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Is your child trying out for a school play or community theater show? Get tips from casting directors on how to help your kid ace the audition, including how to prepare the right song and monologue, calm nerves and stage fright, and deal with disappointment if your child doesn't get the role.
Jill Jaysen remembers when a bad case of nerves almost prevented one of her talented young students from performing in a workshop she was teaching two years ago. “She was so scared that she started to cry before class started,” recalls Jaysen, founder and artistic director of Center Stage Theatre Company in Wesport, CT, and Manhattan-based Broadway Edge. “She told me she was scared to sing.” Two years later, that same little girl attended one of Jaysen’s Broadway Edge audition classes and got a callback to audition for the national tour of Annie.
When it comes to auditioning, whether it be for a school play, a community theater show, or even a part on Broadway (hey, you never know!), nerves can play a big role for young children. Here, several casting directors and performance experts explain how to help your child overcome those nerves (not to mention how to keep your own anxiety in check) and ace his next audition through good preparation and the right attitude.
It’s okay to be nervous. In fact, it’s a good thing. “You need that adrenaline to run a marathon, why wouldn’t you need it in an audition? Take that nervous energy and turn it into good energy,” Jaysen says.
“Always remember that casting directors want to love you,” says Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY in Manhattan. “They’re not like the judges on American Idol where people get torn to pieces. They’re on your team, and if you’re right for the role, you’ve made their life that much easier.”
Mindy Poon of Park Slope says breathing is key. Poon’s three children (ages 8, 9, and 12) have been acting in theater and on TV for several years, but they still occasionally get a case of the jitters before an audition. When that happens, Poon says they have a snack or make jokes and talk about other things.
Keep calm, Mom. Poon herself tends to get nervous when her kids audition, she says. Her cure is to remove herself from the audition room or text her friends. “After all these years I still worry that my kids will come out not feeling good about themselves,” she says. “I don’t care as much about the role as I do their emotional well-being.”
Prepare the right materials. When trying out for a theater role, a child should prepare a 1-minute monologue and 16 or 32 bars of a song. For the song, “Sing something that shows off your talent,” Rofé suggests. “Don’t sing something too high for you—you want to show off the stronger part of your voice. And make sure the song cut tells a nice story. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.” Rofé suggests bringing your music in a neat binder, with your cut clearly marked and highlighted for the accompanist. (You can purchase and download sheet music—for songs ranging from Broadway to current pop hits—on websites such as musicnotes.com.)
“Ask your child what songs they love to sing. They could sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ as long as they sing it really well,” Jaysen says. “My advice is to have at least two songs prepared—one ballad that’s sad or loving or longing, and one up-tempo song that’s happy or humorous.”
Jaysen suggests that kids also prepare two monologues, one dramatic and one comedic (check sites like monologuearchive.com for a wide selection). “They can even write their own if they want,” she says. If they choose the latter option, she suggests speaking the monologue into a tape recorder and then transcribing it, so it sounds more natural.
Don’t over-rehearse. “You can go over something too much,” says Janine Trevens, executive and artistic director of TADA! Youth Theater in Manhattan. Directors are looking for a child’s natural personality to shine through in an audition, and a child who is too stiff or who is performing material that’s too mature for him won’t catch their eye.
It’s more than memorization. Your child should do research on the role she’s trying out for and audition as that character, Jaysen says. Have your child research the show so she’s familiar with the time period, the plot, and the character’s role in it. “They need to know what it is the character wants and why they want it,” Jaysen says. “They need to understand the character’s circumstances and then act as if it were happening to them.”
A common mistake she sees, Jaysen says, is when a child doesn’t know the meaning of a word in their audition song or monologue. “I know exactly when that happens because they usually pause or come out of character,” she says. “It’s an actor’s job to know what all the words mean, so he or she can deliver them in the right way.”
Arrive early. Jen Rudin, award-winning casting director and owner of Manhattan-based Jen Rudin Casting, suggests arriving at your audition at least 10 minutes before your scheduled time. Auditions are stressful by nature, but getting there well before your audition starts gives you time to collect your thoughts, run over your lines one more time, and most importantly, breathe. In her book, Confessions of a Casting Director (It Books, 2013), Rudin suggests “scheduling backward,” meaning that you make a schedule for the 24 hours leading up to the audition so you can plot your time appropriately.
Take your time. Before your child begins singing, he should talk to the accompanist to let him or her know where his song cut starts and ends and what tempo (how fast or slow) he’ll be singing. Then he should take a few moments to get into character. “Take a deep breath, go over the first few lines in your head, and give the music director a clear nod when you’re ready,” Rofé advises.
Be willing to try new things. You should have prepared audition materials, Trevens says, but some directors may ask you to stray from that to test your other skills. The key is to listen to the director and follow directions. Don’t ask too many questions, and stay on topic. “If a child can’t stay on target in an audition, that might be how they act in rehearsal, and we might not choose to work with them,” she says.
“You might want a certain part, but be open to anything,” Trevens adds. “It’s that openness that directors are looking for.”
Have fun. “What [directors] are looking for is someone who looks like they’re having a good time, who looks like they want to be there,” Trevens says. “Especially with children—we want to make sure they want to be there and it’s not just their parents who want them there.” Rofé agrees: “Look at each audition as an opportunity to do the thing you love the most—to perform. Show off, knock their socks off, have fun with it.”
It’s also a good idea to have fun afterward, to help take your child’s mind off the audition. “Take your child out after for ice cream or to the arcade,” Rofé says. “Be supportive, be positive, and do something to take their mind off the audition so they don’t obsess or get upset over it.”
Don’t take it personally. By nature of the audition process, many children will try out for a role but only one will receive it. To help children deal with the inevitable disappointment that comes when they don’t land a role, Rofé teaches her students that casting is “nothing personal.” A child may nail an audition and still not receive the role simply because the director has a different look in mind for the part, for instance.
Poon says the word she and her husband use is “preference.” “It’s not about talent, it’s just the director’s preference. After you’ve done it enough, you know it’s not personal,” she says.
“You’ll never know why you don’t get the part,” Jaysen says. “They may have given it to an eighth-grader who’s graduating or maybe the role just wasn’t right for you—you never know. But every audition should be a win-win situation. If children are confident and prepared, they’ll impress the director and they’re bound to get another role down the road.”
Choose audition material that will make you stand out. This is where a private coach can come in handy, Rofé says, to help your child find material that isn’t being done by every other child trying out. Coaches can provide your child with quality but lesser-known monologues and songs that will help make her audition distinctive from the other hopeful students. “It’s competitive, so it’s important you treat it the same as any other professional audition,” says Poon, whose oldest son auditioned for and got into the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan.
Above and Beyond:
Remember the 3-second rule. “We make our impressions within first 3 seconds of seeing someone, so make sure you walk in confidently,” Rofé says. There’s also a 3-second rule to abide as your audition comes to a close: “No matter what you’re doing, hold the emotion for at least 3 seconds at the end,” Rofé says. “It will make a world of difference in how the audition ends. If you come out of character prematurely, it can look insecure and unprofessional. Stay in the moment as long as you can.”
For more tips from Rofe and other casting directors, see Pro Tips for Kids Auditioning for Broadway Roles
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Kaitlin Ahern has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. See More.
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