Preparing for Auditions with EVT
By Molly Webb
For a budding actor or musician, there are few things that rattle the nerves more than an upcoming audition. You’re completely exposed up there, and even more unnerving, you’re completely exposed in a room full of strangers whose entire purpose is to judge you. As voice teachers, even those of us who no longer perform, most of us remember when we were in that vulnerable position—chugging water to quell the perpetual dry-mouth and kicking ourselves for choosing the cut with that high belt that no longer feels in reach.
We all want to help make auditioning as positive an experience as we can for our students. Luckily, Estill Voice Training gives us a massive toolkit to work on the ins and outs of the audition process: everything from making sure they’re heard, to giving their material nuance, to coping with the inevitable nerves on audition day.
Determine Which Voice Qualities Match the Character
First thing’s first. Shows (and often individual roles within that show) call for specific voice qualities. Not to say that there isn’t room for interpretation or that a song or monologue should only use one stagnant quality from beginning to end. But generally speaking, some choices are going to be more appropriate than others.
You often hear voice teachers say that you want to make sure you “sound like you” and not like someone else. But what is that “you”? If that “you” is only comfortable with opera, you won’t be getting any callbacks for American Idiot the musical any time soon. If that “you” is just a belter, you’re ruling out everything legit. So yes, it’s true that we want to encourage our students to sound like themselves instead of just mimicking, but we want that self to be versatile! A self who can shift seamlessly between belting “Defying Gravity,” gliding through a Mozart aria, and maybe using some stiff fold breathiness for the musical Once.
One of the first things we need to help our students do is determine which voice qualities or combination of Figures are necessary for the piece. Qualities can and should often shift within the song, so don’t feel like it has to be just one! If your student is auditioning for Elphaba, there should be some belting in there. If she’s auditioning for a Disney princess, she might want some combination of cry, oral twang, and belt. If she’s auditioning for Legally Blonde, she should be very comfortable with nasal twang.
The same goes for spoken auditions. What do you and your student think the character should sound like? Is he a stereotypical villain with a deep low larynx? Is he young and idealistic, with a more youthful higher larynx? Should the monologue contain a lot of gravitas, with a voice quality close to opera, or is more comedic, with one closer to nasal twang or sob? These are all questions to ask in interpreting the character and determining which voice qualities might be worth trying out.
Helpful Figures to Consider: All of them, depending on the role and the song!
Use Additional Voice Qualities for More Color
Yes, there might be one dominant quality in the song or monologue, but your student’s audition piece will have much more life if you weave other ones in.
As an easy example, watch Sherie Rene Scott shift between different figure options and qualities throughout “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
She shifts between using a low larynx with a very tilted thyroid when she wants her character to present as an older, faux-maternal figure for Ariel and a higher-larynx twang or belt to show her nastier side breaking through. Watch her go from an opera quality on 2.28 to highlight that she’s been a saint back into a belt a few seconds later to put that sentiment to rest.
As long as it’s done thoughtfully and appropriately, shifting between qualities will make your student’s audition multi-dimensional and help her stand out from all the singers who just belt their faces off or remain in opera quality the entire time.
Helpful Figures to Consider: All of them, depending on the role and the song!
Be in Control of Your Voice from Beginning to End
Auditions don’t start when you begin to sing; they start the second you enter the room. You can use EVT to help your student stay in control from the beginning of the audition to the end.
Does she have a tendency to speak in an inaudible vocal fry (or in slack folds, to use EVT terminology?) As a voice teacher in Southern California, I certainly hear this from a number of my students. This type of speech might be perfect for a relaxed day at Newport Beach, but it’s not usually how you want to introduce yourself to an audition committee.
Work with your student on being well anchored in the torso and head/neck when she walks into the room. Not only will her voice work more efficiently, but she’ll look more confident and in command as well.
For her voice to carry more, teach her to narrow her AES in her speech. The larger the room (and the quieter your student tends to be), the higher the effort number she should use.
Thick and thin true vocal folds are both just fine, depending on the role and your student’s attractor state. If she isn’t making a play for a very specific part in a show about surf culture or Marilyn Monroe, slack folds and stiff folds probably aren’t the way she should introduce herself when she walks in if she wants to sound the most present.
Helpful Figures to Consider: Torso, Head/Neck, AES, TVF Body-Cover
Work Around Your Nerves
Maybe going on audition after audition will just make the nerves go away altogether. Or maybe they won’t. Either way, you can help your student stay in control even when his sympathetic nervous system is in high gear. Here are some things that can help the most notorious symptoms.
Throat tightness: Retract those false vocal folds! FVF constriction is a wonderful protective adaptation for when the body is under real duress, but it’s not such a great thing when the duress is just the emotional threat of an audition panel. It’s more important than ever for your student to know how to retract. If he normally needs to retract to a 7 in a particular segment of his song, this is probably the time to retract to an 11.
Shaky legs and unsteady breathing: This is where anchoring (both types, but torso anchoring in particular) really come into play at auditions. Your student might still feel more wobbly than usual at the audition, but a high torso anchor number can combat the worst of the airflow problems and make her feel a little more stable. This is even more true for the most difficult parts of the song. It’s useful to identify potential problem areas in advance (even ones that don’t seem to pose a huge issue during day-to-day lessons) so that your student is prepared to up her anchor numbers on these areas especially.
Helpful Figures to Consider: FVF, Torso, Head/Neck
Some people’s voices carry without much thought or discernible effort on their part. Others need some help being heard when they’re singing or reading their monologue. This is especially true during an audition, when you’re typically unamplified (even in instances where the actual performance will be) and the size of the room is unpredictable. Here’s what to help your student with.
Anchor: Yep, this one again! Whether they’re belting, singing operatically, or just need their breath and vocal muscles to work with some added efficiency, both types of anchoring are important for being heard. Just make sure your student retracts his FVF to a higher number than the number he’s anchoring to.
AES: This is another one that keeps coming back. Your student’s voice needs to at least carry over the accompaniment (often a clunky, poorly maintained piano) with as much efficiency as possible. Narrow AES to the rescue! Some notes may carry with ease. Others won’t be in an optimal spot in the student’s voice. Those notes in particular should be given higher effort numbers.
Helpful Figures to Consider: Torso, Head/Neck, AES
Auditions may never be something you or your students look forward to, but there’s certainly a lot you can do to mitigate the worst aspects of them and maybe even have some fun creatively putting them together. This is only scratching the surface of the tools EVT can provide. The vast number of ways you can use the Figures gives you a nearly bottomless toolkit to build a character, play with vocal options, and yes, gain some control over those nerves so that they aren’t in control of you.
About the Author
Molly Webb and her husband run Molly’s Music, a vocal-centric musical school with four locations in Orange County, CA. She is dedicated to the beliefs that vocal instruction should be evidence-based and scientifically grounded, that no one vocal technique or style is superior to others, and most importantly, that pretty much anyone can learn to sing. Molly is an EMT and maintains a music blog when she isn’t teaching or hanging out with her 7-year-old son, Dean.