Leisure Features

Center Stage

Few experiences can match the excitement of settling into a seat and soaking up the talents of actors, dancers and musicians who have spent years perfecting a craft. But did you ever consider what goes on before the lights go down? Local professionals raise the curtain on what it’s like for performers to audition.

st. louis symphony orchestra
Valerie Petrov › orchestra personnel manager

How do musicians apply for a symphony audition?
Like most American orchestras, the symphony advertises auditions online and in International Musician, a trade publication. Candidates submit a resume through our website. We may receive hundreds of resumes for one or two positions, so the process is extremely competitive.

What is the audition process like?
Preliminary auditions typically are held over two days, and semifinals and finals are held on the same day. We make every effort to ensure auditions focus only on the musicians’ talent, so they perform behind a screen during the first two rounds. That way, the review committee doesn’t know their gender, ethnicity or age; we even lay carpet on the stage to mask the sound of their footsteps. We also may hold ‘superfinals’ for principal positions. The committee and music director work together to select the most qualified candidates.

What do musicians perform during an audition?
In the first round, they are asked to play a certain number of excerpts from a prepared list. In later rounds, they may be asked to play the same pieces again or others from the list.

Steve Woolf (center) works with actors on a comic scene. (Photo courtesy of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis)

the repertory theatre 
Steve Woolf › artistic director

Do actors approach you to audition for a production, or vice versa?
Both. We cast our shows locally and nationally. When we’re starting work on a new production, the director and I have an agency do a casting call. We see people in St. Louis, New York, and occasionally Los Angeles or Chicago. And sometimes, we have a particular actor in mind for a role, so we just offer it to the person directly.

What do actors perform in an audition?
Usually, they read a scene from the show we’re casting, and we have someone else read the other parts. We want to see how the actor uses the words of each particular play. Many of them also prepare video auditions; we want to see a really sharp-looking submission with good sound, an interesting background and strong camera work.

How do you decide who to cast?
We may create a short list of five or six actors who would be good for a role, and then we’ll see their auditions and make a decision. We look for certain talents, like how well they connect with others, whether they are believable, how interesting they make the characters and how well they fit what the director intends for the role. If the show contains music or dance, we need to know they can hit the notes and learn the steps.

St. Louis Symphony Chorus in concert (Photo courtesy of SLSO)

st. louis symphony chorus
Susan Patterson › manager

Who typically auditions for a chorus position?
Candidates come from many different walks of life—music teachers, church musicians, professional people like physicians and attorneys, students, and more. They come from all parts of the St. Louis region and across the country.

How do they apply?
Prospective singers schedule an appointment on our website. Our next audition process will be held over several evenings in May.

What do they perform during an audition?
They are asked to sing a selection such as an aria, sacred piece or classical music theater solo from memory. It can be in any language. They also are asked to sight-read a brief excerpt from an 18th- or 19th-century choral work. The entire audition takes about 10 minutes and is held at Powell Hall.

Gen Horiuchi (center) works with dancers. (Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Ballet)

saint louis ballet
Gen Horiuchi › artistic director

How often does the ballet hold auditions?
We don’t audition for each show; our dancers fill permanent positions in the company, and most stay about seven or eight years. If we advertise open positions, I start receiving applications in January. I usually get at least 300 each year from all over the U.S. and other countries. I screen those down to 20 or 25 candidates I want to invite for an audition.

What does the audition process look like?
I have the dancers travel here and take part in exercises with our current company members. I also talk with them afterward. It’s not really a formal interview, but it’s important for me to see if they fit and have the right ethics for our ballet. If I’d like a dancer to join, I offer the person a contract and roughly a week to think about it. I’d say about 90 percent end up accepting.

What attributes do you look for in a dancer?
I value the person’s work ethic and camaraderie very highly. I want him or her to be a team player. I also look at whether the person listens to suggestions and applies them. It’s not just about a dancer’s technique or ability to move beautifully; it’s about having a positive demeanor and working well as part of a group.

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