What are the Theatre Conferences?
The New England Theatre Conference (NETC)* and Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) have auditions (as well as several auditions in NYC) which are viewed by theaters and casting agents from all over the country. The SETCs have a cattle call (mass audition) twice a year and the NETCs once a year, so that these attending theaters can see the talent available for them for their summerstock and regional theater needs. In last year’s audition, theatres represented were repertory and stock companies, single show venues, cruise lines, dinner theatres, entertainment agencies, etc. Ultimately, this is your chance to audition for a theater’s season en masse at one go.
But how do you stand out among hundreds (the SETCs has had over 800 actors/singers/dancers audition spots), with only 60 seconds of a monologue, 60 seconds of a song, OR 90 seconds of a song and a monologue? The Barrow Group, a New York City acting school, can help you. Unlike most auditions in NYC, you will have to audition to audition. For the SETCs, you need to fill out an application, and there are other requirements if you are going as a professional actor rather than a student. SETC Singer-Actor Application. The NETCs will accept you if you meet their criteria and are not Equity. They allow a two-minute audition time. NETC Audition Instructions.
Preparing for the Audition is Just Like Preparing for Auditions in NYC
Make no mistake, these Theater Conferences are handled just as professionally as auditions in NYC. You should take your preparation seriously. Many theater companies and others who cast talent will be there, so you have your brief time to shine for them all. Even if they don’t have something this season for you, they may be impressed enough to hold onto your headshot/resume for a future endeavor. You should prepare for this audition months in advance. You need for your material to be second nature to you, including gestures and movements. This should be as polished as any monologue or song you do for NYC casting.
Selecting Your Monologue and Song
This is the trickiest part of the audition. You want to present yourself as easy-to-work-with, affable, smart, mature and someone who will be a productive part of the season for which you are auditioning.
First of all, and most important, avoid finding material from compilations of monologues and songs, such as Hal Leonard’s The Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology in different voice parts. These books are great if you’re putting together a cabaret or are singing in an open venue, because they come with CDs of the music being sung, and just instrumental. However, they are a popular commodity and used by many voice teachers and singers. Unless you excel at one of the songs it contains, don’t risk it. As mentioned below, if it’s overused, the auditioners are going to be sick of hearing it – which translates into not listening to you!
Choosing your monologue and/or song is something that is very personal, maybe too personal. You may see yourself as the sexy businessperson but appear as the-boy-or-girl-next-door type. In this case, The Barrow Group can help you pick excellent material that will showcase the you whom you have to sell. Our professional instructors are very familiar with a myriad of shows in all genres, and so could guide you with an eye towards what type you are.
- Choose something that really speaks to you. If you’re funny, showcase that. People love to laugh, and that is true of your auditioners. You can go with something maudlin, but that usually has less energy and is more introverted, forcing the directors and producers to come down to you, rather than how comedy goes up to them. Usually, you’d select your piece according to the show that is being done, such as you do in most auditions in NYC, but since this is for a myriad of shows, you need to have something broad. If you sing, you can do the exact opposite style, thus showing your range, i.e. a comic monologue and a heartfelt ballad.
- Be sure to fall within the time limits. They are serious about the amount of time you’ll be on stage. At the allotted amount, the person with the stopwatch will say “Time.” At that point, you stop completely, even if you weren’t done, and give a heartfelt “Thank you” to the auditioners and your accompanist. You will not receive any leeway. They have hundreds of actresses and actors to be seen. It runs like a well-oiled machine. The best idea to ensure you come within the range is have your selection come under time, so 55 seconds or 85 seconds for the SETCs, and one minute fifty-five seconds for the NETCs.
- Don’t do something with an accent. Any dialects in which you’re proficient, or languages you speak, should go on your resume. For this audition, you should not change your speaking voice unless the monologue calls for it (it might be better to select another monologue!); if that is the case, don’t do a heavy accent – keep it light. This brief time is all that you have to let them know who you are, and you limit yourself with an accent.
- While plays and musicals are usually the go-to for materials, don’t discount movies and television for monologues. There are some great script being spoken, and you should write them down and give them a try yourself.
- If you are a mediocre singer, more personality than voice, don’t sing. You should only sing if you have a trained, professional voice. If you’re also doing a monologue and are not an accomplished singer, this probably will cancel out all the good you’ve done up to this point. What they’ll remember is that you can’t sing. The best thing to do is get a professional’s opinion – your voice teacher, or one of the instructors at The Barrow Group – and ask them to be brutally honest. If you have a beautiful voice but constantly go off pitch, don’t sing. If you can’t keep tempo, don’t sing. If you’re unsure of that one note, don’t sing. What you present must be close to perfect.
- Choose a piece that is different from your monologue in tone and energy. You can do a comedy monologue and an up-tempo fun song, which gives the impression that you’re outgoing and fun. However, this limits you from being considered for other, more meaty roles. If all you give them is light comedy when you have the opportunity of two pieces, make them contrasting.
- Don’t pick a song just for the high or low note. Too often, this occurs at the end of the song, and with so very little time, the lyrics might not support strong acting choices. Certainly, do show off your range, but be certain you’re also performing.
