Overdone songs. You probably hear this phrase all the time, and you may wonder why it matters. So what if a lot of people sing this song in an audition? Where do I draw the line in how overdone a song is? Is the most obscure song I can find the best option? Let’s go into some depth onto how we evaluate overdone songs and why we avoid them.
What is an overdone song?
An overdone song is a song that is very saturated in the audition room. That is, the directors will likely have heard it a lot over the years, for some reason or another. Either the song is the hot new thing on Broadway, or it is in a lot of audition books, or people just love it. These are the songs that will receive a sigh or a subtle eye-roll when you announce you’re singing them.
What are some of the most overdone songs out there?
Anything from Wicked
Anything from Les Mis
Anything from Phantom of the Opera
Anything from Thoroughly Modern Millie
Don’t Rain on My Parade
Maybe This Time
Taylor the Latte Boy
Glitter and Be Gay
Girl in 14G
Life of the Party
Are there overdone monologues?
Yes, but they’re not as common, and it takes a lot more for it to be overdone. I’d still say it’s important to avoid monologues from monologue books, because if it’s easy and quick for you to find it in a monologue book, it’s easy and quick for everybody else to find it too.
How do you know if a piece is overdone?
To an extent, it’s a matter of instinct and knowledge of the industry. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Gimme Gimme is an absolute off-limits song in the audition room. Go to one audition and you’ll find out why. You hear things from fellow actors, hear things from directors, and see articles on what is off-limits. And you hear songs sung over and over in audition rooms, which is a sure-fire way to figure out if a song is overdone.
Are there different types of overdone?
Yes. One type is “recently on Broadway,” meaning it has become recently popular across broad audiences. When Gentleman’s Guide came out, everyone was singing I Don’t Know What I’d Do Without You. When Drowsy Chaperone came out, Show Off immediately went on the do-not-sing list. You can figure that if it’s a big Tony winning musical, directors will hear those songs all the time. Now, not every musical on Broadway is going to fill the audition room, so it’s important to be able to make individual judgments here. The rule is generally, if it’s been on Broadway in the last five years, don’t sing it…But there are lots and lots of exceptions to that! For instance, The Last Five Years is STILL sung constantly in audition rooms, yet something like Chaplin isn’t nearly so popular. So the rule is flexible, but it’s definitely something to consider as you’re picking out rep.
Another type of overdone is “so-and-so’s iconic song.” Defying Gravity is iconically Idina Menzel. Don’t Rain on My Parade is iconically Streisand. By singing that song, you will be automatically compared to these people. You don’t want that.
There is “high school overdone.” What I mean by this is, if it’s a show that is incredibly common for high schools to perform, then a lot of high schoolers will be bringing it to college auditions. Think of things like Beauty and the Beast or Shrek…High schoolers think, hey, I know this song already! I should use it! But that’s what all the other high schoolers are thinking too.
There is “Disney overdone.” Disney is usually considered off-limits because those directors hear “Part of Your World” all the time. Exception being if you’re auditioning for a Disney show.
And finally, there is “my gosh this song will always be overdone.” See: all of Millie, or Life of the Party. Those shows have not been on Broadway in ages, and yet they will always be overdone. It takes a while to figure these ones out, but you will start to gain an instinct for what to avoid over time.
Can a song stop being overdone?
It sure can! That’s why it’s important to check the dates of blog posts when you see that a song is super popular. If it was really popular back in 2008, it may be okay now. Again, there’s no ultimate list out there, and there are no ultimate rules, so you have to go with your instinct. Often, songs will be overdone because of a big production on Broadway, but decades later, they may not be so overdone.
Can classic musicals be overdone?
Yes and no. With things like My Fair Lady or Carousel, there’s no denying that we hear “If I Loved You” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” constantly. But because they are so classic, they often don’t elicit the same eye-roll that more contemporary work may. I would call them “common,” not “overdone.” But at the same time, I encourage you to expand your knowledge of golden age musicals if you have a common piece in your repertoire, because there are just hundreds and hundreds of other pieces out there that could be great alternatives!
So why is it important to avoid overdone songs?
