Challenge: What can you do in 8 bars? hero

Challenge: What can you do in 8 bars?

Posted Monday, July 18th 2016 by Arbender Robinson
What can you possibly do in eight bars? The answer is A LOT.

This past week a number of my students went to a chorus call for a show currently running on Broadway. One student is a member of the actors’ union, or Actors Equity. This means she was allowed to sign up weeks in advance, prepare the perfect 16, 18, or 32 bars of music, and focus on wowing the casting professionals in hopes of booking her dream job. The morning of the audition, she arrives at the audition hall, in this case Pearl Studios located at 300 8th Avenue here in New York City, to retrieve her official audition number.

Meanwhile there is another, more grueling, process underway. Hundreds of Non-Union auditioners line up outside with the hopes of being seen by the casting professionals. Mind you, they have no guarantee of being seen. They may be kindly, or unkindly, dismissed, or they may only be seen after all the union actors have auditioned IF time allows. How many will be seen? There is no way of knowing.

But what if you get in the room as a non-union actor? It's the end of a long day, and you may have been waiting since 9AM. By the time it’s your turn in the room, the casting professionals have probably seen over 100 people. For the sake of time, you may be asked to cut your already short audition in half!

In the case of this particular audition, the actors were asked to sing only 8 bars of music. Yes! You read correctly. Eight bars of music. That’s barely a verse and a chorus! In fact, for some songs it's is barely a verse.

Take the classic Broadway song “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter. Eight bars of music would include the lyrics:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows
Anything goes!

That’s all. You’re being considered for your dream job based on four lines of a song. You hear “Thanks so much” and off you go, but in your mind you’re wondering, “Wait? What? It's over? It barely began? Can I sing my big notes?”

What can you possibly do in eight bars? The answer is A LOT. I know it's hard to believe but it is possible to give a stellar audition in as little as eight bars. You can book a gig in four bars in fact as long as you remember what you are trying to accomplish in an audition. Regardless of how long you have, you can demonstrate your cast-ability with your:

  • Confidence, and how you walk into the room.
  • Professionalism, shown by your level of preparedness and how you communicate with casting and the pianist.
  • Pitch, or singing the first note in your tune correctly.
  • Musical ability, or the skill you show in the first few measures. Remember, loud is not thrilling.
  • Acting. What story are you trying to tell and were you successful?

All of this can be accomplished by the first few seconds of music. Then let your storytelling take over for the remaining time. Make such active and grounded choices that they have no option but to ask you to sing more or give you a callback for later.

When I was in my final callback for Hairspray on Broadway, we all sang three words on one note: “I can't see.” I was being judged, not just on three one syllable words, but three one syllable words on only one note! I left so confused. How could they know anything about me as a performer? One hour later, I got the call to join the cast, and just like that I was making my Broadway Debut and all I sang was three words on one note!

It's not about how much or what big notes you sing. It’s about what you accomplish in your limited time: the way you walk in the room; the tuning of your first note; and your acting choices. The rest of the seven bars are for the casting director to tell her or his asssistant to call you back!

Arbender Robinson

Musical Theatre Associate

Arbender Robinson is currently the Musical Theatre Coaching Associate at New York Vocal Coaching, and Co-Director of New York Acting Coaching. No stranger to the stage, Mr. Robinson has appeared in ten (10) Broadway musicals. He made his Broadway debut in the Tony Award winning production of Hairspray; where he covered the role of Seaweed. In the original cast of Disney’s The Little Mermaid he covered the role of Prince Eric. He also served as the Dance Captain and Swing for the Broadway revival of Hair and appeared in the Broadway revival of Ragtime. His credits continue with Disney’s The Lion King, one of Broadway’s longest running and all-time highest grossing show. Later, he was in the original cast of Beautiful- The Carole King Musical and the 2014 revival of Les Miserables and as the cover for Marius. He is also the first African American to ever play Marius on Broadway. Arbender was also in the original cast of Shuffle Along and performed with many Broadway Legends including Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell. The list of legends continue with Director George C Wolfe and Choreographer Savion Glover.

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