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How To Audition for a School Musical When You Have No Talent

May 27, 2012

Someone has recently found my website by googling this sentence, so there is clearly a demand for an article like this. One has to admire the courage of someone who types something like this into a search engine; the pessimistic knowledge of one’s limitations combined with the optimism of someone who suspects there may be a way around it: the intense desire to do something one does badly in the most wildly public way imaginable is fantastic, and makes me want to meet this person. Well, in the style of a post such a person might want to discover, I offer the following:

1)      You are probably an astonishingly poor judge of how good or bad you are. Most people, young people in particular, are in the dark about their abilities or inabilities.  Watch the first couple of weeks of American Idol, especially the crazies who can’t sing at all. They’re usually shocked when somebody tells them they can’t. But more than that, the shining stars of your school, the greatest jocks, musicians, and nerds in the highest stratosphere of their cliques have identified, perhaps, some inclination to success, but history is full of stories of successful people who discovered their abilities rather later than high school, and many of the people you idolize in the pantheon of your school will lead shockingly mundane lives in fields that don’t relate at all to what they seemed born to do in Junior High or High School. The voice is something which doesn’t mature until later than high school, and whatever ability that star student has is only a down payment on a house that hasn’t yet been built. Musical ability, the ability to dance, the ability to act, these things are partially ‘talent’ and much more the result of the application of love and a lot of hard work. Some of that love will be your love for your art, some of the love will be applied by mentors, teachers, your friends, and your colleagues. The idea of the limitless talent that comes from nowhere and descends upon some chosen soul is a total myth. Mozart? Stevie Wonder? Justin Bieber? They’re just people. People with some natural talent, the ability to work at that talent through a punishing amount of practice, and a lot of people around them guiding and nurturing their journey. Don’t walk into this thinking, “I have no talent”. Go in thinking, “I’m going to bring the best version I have of my current self and let them see what they think.”

2)      Don’t audition for a show to climb the social ladder. Theatre is supposed to be the kind of hard work you enjoy. If you hate theatre, do something else. If you want everyone to know how awesome you are, start a blog or go into politics or something. Leave the theatre to the people who want to tell stories in an interesting way. The theatre is about listening and reacting, knowing your lines and your music and playing in those moments. It’s about working together toward a shared vision, about the belief that people’s lives improve when we tell them a story well. Audition to be a part of something, audition to tell a story, audition to meet new friends, but don’t audition to be awesome. Being awesome is another thing entirely; the only truly awesome people are living for something else.

3)      Read the audition instructions carefully and follow them. You want to know what’s an annoying turn-off? When somebody comes to an audition and hasn’t read the instructions. When somebody’s supposed to fill out a form and doesn’t do it, or learn a song, and didn’t bother to learn it. This show’s going to be a lot of work. If you weren’t even in the game enough to fill out the form, go home. And don’t go in and announce, “I’m terrible at this.”, or say, “I can’t dance.” Just go in and do your best. If you secretly think you can do it and announce that you can’t, you’re probably addicted to the sound of people telling you how great you are. That’s an unattractive character trait you should try to get out of your system. If you know you can’t do it, and you’re worried about failing publicly, it’s a great chance to lose some foolish pride and get in touch with yourself. Gosh, who really cares what your friends think anyway? Really interesting people have better things to be concerned about.

4)      Ask your most savvy friends and/or the adults involved in the production which character you should aim for and listen carefully. This one’s a little tricky, because your friends may suck up to you and tell you things that aren’t really true. Adults, less so. When I’m preparing students for an audition, I try to find the role in the show that matches most closely their type and ability level, and teach them the audition side that meets the requirements and shows those qualities. Then we work it really hard. If there are multiple roles the student might be good at, I usually work on the one with the qualities that are hardest to see just by looking. For example, if an actor is interested in two characters, one who is a wallflower, and one who is a crazy extrovert, I’d prepare an extroverted audition, because it’s easier to dial energy back from an actor than to wind up somebody who doesn’t have any energy. They’ll be able to imagine you more subdued if you give them a big audition; if you give them something small, they’ll have trouble picturing you being big. If your friends tell you you’d be great in the chorus, give the best audition you can, and be game to try anything they ask you to do. You never know.

5)      Give everything you’ve got, don’t expect too much, have a good time. Auditioning can be a blast. If your whole life is riding on it, it’s a drag. Always remember: They want you to be great. They don’t want you to fail. All you can bring is your best version of what you think they’re asking for. And if their answer is no, take it with a grain of salt and a lot of grace. Maybe they were wrong, maybe they had a bad day. Maybe there’s something better for you than this in your life right now. Have a great time in the chorus, and start the hard work of getting better. Or if you didn’t make the show at all, find another show or another passion. Life is full of things to get excited about; find one of them and jump in with your arms open wide.   

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