A couple of reasons. One is because you don’t want the director to judge you before you even open your mouth. If you come in and declare you’re singing Defying Gravity, they have judged you already. They have any number of thoughts going on in their head, which could include things like, “Great… Fifth time today…” or “Yeah, alright, this should be amusing.” You don’t want those judgments before you open your mouth. You could be amazing at the piece, but they’ve already made a first call in their head.
If they’ve heard the song five times today, they will directly compare your version to the other people who performed it. This could work in your favor, or it could not. Why take that risk?
It makes the director question your knowledge of musical theatre. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve brought in a lesser known piece and a director has smiled and said, “Wow, I haven’t heard that song in a long while, thanks for bringing that in!” They actively appreciate hearing these pieces, whereas they may wonder if you know any lesser know pieces if you’re bringing in overdone material. And they may even wonder if you have enough experience in the field to know that this song is considered off-limits for auditions, if we’re talking professional theatre.
I can’t tell you how horrible it is to hear three girls sing your song before you go into the room. Don’t put yourself through that torture.
Is overdone as important for high school and community theatre?
No, definitely not. Particularly for high school, you don’t need to stress out about overdone material.
But so-and-so sang that piece for a Broadway audition and got the role!
There’s absolutely no denying that you can still get roles with overdone pieces. At the end of the day, it’s about your performance of it and your skillset. People do get cast singing Astonishing. But why set yourself up for a negative reaction when you could just pick a lesser known piece that they haven’t heard over and over?
Can a song be too obscure?
Absolutely. The goal is not to find a piece nobody has heard of. That doesn’t benefit you in any way.
Are there exceptions?
Certainly! Because here’s the thing… Auditioning is about bringing your best self to the audition room. It’s about showcasing who you are as a performer and what you can bring to the table. And it may just be that “How Could I Ever Know,” despite being overdone, is the best piece for you. Now, I would still never touch some songs with a ten-foot pole, like Forget About the Boy, but you may feel that a song that’s not criminally overdone, though is still considered somewhat overdone, may be the best thing to show you off. And that’s fair. You know yourself better than anybody else, and you know what showcases you best. And obviously if you are the best person for the role, they’re unlikely to say, “Oh man, we would have cast you if only you hadn’t sung Maybe This Time!”
That being said… If you’ve decided that an overdone song is the best song in the thousands and thousands and thousands of songs out there, I encourage you to do some real hard research. Don’t let an overdone song be chosen just because you’re too lazy to find something else, because you’re short-changing yourself! If it’s just a convenience thing, you are not living up to your full potential in looking for another song that could showcase you even better.
Today’s creative tip of the day is about sharing your ideas, especially when it feels uncomfortable.
Author and designer Frank Chimero once wrote: “If ideas go anywhere it’s because other people carry them.”
Your ideas can’t travel and evolve unless they’re shared. Whether that’s through talking with a friend, drawing a simple sketch, or presenting a rough version of the idea.
It feels safe to keep ideas wrapped up or hidden, so nobody steals our good ones or laughs at our bad ones. But in reality we don’t know which of our ideas are really good and which are bad. We need to help the ideas evolve, expand, and move by getting them out into the world.
Today, share one idea you’ve been holding back on and see what happens as a result.
All practice is not created equal. When we say that we “practice” singing, we could be doing so many things–just singing through songs, working on aspects of our technique, working on audition material… But not all practice is going to be beneficial to you, or even make much of a difference. I’m going to outline how I approach practice to keep it productive and focused.
Have a goal. For me, this is usually a specific aspect of my technique that I want to hone, or a new concept that I’m trying to understand. Let’s use the example of integrating raising the soft palate into each breath. That’s very specific. It’s not just, “the soft palate,” it’s pinpointing something very specific within my technique and working on solidifying it. Part of the reason this works particularly well for me is that my technique works on eliminating bad habits and integrating new, better habits in their place. So if each time I go into practice, I work on either eliminating one bad habit or solidifying a better, new one, I am bound to improve. What this means is that I do not go in without any plan and just sing. I have something specific in mind, every time.
Note: Sometimes this goal pertains specifically to an audition piece, in which case I work very differently. I’ll go more into that later.