- Consider the bridge of a song for a cut. These are often the more interesting music in the piece, and then you can finish it with the refrain.
- Make sure your music is clean, a good copy and that dynamic markings or instructions to the accompanist are written clearly. If you take a fermata at the end of a phrase, mark it and highlight it so that the accompanist can follow along without difficulty. Some of the Theatre Conferences want you to put your music on stiff paper instead of in a notebook with the reflective plastic pockets. Never hand an accompanist music straight from a book. These are difficult to keep in place, depending on the size, and there’s too much of a chance that it will fall down, thus sabotaging your audition.
3. General Notes.
- Do nothing with excessive or unnecessary profanity. In fact, profanity should be avoided. Some of these directors and producers are old-school and prudish, and any profanity immediately turns them off. They also may believe you may speak that way in life, and not want to deal with the discomfort those words can cause. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, but profanity is typically used as a shock mechanism. It’s a cheap ploy.
- Stay away from hot-button and political issues, such as abortion. At best, you may offend people. At worst, the directors and producers may write you off immediately because they disagree with your position.
- Do nothing says look at me! or puts yourself in a position where you seem arrogant (i.e. Gorgeous from “Apple Tree” or “Art is Calling for Me (The Prima Donna Song)” from The Enchantress.) The producers and directors may assume you are egotistical and vain just from your song choice and may decide you are a difficult person with whom to work. Make them like you.
- Do nothing with excessive sexual innuendo. Similar to profanity, this can make your auditioners uncomfortable. You have such a short time to make an impression; don’t let it be one that leaves them wondering about your morality. Yes, it’s not a fair judgment, but whether you have 60 seconds, 90 seconds or two minutes, is this really how you want to present yourself to a theater that’s directing Oklahoma! or Show Boat? There may be sexy roles to fill – let them make the decision that you’re right for that role.
- Do not play a mentally challenged person. This needs no more explanation.
- Do nothing from a current Broadway show. Songs from shows on Broadway (or recently on Broadway) are bound to be overdone.
- Do not do Shakespeare (or his contemporaries) unless you are auditioning solely for a particular theater that does Shakespeare, or a Renaissance Faire.
- Do choose a song that isn’t so obscure that the producers and directors will be trying to make out the words rather than watching your performance and judging you on the quality of your voice.
How to Stand Out
Let’s face it – just like mass auditions in NYC, you need to do something to separate you from the crowd. However, many of these theaters cater to small town clientele, so purple hair may not get you cast. They want to see natural-looking actresses and actors that they can picture in the roles they need to cast. Don’t make it too hard for them.
1. Have a “Look”. Dress to impress, and if you have your red audition dress, now is the time to bring it out. Bright colors will set you apart from others, whereas small patterns tend to blend into the background. Add a scarf, or a bow-tie. If you are called back, be sure to wear the same thing. After seeing so many people, they’ll remember you as “the woman in the red dress” or “the gentleman with the bow-tie.” Don’t confuse your auditioners; make remembering you easy for them. This applies to New York City and other callbacks as well. Especially if it was a big cattle call – they may only remember what you wore and what you performed, but not the face. Remember, they see hundreds of performers at these auditions.
2. Choose Monologues and Songs that are Familiar, but Not Overused. Sitting in the audience at the SETC’s, seven girls in a row sang “Someone Like You” from Jekyll and Hyde. By the second rendition, they were tuned out. Find a song from an older musical, not one currently on Broadway. Everyone will be doing selections from Angels in America and Hamilton. In fact, here is a list a college provided cataloguing overdone songs and monologues: Auditioning for College – Do Not Lists Overdone Songs and Monologues. NOTE: This is list for college-age students and is dated, so ignore anything that isn’t appropriate to your age, such as playing a mother or a father if you are old enough to be one. Missing from this list are “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, “Art is Calling for Me (The Prima Donna Song”) by Victor Herbert from The Enchantress, “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife, and “All I Need is the Girl” from Gypsy. As they mention, avoid signature songs, like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland or “People” by Barbara Streisand. The auditioners will compare you to the original and, even if you have a totally unique take on the song, it might backfire on you to be equated to a legend.
3. Practice Your Introduction and Farewell. This seems like an obvious, but when you first say “Hello, my name is _______________”, an assumption is made right then to your character. Be full of energy, but not over-the-top. Be friendly, approachable; make it seem that you are all good friends and you’re here to fulfill their need for a performer. Be confident, but not overbearing. You also don’t want to blow off your “Thank you” (which you should say at the end of every audition). Make it warm, gracious, not a throw-away. Truly thank the producers and directors, and your accompanist, for their valuable time. This applies to auditions in NYC, and other venues as well.
The New England Theatre Conference and the Southeastern Theater Conference are excellent opportunities to be seen by a plethora of theaters, cruise lines and other casting agencies. They are unusual in their limited time format and number of auditionees, but if you prepare for them correctly, you’ll shine and be the darling of many a caster!*
Unfortunately, the NETCs have not updated their website from the 2018 audition season but keep checking for it to become timely.