Inside the Lyric Theatre on La Brea, the compact Sheri Sanders is curled in a chair, squinting her eyes and smiling almost apologetically at the nervous girl in Uggs onstage who keeps forgetting her lyrics. “I hate to be a cunt,” Sanders murmurs. “I hate to be a bitch. But this is unacceptable.” She purrs the words so sweetly their meaning almost doesn't register.
Welcome to Rock the Audition, the master class Sanders tours the country teaching. An actor who has been on Broadway and national tours with Fame and Urinetown, she wrote her first book, Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals, based on a class she developed at New York's Pace University in the mid-'00s. Rock musicals were beginning to dominate Broadway, and training hadn't caught up. She had found her niche.
Earlier this week, we sat in on the third class of her four-week session. Here, 10 things we learned about auditioning for a rock musical:
According to Sanders, there's been an American Idol-ization of auditioning for musicals. Actors think they can just walk in off the street without preparation. “You can riff a little bit, you can groove. Show them you have flavor,” she says. But know your lyrics, and don't just walk in and throw your music at the pianist.
9. Remember, you aren't playing Adele.
“Because rock music doesn't come from a musical, there's no character in the song,” Sanders says. You aren't playing Beyonce or Usher; you have to make yourself the character. A pop balladeer might sing about being sad an entire song. But, as music director Jesse Vargas notes, “No one is ever going to write a song in a musical just about being sad. A decision will be made.” So find a way to bring a change of emotion into whatever pop-rock song you choose.
8. Show them you're a good time.
If you sound incredible, but have no personality, maybe you'll get called back … for a chorus part. “But we want leads!” Sanders shouts. That doesn't mean you do a Chris Brown-worthy dance routine during your audition. But make them feel like they'd want to get a drink with you after a 12-hour rehearsal.
7. Consider the accompanist your lover.
Talk to him. When you tell him how you want the song to be played, think of it as telling a new lover, “This is how I want you to touch my body,” Sanders says. Bounce to show him the tempo you want. Slap time onto your thigh to show him the rhythm you have in mind. And while you're doing so, watch him to make sure he's getting it.
6. Let Janis Joplin be your guide.
What was Janis Joplin thinking about when she was singing? “Whiskey and fuckin'!” Sanders hollers. Well, yeah, she probably was. Sanders' point is, get out of your head. Don't calculate how much fun to have. When you stop overthinking every decision, life is much more interesting — for the creative directors auditioning you, and yourself.
5. Make sure the song you choose puts forth the image you want to project.
When Sanders was sitting in on the auditions for American Idiot, the musical based on Green Day's album of the same name, she saw a lot of women audition with songs like Alanis Morissette's “You Oughta Know.” “What does that tell me?” she says. “That you're angry and like to give blow jobs?” Instead, choose a song — like the student that night who sang Gavin DeGraw's “Sweeter” — that shows you can be naughty while still leaving a little to the imagination.
4. Think of your first kiss.
You didn't know what you were doing then, either — but you went ahead and did it, even if you made mistakes. “You just gotta do it, and go full out. They want booty-shakin', big pimpin', Cristal drinkin',” Sanders encourages a prim, sweet girl singing Pink's “Respect.” You'll learn from your stumbles as much as from your successes. And just like kissing, the more you practice, the better you become.
3. Don't sing a song from the musical.
If you come to a Rent audition with Maureen's “Take Me or Leave Me,” they'll think you only want to be considered for that one role. Plenty of outside factors are conspiring against you; why take yourself out of the running for all the other parts?
2. “Don't stick your dick in my mouth before we've even kissed.”
This is Sanders', um, colorful way of saying, “Don't begin a song belting.” If you do, you have nowhere to go. Warm the audience up; caress and tease them before you climax. When you finally whip out your big ol' voice, they'll be ready.
1. Avoid overdone songs like the plague.
If you want to set yourself up to be compared to Dusty Springfield and the 342 girls who've already auditioned that day, go ahead and sing “Son of a Preacher Man.” It's your career's funeral.
Sheri Sanders' final master class is Monday night at the Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea, from 7-11 p.m. Attending/auditing the class is $15. Email Amy Rowell at email@example.com. See www.rock-the-audition.com for more details.