Have a plan for dividing out the time. I usually divide up the time between technique, integration, and application. We’ll go back to my soft palate example–I’ll spend around 20 minutes doing exercises that nail down this concept, and I really focus in on this singular concept. Of course, my mind will drift to other issues and that’s normal, but try to keep your focus on one or two things at a time. Leave those other issues for other days. I then use 20 minutes for integration. That means I try to integrate this into the rest of my technique more fully. So instead of putting on blinders and thinking of only one thing, I add in the other things I focus on in my technique and see if I can juggle a new concept. Each time we add in a new “ball,” so to speak, we will fumble. It will be difficult to create a new habit and make it work with all your other habits. So I use time to get that ball integrated into my juggle, and start to smooth out this new part of my technique. And finally, I take 20 minutes to apply it to a song. We can do all the technique work we want, but if we can’t put them into action, they’re useless. As you know, singing is more than “ahs” and “ohs,” so we’ve got to put words on it. Songs notoriously bring back our old, bad habits, because we suddenly have a need to sound good, sound polished, sound perfect. We add in musculatures and tensions in our attempt to be better. So as we integrate a new part of the technique into our singing, we will find ourselves struggle in a way that we don’t in exercises. Keep at it, and if you fumble, go back to exercises to anchor you back down.
Note: Applying technique to a song doesn’t mean just singing. It means combing through the piece, stopping, starting, going back… You’ll likely not even make a clean pass through the song at all. If we go back to my soft palate example, I would probably go through the song in sections, focusing just on my focused breath, and stopping every time I went back to my old habits. I would repeat it until it became more natural and comfortable for me. Then, I’d try integrating more aspects of my technique along with my focused breathing, and see how well I juggle while singing a song.
Don’t work longer than you can focus. About every other day in college, I would go to the practice room for around 2 hours, but I would work on piano for part of that time and voice for the other part. That was the right amount of time for me to remain focused and driven. More than that and I started to get lazy or lose focus. Less than that, and I knew I was cutting out early. You may not be able to focus for a straight hour of singing, so be honest with yourself. Start with 30 minutes, and work your way up from there.
Note: Remember, an hour straight of work is not just singing randomly for an hour. It is using that divided up time to work on technique and then apply it to songs.
Quality over quantity. 30 minutes of dedicated, focused work is many times more useful than 3 hours of random singing. Use the time well. You can still take the time you want to just sing for fun, but when you’re working, really work.
You will not be perfect after 30 minutes of work. Every time you’re working on a concept that you struggle with, you will improve. You will learn things, you will struggle, you will get frustrated, you will get excited…But don’t expect 30 minutes to make anything perfect. It takes time for habits to become ingrained, and it takes even more time to eliminate your bad habits. Don’t expect it to come out of nowhere. And don’t give up.
If you get frustrated, move on. Sometimes I will go in to work on something and it just won’t be working that day. I’ll challenge myself to do better, but at a certain point, I have to let go of my plan and create a new one. That’s okay. Working through extreme frustration is rarely productive.
Each day is different. One day you may get fatigued after 30 minutes. One day you may be able to focus for two hours. Try to stay in tune with yourself and your focus, and be flexible with what you’re feeling. Again, working without focus isn’t going to get you anywhere, but extra motivation and focus can go a long way if you’re having a good day!
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Dedicated practice is not something most singers do. Most singers go to the piano, sing a few songs, and call it “practice.” That’s easy, so it feels good to do. This alternate way of practicing is not easy. It’s quite difficult, and it can be unbelievably challenging. But I guarantee that you will see results by created dedicated practice routines. I see it in myself and my students all the time–those who really practice, not just sing, improve leaps and bounds beyond the rest. Singing is important to you, so make that practice time count.
Perhaps you’ve heard the word Equity before in the world of theatre. What is it? Why do we have it? How do I get it? Get ready, this one’s a long one. (Note: this is US centric, and rules in the UK are vastly different.)
What is Equity?
Equity is actually AEA, which is the Actor’s Equity Association. It is our union for the world of theatre. So if you hear Eq, Equity, or AEA, we’re all talking about our union.
Equity is NOT an association of all the professional actors in the country. Many professional actors who make their entire living as actors are not in the union. So non-Equity =/= community theatre actors, and Equity =/= professional actors. They are just two groupings of people, both of which can be professional actors. On the same note, not every Equity theatre is paying $1,000/wk and is of Broadway caliber. More on that in a bit.
If you’re in Equity, you’re in a union. As with any union, you get a series of benefits, along with a series of restrictions.
