Ever wondered what an open call audition for a musical is like?
Last month, open auditions were announced for global productions of Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon in the Philippines. Over 900 hopefuls were processed through auditions organised by the Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group between March 15 – 21.
As casting director and former AD Bobby Garcia noted, this round of casting was geared towards finding Filipino talent “to shine on the international stage […] the way Lea Salonga, Leo Valdez, Jonjon Briones, Joanna Ampil and Rachelle Ann Go […] have in the past,”
I went over there with two other actor friends to find out if it was only Filipinos they were after, and to take a shot at being a part of the next production for this landmark musical. We were there, like everybody else, to chase dreams. Here’s what happened.
Part 1: Registration March 11 and 12
The official registration began at 10am, and by the time I got there at 7:30am, there were already 30 hopefuls waiting for their chance to register. Candidates had travelled from all over the Phillipines and neighbouring Asian countries specifically for this open call. Uncommonly, ATEG decided to organise all of their information through a Facebook page: ‘Miss Saigon Auditions 2016′.
Today was a matter of waiting in line to submit your CV, a Headshot, and a copy of the sheets for your 16 bars of music if they were not from the show. If you were singing from the show, which the brief asked for, your sheets weren’t necessary. The pianist on the day would be playing from the revised 2014 score.
Part 2: The 16 bars, March 15-16
After the registration, candidates received a ticket (not unlike the golden tickets of Willy Wonka fame) that had an hour printed on it. About 30 auditionees had the same hour time slot, and it was over these two days that you would redeem that time slot for your chance to sing.
In and out. Called up in groups of ten, there was really no space where you could warm up fully because of the proximity to the audition room itself, so candidates made do. There was some quiet humming. The energy was electric, a buzz was palpable – learning to concentrate on your own process and to manage your mentality when surrounded by this buzz is a skill that you have to learn to cultivate.
You walk in, announce what song you are singing, the pianist begins playing, and you walk back out.
If there is some kind of miscommunication, i.e. that you are singing a different 16 bars to those being played by the pianist, you have a brief chat with the fellow and have another go.
After each of the ten people in your allotted group have been processed, and after a small wait, one of the audition administrators announces a series of names who will to progress to the next round. The entire process lasts all of 1 minute. It really is in and out.
Over the first two days of auditions for this audition stage, the casting panel saw over 900 candidates. That’s a great many candidates!
Part 3: The First Dance and Singing Call, March 18
On the 17th, all candidates who had progressed to this stage were sent music from the show to learn. It’s challenging harmony work, with learning tracks and sheet music forming part of the package. Here, you pick a melody line that is suitable for your vocal type and learn it the best that you can. This kind of task tests your musicality over rhythm, pitch, ensemble singing and diction, and is one of the fastest ways for a keen-eared Musical Director to assess chorus singing ability – a skill-set entirely separate from the singing skills required as a soloist.
On the day of the 18th, all candidates were separated by gender: men earlier in the day, ladies in the afternoon. For the men, their dance call was first, followed by a singing call. For the ladies, a singing call, followed by a dance call.
The dance call for both groups consisted of learning a short routine from the show, and then some technical corner exercises. For the women, they also had to learn a short kick combination.
The skills under examination for the dance call are more than your flexibility and muscular strength. It’s also mental, like how well you pick up choreography, how well you are able to act through your movement, and finally, how you interact with your fellow candidates and the dance instructor.
Mental toughness is a huge requirement for these auditions. Nobody is ever really at ease in these situations, so it’s about how well you perform under the pressure of constantly being watched, which, if you think about it, is the same whether that be in an audition room or on a main stage.
At the end of the dance call, candidates perform in a mini-concert of 3 or 4 at a time. Each group will have the opportunity to perform the routine just taught. Time to shine!
Afterwards, you are asked to leave the room while the panel deliberate on the next cut. Did you make it through? Only 5 eternally pregnant minutes separates you from that knowledge.
The final stage is a performance of all the routines learnt throughout the day, each recorded on video. Then one by one, all candidates sing the musical fragments that they had been asked to learn around the piano, which again was taped. Then you dance the routines again in smaller groups, and that concludes the day!
Part 4: Final call-backs for Leads, March 21
Full disclosure: I did not have the pleasure of attending this stage. I imagine that it would have been more along the lines of the singing/acting call simply extended.
I imagine that candidates would be sent a considerable amount of additional material to learn (somewhere in the vicinity of 3-4 songs), some of which would be solo, some of which would be sung in duets, depending on the character for which you are reading (this is typical).
The day would have had you workshopping each of these scenes with a director and musical Director. They would be looking to explore your acting ability as well as your technical singing.
Everything is under consideration here, your build and height, the manner in which you engage with direction, how readily you adapt to an actor playing opposite you, how well you listen, both to one another as fellow candidates, and to the accompaniment.
These sessions would be more personal, in that you are being interacted with individually. Here they would be interested in the nuances of meaning that you can bring out in the song which belong to you specifically. How do these thoughts as you perform physically affect you as an actor in a compelling and readily recognisable way? This is where all your homework in terms of what your words mean when you sing really comes into play.
And that’s it!
You would be videotaped, thanked for your time, and the process would be over for you.
That is, if it did indeed happen as I imagined it did.
Now all that’s left to do is the very difficult task of forgetting any of it happened to begin with, and to go about your life until you either receive a phone call telling you that you have won the job, or you have not. Neither of which, I would take this moment to remind you, will have had any bearing on determining who you are as a person.
“The comeback for the audition of Miss Saigon had been very, very good and (we’re) very, very pleased. We found two brand new people and that’s very exciting because they are two parts that are very difficult to cast. But as usual, in the Philippines, the best can be expected,” Schonberg said.
Those two performers have yet to be named, but it is anticipated that Cameron Mackintosh will make that announcement alongside other cast announcements for the new London production.
Is it worth it? Paying for the travel, budgeting the time, making the preparations in terms of learning material, all to compete with a human tide of talented performers? It’s really a question that each individual has to answer for themselves.
Opportunities for the right show at the right time in your life, in terms of your development as an artist, are rare. Opportunities to perform professionally are rare, period. For two young Filipino artists, though, this process has culminated in allowing them the journey of a lifetime. And, their exposure to the world stage began in a queue, anonymously, quietly, just like everybody else.