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