There’s someone looking out for you. The union is a watch-dog of sorts, who is making sure theatres are following rules and that you get a certain set of rights. The union is responsible for negotiating the salaries and benefits of those who are members, and they work individually with every affiliated theatre or producer to establish those numbers. That salary and benefits vary by the theatre–based on location, revenue, type…Such that big theatres in NYC are going to have different salary levels and benefits than a very small regional theatre. More on that later.
If your theatre is breaking rules, you have somebody to go to. If the theatre is unsafe, if they’re not paying you correctly, if they’re not giving you the benefits you are entitled to, you can go to union to solve the issue.
The benefits you can get are extensive–from designated breaks every couple of hours guaranteed, to audition priority, to pension programs, to healthcare, to a required coffee table at the rehearsal space. Not every member will have every benefit–for instance, you need to work a certain number of weeks a year to get health benefits–but there are a number of various perks. Important to note that if you are not Equity, a theatre does not need to (as an example) give you any breaks. They can work you for 12 hours without letting you go eat, and there’s nothing you can do. If a theatre did that with an Equity actor, the actor would have a higher power to go to so that this didn’t occur.
It’s not all good, though. As an Equity member, you cannot work for any non-Equity theatre. A non-Equity actor, on the other hand, can work at an Equity theatre. (more on that later as well.) This can be extremely limiting, as turning union will mean you have a much smaller pool of theatres to work at.
Why can non-Equity members work at Equity theatres, but not the other way around?
As per the contracts that Equity and theatres negotiate, each theatre is allotted a certain number of non-Equity actors they can hire. This saves them money, since there are no requirements on how much they need to pay non-Equity actors, and gives non-Equity actors a chance to work towards union membership. These numbers vary from theatre to theatre, and tend to be pretty complicated–for every five Equity actors, you can hire one non-Equity actor, up until 20 actors, wherein the remainder must be Equity… These formulas and ratios are individual to each theatre. Note: Broadway theatres cannot hire any non-Equity actors.
LORT? What’s that?
LORT stands for League of Resident Theatres, which is an association of non-profit regional theatres. There are different levels of theatres that fall into different categories of sorts, and that helps us get a sense of the theatre’s size and renown. As I said earlier, there’s a huge range of Equity theatres, and this helps us group them. They also each have their own minimum salary and ratio of Equity to non-Equity actors. Note: Equity tours follow different rules.
LORT A+: Tony-Eligible stages, salary is $1,861/wk min.
LORT A: Salary is $963/wk min.
LORT B+: Companies making $170,000+/year, salary is $909/wk min., ratio is 13:1
LORT B: Companies making $79,000+/yr, salary is $836/wk min., ratio is 11:1
LORT C: Companies making $55,750+/yr, salary is $776/wk min., ratio is 9:1
LORT D: Companies making less than $55,749/year, salary is $618/wk min, ratio is 7:1.
Equity has other agreements too–Off-Broadway, dinner theatres, and SPT (small professional theatres) all have special agreements that follow other ratios and rules. In fact, there over 75 separate types of agreements out there!
So all Broadway theatres are Equity?
Yes. Every person on Broadway is Equity. This is where Equity really benefits actors the most, in my opinion–in NYC. In NYC, if you want to audition for a Broadway show, you can’t just walk up to the theatre and ask for a time slot. If you are non-Equity, you will only be seen space available. That means standard procedure for Broadway EPAs and ECCs (Equity Principal Calls and Equity Chorus Calls) is to get to the theatre before the sun has risen, stand in line outside with hundreds of other non-Equity actors, and wait all day until all of the Equity members have been seen. The theatre is under no obligation to see you at all, but many theatres will allow non-Equity actors to audition if there is time and no Equity members are waiting. Yes, this even means if you are next in line and have been standing there for eight hours, if an Equity member walks up to the door, they go before you. A casting director’s willingness to see you will vary–some love seeing non-Equity actors, others prefer not to. So as you can see, if you want to be able to audition for Broadway shows, Equity is going to give you a major advantage, in that you will actually be seen almost guaranteed, which is not the case with non-Equity actors.
It should be noted that for most original casts, the show is cast through agent calls, not EPAs or ECCs. But even there, the union has given benefits to union members, because agent calls must have a certain number of Equity members seen. That is, these original casting calls must have a specific ratio of Equity to non-Equity members seen, with the advantage going to Equity.
