Thoughts from our Pace Masterclass
with Amy Rogers, Director of the BFA Musical Theater Program at Pace University
Sunday, we got the pleasure of working with head of the Musical Theatre Department at Pace University in New York City, Amy Rogers. Her incites into the world of performing a song and auditioning for musical theatre were fantastic. Thank you, Amy!
Here are some things I wrote down from what was said in the room, what I imagined, and what I saw...
There are big ideas, big lessons, big concepts--don't try to understand or do all of them at once. Just focus on one or two at a time that really speak to you (or the ones you think you are struggling with most).
Happy Rehearsing and Auditioning, All!
- Nick Sulfaro, Acting for the Song coach, My College Audition
1. Sing to someone who matters. Especially with a "story song," it's never about singing a story; it's about living through it. You're saying it for a reason. Now. Here. If the story happened in the past, it is also happening NOW. For us.
2. Moments between. They're real. They're important. They're there for a reason. They get you from one moment to the next. Use them to get from here to there. And likewise...
3. Play EACH moment. Lyric by lyric. Breath by breath. The moment before is not the moment that's happening know. What you feel or say at the end of the song is not what the whole song is about/not what you're saying right now. (This is especially important with figuring out a pop song). So...
4. Breathe with each line/thought. Don't breathe in the middle of a melodic line or lyric (unless written that way, because of a rest in the music, for final emphasis of an idea/theme, if your vocal coach told you to, etc.). When you do this, it breaks up everything. Honor the punctuation (especially with Shakespeare and Sondheim). It means something. It's there for a reason. USE it!
5. Feeling stuck or bound up by the seeming constraints of a "soliloquy"? Try singing to your reflection? In mirror at the gym? Try being alone, but quite literally with and in conversation with yourself. Now, you have the freedom to do anything! (*Could even be useful just as an exercise!) But remember, you are ALWAYS talking to SOMEONE. ALWAYS. Always be in conversation, even if there is no literal 'conversation' occurring. There's always a conversation happening.
6. Find that sparkle in the eyes!! You have to actually be seeing something. Where are you? We (the "audience"/adjudicator) HAVE to see what you see. If you don't see it, we don't see it. (*Need some help with this? Try keeping an imagine journal/diary. Draw them, paste images from a magazine, describe through your own words or poetry, whatever you are singing--figuratively, sure; but even more importantly, literally what are you looking at).
7. Be wary of singing songs where the character is self-deprecatory or spends the whole song admitting faults: They can be great, but are difficult to "sell" as it may send across the wrong message about who YOU are and how you feel about yourself (the actor) and your abilities. Should definitely be careful about doing two of these songs as "contrasting pieces." Better to pair with another piece that is strong, confident, and more obviously "active." AND even then, dare to do one?! Great! Find why 'you' (they, the character) are doing this, and let that feed an active way of communicating to the other person that isn't just the verb of "admitting" or "revealing"--playing that sort of action for a whole song NEVER works.
8. Get in your body! Use the space! (The literal space: how big is the room you're in? And the imaginary space of the world your create for yourself within the context of the piece). Musical theatre is ecstatic!! You use your body and voice to say words, sing melodies, and dance. It's bigger than ANYTHING. It's total FULLNESS! When you sing a song, it's because there's nothing left to say. It has to be bigger than just saying something. (*Remember, it's not about BEing big; it's about FEELing big. It's about daring to make whatever you're saying/doing THAT important/THAT scary to try to achieve). (**Try: gesturing once on every lyric/with each breath. Big gestures, that use the space all around you: below, beside, behind, above. You'll probably feel crazy and it may end up being way too much, but you'll feel different and you may even find a few things you like and want to keep).
9. Do the obvious. If you're singing about looking at a tree in sunlight, look at the tree in the sunlight. True, there is a fine line between doing the obvious or indicating. But if you don't do what you say/what is in the text of the piece, to the adjudicator it looks like maybe you don't know what you're saying. So, put that tree somewhere in space, and really see it!
