online presence. Provide videos of you acting, singing, and dancing in various styles on your website to show your range. On your Twitter account, follow current and potential contacts in the theatre business. Update your Facebook page frequently to showcase your ongoing work, and create a dedicated page for your work if you don’t want to mix it in with your private life (or life outside of the theatre).
Attend a college or conservatory. A conservatory emphasizes performance, whereas a college emphasizes the academic study of theatre and music. Majoring in theatre or music at a traditional college will provide you with a well-rounded academic degree, but attending a conservatory will provide you with hands-on performance experience. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which learning goals are best for your intended career path, but either side of formal tuition will be superb benefit in breaking into musical theatre on a professional level.
Be prepared for your auditions. This sounds obvious, but there are many things to consider when going to an audition.
- Many theatre auditions require candidates to perform a short monologue, that is, to assume the role of a character and express that character’s thoughts out loud. Famous monologues include “Don’t Let Me Be Normal” from The Fantasticks and “Tuna Fish” from Laughing Wild. Audition monologues are generally no more than two minutes.
“Don’t Let Me Be Normal”
- Have a variety of songs ready for auditioning. If you do not want to use the audition’s accompanist, have a recording ready to accompany you. If you do use the attending accompanist, provide him or her with clear instructions about your chosen songs. Avoid accents and imitations, as well as complex songs. The aim of a singing audition is to demonstrate your voice and range, not to show off or sound like someone else.
- Dress appropriately. You do not have to wear a suit or formal dress, but do not wear jeans and sneakers. Wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move but still look neat. For dancing auditions, wear dance clothes as opposed to t-shirts and sweat pants.
It’s a highly competitive business and there is no magic formula for successfully breaking into musical theatre, but following these tips and being prepared certainly won’t hurt your chances of advancing your musical theatre career.