How to shine in auditions – tips from a producer

It’s not always easy to get producers to sit up and take notice. Industry expert Michelle Cohen shares her audition tips.

Growing up as a concert singer and musical theatre performer, I always loved performing but hated auditioning. I kept worrying “What do they want? What are they thinking?”.

Then the tables turned. As a producer, director and coach, I began auditioning other people instead of standing in front of the production team myself. And finally I fully understood the real secret to auditions. Those people staring at you? Here is what they are thinking: “Please be good! Dear God, after waking up early, sitting for hours, wondering ‘Will this ever end?’ I am begging you to be the one.”

They are just dying for you to blow them away and solve their predicament. I now understand ways to absolutely thrill people into hiring you. The main thing to keep in mind is that they are not only wondering are you talented but are you a) reliable and b) someone they want to hang out with for hours on end? There are so many elements to putting a production together. Are you someone to be counted on to not become a headache? If you show you can be trusted you will become someone who gets hired and recommended again and again with enthusiasm.

Please don’t…

– Show up for auditions ill prepared. This is something that you have control over, so why throw that to the wind?

– Don’t get there on time. I repeat. Don’t get there on time. Get there EARLY. Give yourself the gift of being completely ready before your appointment and give everyone the confidence that you are responsible.

Please do…

– This will sound odd, but please bathe and wear clean, tidy clothes. The auditioner is contemplating spending intimate time with you. Also, help them see your body and that you are comfortable in it. Don’t be afraid to create a look that makes you stand out, but don’t wear something that might frighten people. Remember, they are trying to decide if they want to be around you and feel safe with you.

– Anticipate there are little tests going on where you least expect it because those carrying out the auditions are trying to glean as much information about you as possible. I always have one of my trusted friends act as monitor. That is the person who takes your name and gets you ready to go into the audition. Why do I do this? Because I want to know how you treat people. You may be the nicest person to me in the audition room, but if I find out later you were rude and obnoxious to your fellow colleagues and haughty to my monitor, why would I want to work with you?

– Please make friends with the accompanist if you are bringing in sheet music. Say hello and thank them in advance for assisting you. I always watch this interaction as it shows me how you interrelate with the people who will ultimately be working with you.

– Tell the truth on your résumé or bio or when answering questions posed to you. I promise you, you will be caught if you lie. What level of experience you have is always obvious. If you are incredibly talented and lovely at your audition, that will go a long way towards getting you the role over someone else who has worked a lot but is not necessarily as gifted or as nice. If you start to think of auditioning as a way to show what a great friend you can be, the life of the party or the awesome steady person that everyone counts on, you will have a completely different aura about you from the second you enter the room.

And remember….

Make every second count. Smiling helps. If you like, joke around with the people waiting outside with you so that you enter laughing. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who knows how to have fun? Don’t slink in nervously fidgeting and looking slightly nauseous. Everyone knows you are probably nervous, but you have already proven you are brave by showing up.

Don’t get thrown if those auditioning you ask you questions. Even weird ones. They are trying to get a sense of who you are and how you handle challenges in a very short amount of time. Just be engaging and open and if you feel like it, funny. If you don’t want to answer a specific question, feel free to deflect it in a fun way.

If asked to make an adjustment, it is really important that you feel confident enough to drop what you have rehearsed and try something new. They are merely seeing if you can take direction or are curious to see a different element of your talent. Don’t freak. It’s just an experiment. And don’t be shy about getting help. Again, they want you to be good, so help them help you.

When it is time to present your song, feel free to take over the room. There is nothing better than letting everyone know that they can sit back and enjoy themselves, a professional is now in charge.

Also, your exit from the room needs to be as impressive as your entrance. Don’t storm out, don’t be dejected. You have no idea whether you gave them what they needed. So stay upbeat and positive and make them miss you when you leave. Where did that breath of fresh air go? I want it back!

As for getting a gig or not getting a gig, I can promise you one thing. There is so much more going on than you will ever imagine behind the scenes so don’t take it personally. Many times it has nothing to do with what you presented. I have sometimes been made ill over people whom I thought were the most talented performers I have ever seen who I couldn’t hire for reasons that would make your head spin.

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Michelle Cohen is a producer, writer and singer based in NYC. Her projects and herself have been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR’s "All Things Considered", and in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post. She served as an adjunct faculty member at NYU, was a guest speaker for UCLA’s MFA Acting Program and produced the off–Broadway mega hit, Schoolhouse Rock Live! which Entertainment Tonight heralded as “a Phenomenon!” She is the consultant for “Pierre the Mime’s appearances on Keeping Up with the Kardashians and brought Jeff Corey’s memoir, Improvising Out Loud: My Life Teaching Hollywood How to Act to print with an introduction by his former student, Leonard Nimoy. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the British American Drama Academy, her book Of Course You Can Sing! now has a companion as a downloadable SINGING COACHING PROGRAM serving as a fantastic resource for vocal development. For more info: