Performance groups show hopefuls how to break a leg

It’s that wonderful time of the year again. Hopes and dreams blossom with excitement over the many new projects and groups that seem to scream one’s name; performers spend hours fretting over carefully selected songs or monologues. Even the most outwardly confident Williams students are sure to battle butterflies. It’s audition season.

Amir Hay ’15 sings at his GQ audition in the Log.
Amir Hay ’15 sings at his GQ audition in the Log.

From Nothin’ But Cuties (NBC) to Berkshire Symphony, a vast array of clubs and companies eagerly wait to see and hear potential members. Some auditions have already been held, while others remain highly anticipated. As auditioning can be a nerve-wracking event for many, it might be helpful to hear exactly what those on the other side of the metaphorical table are looking for. Although these tips and tales may be coming too late for some auditions this season, it is our hope that they will be beneficial for upcoming auditions and for the next time around.

Because auditions can be such an intimidating experience, most performance groups make a great effort to keep the atmosphere positive and low-pressure. Ronald Feldman, conductor of  the Berkshire Symphony, Student Symphony and Symphonic Winds, said his auditions “are very low-key and friendly. To that end, the choices of solo repertoire are completely up to the student.”

A capella groups also allow  singers to select their own audition songs, an option that can generate either a sense of comfort or a source of worry. Michelle Rodriguez ’12 of Ephoria (one of two ‘no-fella a capella’ groups on campus) stressed the importance of choosing a song that best represents the singer’s voice.

Monologues for theatre auditions can be an equally tricky subject. It’s a hard balance to demonstrate one’s range of ability without picking something too far outside of what is comfortable. This year, hopefuls at two of the three Cap and Bells productions, Metamorphoses and The Pillowman, had the option of telling a story as part of the audition. This allowed actors to choose material they were already familiar with, and gave them an opportunity to truly shine as a teller of tales.

Of course there is a basic skill level required for admittance into any group on campus. For many groups, though, a background in the art form is not necessarily the most important thing. Rodriguez said that while “a musical background is definitely a plus,” one does not need to be able to read music in order to have a successful audition.

Apart from a certain necessary level of technical talent, performance groups almost universally look for a genuine sense of passion for their art form.  “I want to hear and see their joy in making music,” Feldman said of his symphonic students. Likewise, Katy Newcomer ’14, of the infamous hip-hop dance group Nothin’ But Cuties (NBC) believes that one of the most important things is that the group’s potential members simply enjoy dancing.

In many cases, a successful audition is one that proves you can match the vibe of that group. According to Newcomer, NBC wants to see “if you’re a diva or not.”

But for other groups, it’s something subtler. Sam Austin ’14, a member of the all-male a capella group Octet, said that the group looks for “someone we can picture ourselves having fun with at rehearsals.” Rodriguez corroborated, sayed that her favorite part about the audition process is “meeting like-minded girls who are passionate about music.” Moreover, both Austin and Rodriguez expressed the importance of blending in both a musical and a social context.

And then there is that element of the audition that cannot be summed up in a single word, that elusive ‘something’ that everyone strives to attain. Octet member Patrick Aquino ’12 understands the importance of trying to find some way of standing out.

“When you listen to 30 to 40 people in the span of three nights, the ones you can easily remember for good reasons after the third night are usually the ones who are going to get a callback,” Aquino said.

So what is that mysterious quality that one should strive for? For  Frank Pagliaro ’14, director of Frosh Revue, it was the element of surprise. One of the most memorable auditions that he witnessed this year was when a first-year picked a song that was completely unexpected – “Get Low,” by Lil’ Jon.

That said, there are certain ways in which you probably do not want to stand out. As Rodriguez recalls, “Once we had a boy from another a capella group audition for us. He sang the whole song in falsetto and I would have totally voted to call him back, you know, if he weren’t a boy.”

Essentially, the recipe for any successful audition must include skill, passion and the ability to match the vibe of the group. Yet it is that peculiar ingredient that cannot quite be described which will put a candidate over the edge of acceptance or not. Perhaps that ‘something’ is nothing more or less than being yourself.