On Treating Your Pianist Like a Person…

Hi. My name is Rodney. I play piano. I am also a human being.

Actors so often walk into the room and forget that actual fact about the pianist. That person sitting behind that big scary machine is actually a human. And they will respond (usually) like a human.

I’ve had actors walk into the room and smile at the table and set their binder on the piano without even acknowledging my existence. They turn to the piano while looking into the mirror at themselves and open the book and talk directions at me, all without saying hello or looking at my face, and then snap a tempo at me and walk to the center of the room….like, how gross…

Yes, you the actor, you’re right. The pianist usually isn’t the most important person in the room. They’re usually not the music director of the show. They’re not the director, or casting, or assistant. But they are in the room and they do have the ability to talk to those important people about what just happened. That’s not a threat, it’s just the truth. Be a human and talk to a fellow human like a human. 

Walk in, yes say hello to the important people, then say hello to your accompanist, look them in the eye and say hello. Smile and be genial. If the accompanist is short and snappy and over it, don’t be offended, they’ve been playing “Life I Never Lead” or “Watch What Happens” or “Waving Through a Window” all day, give them a break. More often than not they’ll smile back at you and then you can continue on with your normal pre-audition interaction. Such a small step, such a major effect.

On Page Protectors… or Not…

It’s a constant conversation that singers, pianists, teachers, coaches, and casting directors all have. Should your music be in a page protector or not?!? ERRMEGRDDD WHO KNOWS?!?!?!?

It ain’t that deep. It really is YOUR preference. If your music is neat and organized and the holes are intact and the pages are easy to turn then you don’t need a page protector for them. If your music is a little crinkled and the holes are torn, or if it’s freshly printed and the pages are static and sticking together, then throw them in a sheet protector.

That should be obvious, but you’d be surprised. It goes along with my previous post about the condition of your music

When it comes to page protectors, I’d really recommend getting decent ones that are non-glare. (Although to be honest, the glare will always happen if the piano is at the wrong angle…lights reflect off plastic, it’s science) You can get nice ones that will hold up at Staples or you can go to your nearest office supply store and find sturdy ones there.

It’s really just using common sense. If you hate them because they’re bulky, then don’t use them. But you better have some solution for when your music rips or the holes tear. Either have a page of hole reinforcements or a few spare page protectors in the back.

If your music is in good shape and you want to leave it unprotected, then make sure it’s DOUBLE SIDED FRONT AND BACK. Single sided pages make for more page turns and that’s annoying. Staple or tape the music so it’s front and back or make sure it’s a double sided print job.

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

On Binders…

As Musical Theater performers your rep book is a form of identity. A friend should be able to pick up your lost book (don’t lose your book) and identify who’s it is by the song list.

Your rep book, most of the time, is housed in a binder. It should be obvious that that binder should be in good condition, no: great condition.

Things your binder SHOULD NOT have:

  • broken rings
  • rings that don’t close
  • rings that overlap
  • covers that fall off
  • a width that is greater that 2 inches, preferably 1.5”
  • a cover that closes / doesn’t stay open by itself.

 

These should all be obvious, but you would be surprised at how many of these things happen on the regular. Invest in a good binder, it’s the sign of a good professional. Music falling out in the audition because the rings aren’t closing makes for a sloppy audition. And again as I’ve said before, you should SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS in the room.

Go to staples.com and order a couple. Keep them and switch them out when you need to. Good binders make for a good audition.

Examples of sadness:

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Sloppy….

Don’t use these…. they’re cheap and don’t stay open 🙁

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Girl….align yourself…
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A Quick Note on the Casting Director…

Here’s the thing people: The casting director (CD) wants you to get hired.

When they make appointments and set up a full day of auditions to put in front of the creative team, they think about what they’re doing.

They wouldn’t make a list of people they hoped would fail in front of the team, and they’re not trying to trick you or make you sweat blood for anyone.

They want you to succeed. (They want to look smart, obvi…)

One thing I’ve noticed a few times in various rooms is that people are quick to throw the CD under the bus. They do so in ways that are subtle enough that they probably don’t know that they’re doing it.

