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The Musical Theatre Audition Book, Part One: What Should I Sing?

After three hours of sitting in the holding room, I’m finally called by the audition monitor to line up in the hallway, and waiting to sing my 16-32 bars. There are two or three roles in the show I think I’m right for, one I ought to be a shoo-in for, but who knows if the casting director or creative team agree with me.

Last night, I decided what song I should sing. Today, I woke up and changed my mind. On the train ride to Manhattan, I changed it again. When I arrive at the audition location, I go back to my original plan. I flip through my binder of songs while I’m sitting in the holding room to make sure I can still sing everything in it, questioning my song choice the whole time. I’ll question it the whole time I’m waiting in line to sing. 

When I was starting out, my audition book was a collection of songs that I’d sung in undergraduate classes, worked on with my voice teachers, been told I should sing by teachers, classmates, and industry guests, and a couple that had sentimental value. The hope was to walk into any audition with a perfectly suited song to present. I’d be devastated if I were suddenly asked for a particular kind of song in a particular musical style or dramatic circumstance and didn’t have it. Plus, as I learned new songs for specific auditions, why bother taking them out of my book when I might go in for another production of that show, or another show in a similar style.

Over time, my audition binder became a bloated, eclectic mass of sheet music. While some of the songs were nicely marked up for the pianist with pen, pencil, or highlighter (depending how much time I had to prepare the sheet music), others were stuffed into the binder raw.  Just thinking about it gives me a headache, and I’m sure it created a lot of unhelpful, excess anxiety in the moment. 

On the other hand, I loved receiving sides for audition appointments. I didn’t have to wonder what to prepare. What could I do to feel similarly confident going into an open call? Auditions are already nerve-wracking enough. Why go in with more uncertainty than necessary?

Your audition book should be empowering. It is your personal repertoire of material that shows how you choose to introduce and market yourself in the industry. 

When an architect goes in for an interview, they bring a binder, folder, or bag with pictures of their work. That’s what the actor’s audition book is: their professional portfolio. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about auditioning is that your song is your business card: “Here I am, and this is what I do.” (Thank you, Doug). Like a film reel for a screen actor, an audition book is a collection of dramatic moments that the actor has crafted to readily offer as an example of their work.

I’m not going to discuss audition technique or go in-depth into specific repertoire selection. There are many people with far more savvy and valuable perspective on this than I have. What I will offer is a way to consider organizing your business portfolio so you have one less thing to worry about in an already capricious profession. This is your profession, and there’s no reason not to feel like a professional when you come in for your job interviews. The more you feel like a professional, the more confidently you’ll present yourself as one.

Part Two: The Actor’s Portfolio

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