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VIP ACCESS: How to Rock Your Next Audition

August 31st, 2011

Every fourth Wednesday of the month, the “VIP Access” column will serve up advice on how to make your theater-going experiences cheaper, easier and more fulfilling with inside scoop from the experts. This month, we’ve got a book to recommend for the actor, theater lover or Rock God in your house…

Sheri Sanders. Photo by Dirty Sugar Photography.

Given the popularity of pop-infused musicals from Rent to American Idiot, it might be time to quit asking “If I Loved You” and find out if you love U2. Good thing actress, teacher and author Sheri Sanders is on the scene to help put some rock in your roll. Her new book Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals provides practical advice for student, amateur and professional performers who might be stepping into unfamiliar backbeat territory but, according to Sheri, her advice isn’t just for actors; everyone can learn to let out their inner wild-child. (Warning: in true rock style, there will be wardrobe malfunctions in this interview.)

What is the major difference for a performer between singing in a classic Broadway show and singing a rock score?

When you sing/perform a legit musical theatre song you don’t hear the music. You shouldn’t…it’s your subconscious, so you don’t even know it’s there. It is only if you are in a scene in a musical where you are at a club or a bar, and the scene calls for you to love the music thats playing, do you even accept that its there. When you sing popular music, or music of the radio, you are in a relationship with this music. You hear the music, you feel the rhythms, the music has an effect on you and you can play with it. You can love to sing this song when you perform it. You can love the artist who wrote it when you sing it. You can love the way it feels in your body …when you sing a song off the radio for an audition, you mustn’t tell us how you feel or show us how you feel. You only need to express your feelings. That is how you must perform a rock song. You must effect other people by connecting to your feelings just like the recording artist does.

What is the most important thing you can say to yourself or do just before you walk into an audition room?

Don’t try to be perfect. Rock is messy. Rock is a Pollock. Legit musical theatre is a Rembrandt. That doesn’t mean don’t prepare. Prepare, rehearse, take the time to understand the story you are telling about yourself in the song, understand the music, and then let it all go and be real and flawed and human.

Image via Sheri Sanders.

What were your best and worst audition experiences?

I have an audition experience that was the best AND the worst. I was asked to do a reading of a musical version of Mask ( the Cher movie). I did the reading, but was STILL asked to audition for the role for the production they did at Pasadena Playhouse. The role I played was a biker chick who is described in the breakdown as  a woman that has been “rode hard and put away wet.” I had one line in the reading. “Boy are my arms tired. I must have lifted my shirt 20 times today!” And they asked me to audition for this production with this one line. I thought, what on earth can I do with this one line to secure this role? So I said this line, I lifted my shirt, and shook my tits at the audition table. I put them back in my bra, and said,”Is there anything else you’d like to see?” They were startled. I went home and got a message from my agent. The general consensus? “She is a genius!” 10 years of acting classes don’t make me a genius. Showing a pair of  mediocre 35 year old tits makes me a genius. This genius had the role offered to her, then taken away from her by a local performer in California because it’s cheaper to hire a local for a small role like that. Ah, the theatre!

What inspired you to write the book?

Two things inspired me to write this book. When I realized my technique was working, and I was getting musical theatre performers who never sang a rock song to book a rock musical, I decided I need to reach more people. I need to reach other teachers, college students, high school kids. More people needed to succeed. So I was inspired by need. I also felt like one of the things I teach is to express yourself and not hide.  On a certain level, when I became a teacher I started hiding in the classroom and I didn’t even realize it. So writing that book was practicing what I preach. Be brave, express yourself and you will enrich other peoples lives. I did, and my life was enriched because of that.

What can a non-performer take away from your lessons?

Here’s why Rock The Audition isn’t just about auditioning for Rock Musicals. The book asks, “Who are you? How do you interpret life? Your relationships? How do things effect you? How do you really feel? And can you be willing to share those feelings with other people, at the risk of them rejecting you?” Because the truth is, if you are in touch with your feelings, and are willing to share them with people from a truthful, vulnerable place, chances are people will hear you, respond openly, and most likely say yes, not no.

For more information about Sheri including her coaching and upcoming concert/book tour, check out her website.

Sheri in the Classroom. Photo by Nick Gaswirth.

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