My freshman year of college, a group of friends and I made plans to see the movie “Billy Elliot.” There was time to kill, so we ended up in the Border’s across the street from the theatre. In this group of friends was a girl I didn’t know, but somehow we both ended up in the “Discover Your Past Lives” section of the book store. (I think we were both aiming for the history section, since we are both history buffs, but got distracted.) While reading about the “purple mists of time” we ended up not seeing “Billy Elliot” and became best friends instead.
The MARVELOUS woman I met was none other than the incomparable Megan Reinking – a girl with both a voice and a heart of gold! Since this blog is about “muscles for musicians,” I’ll spare you my dissertation on how incredible she is as a person and jump right on to her talents as a performer. She is best known for her powerful high belt (which some have called the personification of fierce – see facebook group here ), but has a beautiful soprano voice as well. What truly sets her apart is her acting ability. She has the talent to truly “be” the character on stage, whether it’s a vampire (Lestat/Dracula), hippie (Hair), prohibition mistress (Boardwalk Empire), mother figure during World War II Germany (The People in the Picture), or cabaret singer (Les Enfants de Paris). What perhaps few people know is she is actually an incredible dancer as well. In her last Broadway show, “The People in the Picture,” in which she played Dobrisch, she totally held her own with some of Broadway’s best dancers! Because she is a singer/actor who also has incredible dance skills, I thought she would have some valuable insight regarding the “singers who move” dance audition process. I was right! So without further ado – I’ll give the mic to the beautiful Megan Reinking!
Can you give us a little bit about your dance background?
I started dance lessons at the age of 3, ballet and tap. Later I added on jazz and lyrical as I got older. I majored in Musical Theatre in college at the University of Michigan, where I also took theatre dance. Overall, I have roughly 20 years of dance experience. However, I stopped training as a dancer when I moved to New York 8 years ago, though I do take the occasional class still. I decided to focus on my strengths, which were singing and acting as the degree of dance that I’ll be required to do as a singer/actor, I will always be able to do.
How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?
I’ve come to accept that I will *never* know or understand what a casting director is looking for. So I have stopped trying to BE whatever it is that I *think* they want. As far as dance, you can’t get into your head about it. You can’t suddenly become a better dancer than you were before you walked in the room. Same as with singing, your technique is what you had up until that point. The only thing…the ONLY thing you can worry about in the audition room is telling the story. Remind yourself this is THEATRE, first and foremost. If you can’t tell a story, it doesn’t matter how brilliant your pirouette is. You never know what they are looking for. When I did HAIR, they were specifically looking for people who moved like REAL people, not dancers…yet there was a dance call. My favorite people in dance auditions are the storytellers. Focus on that.
Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
I like to start in the front. It doesn’t matter what your level is. Don’t let the other dancers get in your head. What matters is being able to see the CHOREOGRAPHER. You can’t learn the combination off of the other dancers because then you are learning -their- interpretation of the choreography. Stand wherever you need to so you can see the choreographer and try to learn it as best you can off of them. Musical Theatre is all about style, and you will only observe the correct style from the choreographer. Don’t trust the girl in the sexy unitard to have it right. Usually they will switch up the lines anyway, but not until they’ve taught a significant portion of the combination, at which point you WANT to be in the back so you have room to do the combination full out. Most people crowd up to the front and there are leagues of room in the back. This gives you an advantage when it counts, because you will have done it full out a bunch of times. I always try to be up front when it’s first taught, and then move to the back where no one else seems to want to be and do things full out.
Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?
Usually combinations are taught in groups of 8-counts, or 16 counts. I focus on the transitions so they naturally flow for me. You will have already practiced each 8-count individually, so when you’re given those moments to review (choreographer is finding music, talking, or looking through headshots)…those transitions are what I practice so each section flows in my head and feels natural. I’m also a “counts” person…I learn by what counts each step is on as opposed to the music feel like a lot of choreographers use. But it helps me learn. If I know the counts, I won’t forget what comes on the next beat.
What do you do if you have having trouble picking up a combination or style?
Ask questions. They will always answer questions. Just ask them at the appropriate time.
Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?
Absolutely!!!! If you’re having trouble, do NOT be shy about it. The time working with a choreographer is your time. They WANT you to get it right and be brilliant. Don’t stay silent and mess up and beat yourself up about it. Don’t stay silent and assume they will give you notes if you’re doing it wrong. The important thing is to BE SPECIFIC. Don’t ask general questions. If there is just one part that you couldn’t see when it was taught, or you’re confused on a count, or you are unclear where your arms are at a certain point, ask that. I usually wait until the combination has been taught and we’ve reviewed. I try to give myself time to get it myself and watch the choreographer for those specific details, to see if I can answer it myself. If it has varied (sometimes a choreographer will do arms different every time…this drives me NUTS)…I will ask. However, don’t BLAME the choreographer! (ie…”you’ve done it differently every time”). I always phrase it that it is ME that is unsure…and sometimes they won’t realize they were doing it differently and it will force them to set it.
What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?
Probably the AMERICAN IDIOT dance call. I felt like I had been hit by a truck afterwards. I actually injured myself, pulled my quad, in the audition and couldn’t walk for a week! There is a lot of violent movement in the audition combination, and specifically throwing yourself in the air to land on the ground. Honestly, I’m not sure I “conquered” it, but I threw myself into it 200%. I told myself…don’t be shy of the movement. Attack it. Figure out how to not bruise yourself when you GET the job.
What do you do to stay in shape? What are you favorite things to do at the gym?
Recently I’ve taken to doing Bikram Yoga more than gym workouts. It’s greatly increased my strength and flexibility as well as joint health. But it has also had great impacts in my health overall in many other ways than simply staying in shape and losing weight.
What is the best audition advice you have ever received?
Be yourself. Just do you. You can’t be anyone else. You can’t be whatever this nebulous idea you have about what you think “they” want. All you can do is bring yourself, your creativity, you unique thing to whatever it is you are doing. Only then will you do anything unique, brilliant, and TRUE in that room. And that is what they are looking for ultimately. They want to be moved…and truth is moving. No one else is you. The only way you will stand out is if you can learn to bring that into the room.
Any other words of wisdom?
The best thing I learned is to throw out the negativity. Rejection can kill you in this business. As long as you do everything you can to prepare before you go in that audition. If you can see the show, if you can listen to it, if you can go to the Lincoln Center Library and watch a past production of it, if you can watch the movie it’s based on, anything you can think of to prepare yourself, then you are READY.
You need to get out of your head and throw away your doubts. You need to remind yourself that you are equal to the task of the role you are aspiring to. You need to be WILLING.
You need to remind yourself that you are fully capable of accessing within yourself everything that is required of you in this role. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by it. You are ABLE.
That is my pre-audition…pre-performance mantra. You are Ready. You are Willing. And you are Able. There is nothing standing in your way. This is yours.
Your confidence in yourself is your most invaluable asset.
If you want to know MORE about Megan as a performer you can read Broadwayworld.com’s Gypsy of the Month feature of her here!
You can also see her in “Les Enfants de Paris” currently performing at NYMF! This is a BEAUTIFUL new musical that is to “Notre Dame de Paris” what “West Side Story” is to “Romeo and Juliet.” I was lucky enough to see a few readings of the musical before it reached NYMF, and let me tell you, the music is glorious and the book is so intelligent. If you only see one NYMF show, make it “Les Enfants de Paris.” If you’ve never seen a NYMF show, this is a great one to start with! This is a publicity shot of Megan for the show! If that doesn’t get you to buy a ticket, I don’t know what will!