Another great thing Equity does on Broadway is they require shows to do casting calls every year, regardless of whether they have openings or not. That means even for these huge shows that run for decades, new blood can get seen.
How do you get into the union?
There are a couple of ways. One is to accrue enough EMC points. EMC is the Equity Membership Candidacy program, wherein you gain points for working at EMC affiliated theatres. You need 50 points in order to go Equity, and you can take as long as you want to get them. No limit on time. Typically, you get 1 point for every week you work at an EMC theatre. Once you gain 50 points, you have a year to go Equity, and if you don’t go Equity within that time, you have to start over. Many regional theatres will recruit post-college grads for year long Equity programs, wherein they’ll generally work for very little, doing not-so-fun-jobs in order to get their Equity card at the end. Some colleges will also be affiliated with EMC theatres, such that many of the college students will gain enough points working at these theatres that they will graduate with their Equity card.
The other way is to get what I call a snap contract. If an Equity theatre offers you, a non-Equity actor, an Equity contract, you can choose to go Equity with that contract. If you choose not to go Equity, but still take the contract, that’s okay–but you can only do this a certain number of times you can do this. That’s because you’re essentially getting the benefits of the union without paying your dues, which they don’t want you to do the rest of your life. So they realize that sometimes it’s not the right time to go union, but they will not allow you to continually work the system like that.
A third way is if you are a member of a sister union, like SAG, you need to work under your sister union for a year and work a contract through that sister union.
There are initiation fees and dues when you join. At this time, the fees are $1,100 and the dues are $118/yr + 2.25% of your gross earnings up to $300,000.
You can quit the union, but you have to go through this process again and pay dues again if you choose to rejoin.
Should I go Equity as soon as possible? Is that the goal?
This is a tricky question. Of course, we see big benefits and downsides to going union or staying non-Equity, and a lot of it is a timing game. First, it’s important to consider where you are living. If you live in a heavily non-union city, where there are almost no Equity theatres, it doesn’t benefit you to rush to Equity. You will essentially cut off all of your opportunities. If you are in a heavily Equity city, it may be more worthwhile for you to go union when you can so that you can be taken more seriously at those calls. The issues is, though, that as an Equity member you are in a pool that is often much more competitive than the non-Equity pool. That’s not to say that all Equity members are somehow more skilled than non-Equity members, but I’d say there’s a bigger range of talent (both on the good and bad side) in the non-Equity pool, whereas Equity will generally have a higher bar set overall. Few of those Equity members are paying their dues to just sit around and not work, whereas many non-Equity actors may be pursuing theatre as more of a hobby. That means you need to be at a skill level to compete with Equity members, and if you aren’t there yet, you could cut yourself off from working by not being competitive in the field. It’s not at all uncommon for young twentysomethings to take their card and not work for years, because they don’t have the experience to back them up, and no big Equity theatres will take a risk on them.
So the question is, do you have to go Equity to make your living as an actor? Well, you make more money as an Equity actor, and many people see Equity as the ultimate sign that you’re a professional. But many professional actors make their entire living as non-Equity actors. The opportunities are out there, and it’s an incredibly personal choice as to whether Equity is right for you.
Do not speak ill of anybody in the audition building. Or as you’re walking out. Or within many blocks of the theatre. In fact, save it for the car or for home, because you have no clue who might be listening! One of the casting directors could be on break and walking back to the theatre as you’re walking out, complaining on the phone about the accompanist. That could lose your your job.
Furthermore, never be rude to anybody. That includes the monitor, that includes the accompanist, that includes the security person at the theatre, that includes another auditioner. Nobody wants to work with a mean person, and I can guarantee you that the monitors are not afraid to talk to the casting directors about how was being rude. Be the epitome of kindness. Make it genuine. Thank everybody. Ask the monitor how their day has been. Be the person you would want to work with. And never speak poorly about anybody.
Takeaway point: You could have the best audition in the world, but your attitude could lose you your job. Keep it positive. And don’t talk negatively about anyone anywhere near the theatre.
So basically you plant a tree, you set the time your tree needs to grow. In this time you can’t look at your phone or else your tree will die. You also collect reward coins and if you have enough coins you can donate a real tree to an organisation in India.