Each year many young musicians, dancers and actors arrive in New York City with the big dream of becoming the next star on the main stage of the center of culture. Often times, thousands of hours in the practice room or standing in ballet pointe shoes are spent to prepare for just fifteen minutes in the audition room. Thousands go through auditions every year but only a select few will become the next Joshua Bell, Kristin Chenoweth or Gustavo Dudamel. Yet many will give up along the way to find a different, less pressure-filled career path.
This is where Andrew Gerle comes in. The composer of eight original musicals and a professional accompanist who works with Broadway singers, Gerle has seen hundreds of auditions for the past fifteen years. He claims to be the perfect outside observer who has the inside track on how to make it on the Great White Way. In his new book The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition, Gerle offers candid and helpful advice that goes beyond often clichéd guidebooks on mastering the process.
Gerle cites a list of common audition misconceptions and faux pas right in the opening chapter. These are all too familiar to anyone who has gone through this process in their lives: Bulky music scores that self-close on the pianist, a tempo that is unsuspectingly brisk or slow, having to sing after hearing another candidate who just sang the exact same song -- the list goes on.
As the title of his book indicates, Gerle is one enraged accompanist and sometimes betrays a rambling, disgruntled attitude. But he doesn't simply complain. He offers strategies intended to make the audition process less stressful and more enjoyable. Each of the chapters deals with one particular aspect: the music, the dress code, the headshots, the resume, etc. No detail will escape the eyes of a seasoned talent scout, or in this case, the guy on the piano bench. Aside from badly copied sheet music on crumble up paper, awkward dance moves and the shrilling high C that is out of a soprano's range, the one thing that makes Gerle most enraged, is "knowing they’ll give the same audition every day for the next five years (if they last that long) and never be remembered.”
Gerle spends part of the book exploring the mental side of preparation. "An audition is a business transaction,” he writes. “It is not a referendum on your talent.” Gerle exhibits how, in the market of musical talent, directors look for singers and actors who have something special to offer—something that stands out from the other thousand of people waiting in line. The auditionee should focus on letting their passions come to the fore, showing who they really are as a singer and actor. An artist's energy, presence, confidence and commitment to the music hold the ultimate ticket to the next big stage.
Gerle is brutally honest but sympathetic at the same time, and he writes with a Woody Allen-like sense of humor. Gerle’s points are aimed mostly at aspiring Broadway singers, but classical musicians, voice teachers and acting coaches should find something to glean from this. Are auditioning skills something one can really encapsulate in a hundred pages? Perhaps not. But it could be used as a mirror before one steps into that audition: is everything presented meant to be presented? Check Gerle’s checklist and then forget about it. In the end, what matters is the ability to free the inner self from all the checklists and worries and let your best and most vivid parts shine through.
Weigh in: Tell us about your audition successes or horror stories in the comments box below.