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Lee Coleé-Atnip

Oh My God, a Singing Audition!
by Lee Coleé-Atnip

September 2004

Most actors have had at one time or another a director say to them, "Well, sing something for us." And in sudden panic comes the thought, "But I'm not a singer!" Supposedly, the director knows that is not your forte' and is prepared to be generous and sensitive in his judgement. Don't bet on it!

But that doesn't mean you can't ace an unexpected vocal audition. In today's competitive environment, especially in live theatre, you must be competent in acting, dance and as a singing performer. Not necessarily great, just decent with a memorable style. You see, a good number of directors don't have a strong technical background in singing. They are just after a certain result. If you can convince them you are the one to do the job for them, you will get hired over the better singer who lacks acting chops.

Now I'm not saying barge on into an opera audition and let it rip. But if you are wanting to open yourself to broader opportunities and get out of your comfort zone there are some things you can add to your bag of skills without enrolling at Julliard for long term study.

Granted, a voice teacher and later a vocal coach are excellent investments if you want to pursue serious music opportunities but if you are an actor who just wants to "dabble" in case a juicy roll comes along I can suggest a few things.

First ask yourself who are your favorite singers? Who would you pay money for to see in concert? Who's voice seems most like your own? What style do you feel particularly drawn to? Can you at least carry a tune? Get some karaoke CDs and seriously mimic what you are hearing. Next, get some close friends to listen to you and give their honest opinion on what they are hearing. If they are telling you to "give it up, and don't quit your day job," you are probably listening to yourself sing inside your head and that will make you sing flat. Remember what its like watching an actor direct himself while he is performing. Its uncomfortable to watch, right? Same with singing. Try to sing your songs as an actor who is focusing only on his objective and is going after it 100%. You'll see an immediate difference.

Untrained singers are limited in what they should sing due to the range that songs are written in, the necessary articulation of vowels for resonance and breath control requirements that take long term conditioning. But if Renee' Zellweger can belt it out in Chicago or Michelle Phieffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys you can too. Staying within certain limitations and if you are indeed a good actor then you can easily convince an audience you can sing.

The next step would be to hit the karaoke and piano bars under an assumed name. Just half kidding, although that is exactly what I did in New York when I would try out new material and was a total unknown in the business. Work out the bugs in your material just like the comics do.

Finally, you have to start seeing yourself as a singer. By this time you will probably be willing to invest in some lessons. Self study involves imitating other singers and attending concerts of the really good vocalists. Singing in the shower does not count unless you are working on memorizing lyrics. But the odds are you may discover some hidden talents and are now willing to professionally develop them with classes.

In my teaching, no matter what a student's personal goals are, I strongly encourage them to have six songs in at least three different styles that they can pull out at short notice and wow someone with. Beginners through professionals should be able to do this. You should have at least one killer ballad, a jazz torch or blues standard, and an up tempo show tune. Pop and country are nice to have but optional. If you have classical talent then by all means add an aria or an art song in a foreign language. And be sure to have your sheet music AND a karaoke type accompaniment in the proper key ready at all times.

There are wonderful songs out there that are not difficult technically. A good actor who focuses on lyrics and chooses songs that mean something to him can put a unique spin on them and make them sound gorgeous! And some roles require an actor who doesn't sing too well, just with energy and commitment. Think of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Liza Minelli was too good a singer for that role in my opinion.

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