Booking It! Casting Director Bernard Telsey on Audition Essentials

By Adam Hetrick
13 Jan 2014

Can you go a bit further on how to dress for an audition? For example, if an actor is auditioning for Rent, how far should they go with the look? Where do you draw the line?
Telsey: If you're going in for Rent, hopefully you’ve seen the show and you know it’s about these groovy, St. Marks-type people, so why not wear a groovy shirt? Why not wear something that’s going to be a conversation piece? Not a costume, but whether it's the funkiest scarf, the boots, or the hat, you want to stand out.

Or, if you're going in for Galinda in Wicked, don't come in wearing a Galinda dress, but don't come in wearing just jeans and a sweater. Come in wearing a skirt or a dress. The essence of Galinda is a girl, so be a girl, a girl who's into wardrobe and fashion. We see girls who come in wearing jeans and sweaters and it's too easy for someone to say, "Oh, she doesn't have that that girly thing." You have to know what the essence of that person is.

How do you feel about vocal embellishment/riffing during audition songs?
Telsey: If you are going to do it, it has to be organic and it has to be emotionally driven. It can't just feel like, "I’m a baton twirler, so let me show you how high I can riff!" That's when it feels like embellishment and riffing. It's not connected emotionally to the story. In all of these songs we want to hear range, but we don't want to hear range first and foremost. We want to hear your range as you're incorporating it into the material that you're delivering. If the riffing and the range are first and foremost, we're not connecting to the person.

Although a song is known to be overdone, would it still be okay to use if you sing it well?
Telsey: Yes, because it's just to get a little tasting. We're in an office of 19 casting directors here. As much as we're on the same page and we work hard to be that, everybody here has a different taste as to what's their favorite song and what song they’re sick of. It's like trying to order pizza the day after Thanksgiving with your family: No one is right. I can't even sit here and try to say what is an overdone song. It might be my favorite song, but it might not be a favorite of another casting director's. And that’s not something the actors can control. But have choices for us. That's what I keep trying to tell everyone. That really is the answer. I sit there in the same room with a different musical director and a different director, and many times they are more black and white than even we are. They will say, "I hate that song, don't do it." So you've got to have choices. Unless you come in and they say, "What do you want to sing?" I think it's great to walk in and say, "Hey, what would you like to hear? I'd be happy to do any of these songs." And then we can jump and say, "Oh, let me see what's in your book!" Give choices so you don't have to worry about whether or not it's an overdone song or not and so you can accommodate the people that are in your room.

If you're a soprano, how important is it to develop your belt voice to be more versatile, or vice versa? Should you play to your strengths, or try to cover as much ground as possible?
Telsey: You have to play your strengths. Go in with your strongest shot and then if you do, and they like what they hear, then they can ask to hear your soprano, or your belt. Even if one is a little weak, they're still in love with you from the other song, so they'll be open to adjusting and working. It's too easy for a casting director to say, "No, that's not right," if you don't play your strengths first.