10. Can't just stand there. Don't stare at one point. It's life. We move around and look at different things constantly. Doesn't mean that there is not incredible power in stillness--there is. But don't be doing nothing. You have to be DOing something. And you have to do it with your WHOLE self: eyes, body, arms, heart, mind, mouth, voice, ears, fingertips, toes; EVERYTHING.)
11. "Not looking like everyone else" / How to set yourself apart: This just means don't dress in a certain way because we tell you to or because you think you're "supposed" to--you need to be dressed appropriately, so take what we say into account. But you don't want to look like everyone else; it's not helpful to you or "me" (the person trying to figure out who you are/what you're like/what you have to offer). What makes you YOU? Show THAT to me. That is why I will want you--for what is uniquely and authentically YOU. (This can be scary to do sometimes, but it will help you in the end; and actually, it feels great!).
12. Use personal circumstances that work! Don't stretch or reach too far. Don't over-complicate or intellectualize. Use something tangible/real. Not an idea of something. Don't talk about emotions. Talk about what you're DOING and what you NEED (and what you need the other person to DO to you/for you right NOW in this moment HERE).
13. Know your task! And Do it! GET what you want! Demand that it happens for you! Be totally, unapologetically ruthless and fearless about wanting something and having it for yourself.
14. Never say "sorry"! (Unless you truly do something rude or offensive, which should never happen anyway... Right?). Own it! Whatever it is you did (or you think you did), own it. Be confident! MY STAKES. MY VERSION/STORY/CIRCUMSTANCE. Defend it to the death!!
15. Try creating a "mantra." ('[This] is what I want. [This] is want.' 'I need you to DO [this]. I NEED you to DO [this]!' For example, "Help me! Help me!" or "If you don't kiss me, I'll die! If you don't kiss me, I'll die!"). It's just another way of phrasing and/or thinking about the active DOing of something to the other person AND what you want from them.
Some Thoughts on TECHNICAL THINGS:
- Awareness of being louder than the accompanist. Where are you? What is the space? Fill it!!! Know where the person/thing is you are speaking to and HIT IT! Imagine your voice is a color and you want to splat the back wall with it. Fill the whole space! (This doesn't mean shouting or belting; don't strain your voice). It's an energetic thing. It means FEELING like you're everywhere in the space. If you don't feel like you're filling it, you probably aren't.
- Can't understand the words you're singing: Never let this be the reason an audition goes poorly. Use clean and clear diction. USE the consonants. (Vowels are the emotions; consonants are how we tell the meaning). If we can't understand the words you're saying, nothing matters.
- No weird vocal scoops or trills! Please! Watch out for these more modern, pop-based vocal habits or 'choices.' Sing cleanly. (On Sondheim, especially! And on most pre-65/Golden age, unless it's for jazz-y effect and regulated by your vocal coach)
- USE the onomatopoetic potential of words: make "screaming" sound like a scream. (Healthily, of course). Dare to go there.
(Some Notes on GOOD VOCAL HEALTH):
- Speak ON your voice. When you're talking, even in the introduction or "interview" phases of things, speak cleanly. Don't whisper or let your voice fall back into that weird grumbly place--don't vocal fry. You should speak like you sing--they're (nearly) the same thing.
- Warm-up! I don't care if it's embarrassing or if your mom asks you not to in the car while she's driving cause she thinks it may cause her to run off the road at 9am. You must find some time somewhere to warm up.
- Try to get out of the habit of clearing your throat. It's potentially damaging to your vocal chords.
- Try drinking warm to room-temperature water. Not cold. It helps to keep your body warm on the inside and out (like how we warm-up our bodies before we dance--it's important with your voice as well). Warm water also helps to break up mucous (and then you don't need to clear your throat as much).
- Sound ugly! Don't be afraid of sounding kind of nasty! That nasally place can be really helpful to a lot of singers in getting more and healthier power, especially in a higher part of your range. Don't sing through your nose--that's too ugly. But there's a place in the front of your face, in the mask, that is not in your throat or mouth--for some people, it's scarier to sing from there, but can be helpful (*at times!).
My College Audition
16 Bars and Under Two Minutes