Noel Katz has witnessed numerous auditions as music director, and also for the many shows he’s written. He also coaches performers for their auditions. Mr. Katz is an award-winning composer-lyricist, and teaches at Second City, Circle-in-the-Square and Fairleigh Dickenson University. Read more about Mr. Katz at his blog “There’s Gotta Be A Song”.
Carol de Giere: What would you like to see when someone comes in for auditions?
Noel Katz: Individuality. I want to see something of that person’s personality that makes them unique. The biggest mistake that peple make is that they think that the people on the other side of the table want to hear “the big note.” Hearing “the big note” again and again at auditions, nothing could be more boring than that. It doesn’t get anybody cast. What gets people cast is having an individual personality that’s appealing in some way or right for the role in some way.
The other big mistake that people make is that they try to change themselves to fit their concept of what the director’s concept of the role is. Except that involves reading the director’s mind, and you can’t really do that. So it’s better to be yourself than to remake yourself into some conception of what you think they’re looking for.
CD: Because that’s less authentic.
NK: Right, you must be authentic, because A) they are going to pick up on your fakeness, and B) if you’re not being authentic, what good are you once you are cast? In other words, if you’ve presented yourself at an audition something that’s unlike you, when you get into rehearsals, now they are using you, and you’ve got to be yourself.
They are only interested in people who are their own selves. They are not interested in the things that make everybody the same.
CD: The other thing that people have the biggest question about is what song to bring. The rule of thumb is you don’t bring the song from the show you’re auditioning for.
NK: Right. Probably if you’re auditioning for a composer, you probably are not going to do that composer’s songs, but you are looking for a song that is somehow appropriate or similar to the score. You look at the elements of the story you are auditioning for, and then you try and pick a song that’s in a similar style somehow.
CD: So like if it’s a comedic role you should do a comedic song.
NK: Definitely. Well, I think you should reveal comedy at any audition. If you don’t show that you have a sense of humor in that audition, you’ve wasted everybody’s time.
CD: Why, because you want them to enjoy it?
NK: Yeah, remember that an audition is like a job interview, in which the job is going to involve 4 – 6 weeks, whatever the rehearsal process is, of a really intense collaboration. Because directors are casting people that they want to work with, they want to cast people who appeal to them as human beings. And that’s what you really have to emphasize at an audition, is your appeal as a person, as a potential employee.
CD: In the forward to a book about auditioning for musical theatre, [Auditioning for the Musical Theatre by Fred Silver] Charles Strouse is saying, an audition lasts 55 seconds. Do you find that?
NK: Oh sure. I’ve seen plenty of auditions that have lasted 55 seconds. Quite often there is such a huge number of people that they have to listen to, that they will get people in and out in 55 seconds. And it’s kind of every actor’s nightmare that they are going to be asked for just 8 bars of a song, but that happens all the time.
The flip side of that, is that the people on the other side of the table usually can tell that they don’t want you within 8 bars. So that whole little battle, Oh, I hope I get to sing 32 bars is kind of meaningless, because they often know whether they want you or not within 8 bars. So on those horrible occasions when they are limiting you to 8 bards, it’s not such a tragedy as you would think, because they can tell.
CD: Here is says, when an actor is singing a ballad, the song moves slowly, and the lyric falls behind the rhythm of the speech. The remedy is not to act the lyric, but to invent a new one, meaning you’re inventing a subtext, and you’re singing that. Does that make sense?
NK: That makes sense.
CD: Do you like to see them act a song?
NK: That’s the only thing I’m interested in. If someone comes in and sings prettily, I don’t want to cast them. Who cares? Remember we’re doing musical theatre [not American Idol], and it’s most important that we tell stories to an audience using acting, which is the main part of theatre. And if you’re not doing that in your musical theatre audition, you haven’t succeeded at all. There’s no point in sounding good, if it’s not all backed up with acting.
So yes, that phrase is right with the lagging behind lyrics on ballads. You want to fill every moment with something. And when you have a space of time, as you do in a lot of songs, not just ballads, that time has to be filled with thought, thought that we can read on your face, or read on how you’ve changed the way you’re holding your body. So there’s all sorts of good use of the time that is in between the words…
CD: When I listen to a cabaret singer, if they really feel and commit to the song, it’s so much more enjoyable than if they are just singing a pretty song.
NK: It’s all about the audience, and you’ve got to set yourself up in a way that everything your character is going through is understood by the audience. It’s why Uta Hagen said to a student who was crying during a scene, I don’t care if you feel it, I want to feel it. And Uta Hagen said she’d seen a lot of self-indulgent actors who would get up there and feel it themselves and do all the feeling and there was nothing for her in the audience to do.
It’s all about the audience. We don’t care if you feel it, we’ve got to feel it – we the audience.
CD: Lastly, about stage fright, the recommendation is you take your attention off yourself.
NK: Yeah, I see a lot of people who have attention on themselves and that’s really wrong. Every theatre song involves a character and a situation. So you look up the show, or you make something up based on the lyric, that says exactly what that character is feeling or doing in the song.
Like Stephen Schwartz was talking about in “Wonderful,” the Wizard is trying to convince Elphaba to join him. So if you’re singing that song, that’s what you’re trying to do. And you’re thinking, I am the Wizard, how am I going to get Elphaba to join me, rather than thinking, I’m a singer and my voice doesn’t sound the best, and I don’t feel too well today. Who cares? You’re the Wizard. You have an objective that relates to your listener, Elphaba, and that’s what matters. People get nervous because they are thinking about things that their characters aren’t thinking about. If the character’s not thinking about it, you shouldn’t be thinking about it.
Interview October 4, 2004 by Carol de Giere