One way people inadvertently make the CD look bad: “Oh I never got those sides…” I can assure you, most CD’s will send the sides you’ll need for any audition moving forward in the first email. They won’t want to make more work for themselves than they already have. So if you didn’t print off the side and suddenly realize that then say so. Don’t say you never got the sides and try and make it seem as though it was THEM that made the mistake. Shady bitches…

Another way is by canceling last minute or stringing the team along. If you know way in advance that you’re not going to take the job because you have a better offer or because you would never leave the show you’re at, then don’t audition. Don’t tell the CD that you are interested in the first place. Dick move brah…

Often these casting directors are fighting for you in the room, they’re finding ways of making you look more appealing to the team through any way possible. So when you blow off an audition or turn them down last minute it doesn’t look great on them.

Casting Directors are your friends, treat them as such.

Audition Anecdote* #1: The Birds Are In A Food Coma

Once upon a time I played a seasonal EPA for a regional theatre that is well known and reputable. Within that season was a fan favorite Mary Poppins. The children love it, the parents love it, the gays love it, everyone loves it. It has tons of fan favorite songs and moments, it’s a win all around.

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So there I was playing this 8-hour day of auditions an in walks a 70+ year old woman, sweet as a cake, and painted in the most garish bright blue eyeshadow and bright pink lip, think Mimi from Drew Carey. She was all smiles and wearing what must have been the understudy coat for Joseph. Over she toddled to the piano and set down her music… a cut of “Feed The Birds” …obviously. And she said to me “Hello! I’m so excited to sing this, it’s one of my most favorite songs.” She really was the nicest and sweetest thing.

As she walked to the center of the room she looked back and said “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” Always a skeptical sentence in the room.

I looked down at my phone one more quick time before playing to shoot a quick text and when I looked back up… she had disappeared… gypsy magic indeed.

I stood up slightly and looked over the piano to where she was sprawled on the floor, propped up by one hand and reaching out forward with the other. A quick nod at me and I realized she was NOW ready to go. So away I started playing, a little shocked, into the beautiful haunting waltz that is “Feed The Birds.”

Then she proceeded to sing the slowest version of any song I had ever heard in my entire life with the widest vibrato I’d ever heard. It was almost impressive.

I will say, as I stood up to witness the moment, she was completely connected to the material and acting FOR HER LIFE.  And scene. Complete shock. She got up and thanked us profusely and toddled away.

Moral of the story. Don’t lay on the ground. And always aim for show tempo when singing. BUT have fun and be the nicest, THAT was a win!

 

 

*This anecdote is in no way intended to offend or judge anyone mentioned in it. It is purely for the purpose of perspective and for the practicing performer to peruse and purvey.

A Note On iPads in Auditions…

With the advent of the iPad, people are saving tons of printing time, paper, and money. I’ve noticed a few more people each month bringing their “books” into auditions in their iPad, and I think it’s great.

But here’s the thing: you have to be careful. Some pianists hate playing from them, or are unfamiliar with them. (That will disappear in time)

I shouldn’t have to tell you this…but:

YOU WANT THE PIANIST TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR MUSIC. 

And if you are using an iPad, please use software that has page turn capabilities. No one wants to continually scroll up while playing… we use both hands to play… most of the time.

Use ForScore, or even the Musicnotes app (although I have a note about musicnotes music, more later). And the screen should not be broken or shattered. – useyerbrain

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The page turn should be a tap or a swipe like turning a page… like tinder.

Again, you should gauge the room and the pianist. I’m not trying to age anyone out, but I once sat in auditions with an older gentleman playing, and when he went to turn the page, he swiped the iPad so hard that it flew off the shelf as tho it was paper… He didn’t flinch, and the iPad shattered.

This medium is more familiar to the pianistic community now, so that problem is less common. But beware.

Checklist:

-Brightness up.

-Easy Page turns (use an app like ForScore)

-Cuts MARKED