In a session of THE GYM this week, a question came up that I found I couldn’t adequately answer for my students, so I thought I’d open it up to you people to see if I could gather a consensus of opinion.
Often times when I’m working one on one with an actor, I’ll point out if a piano accompaniment is particularly challenging, and I’ll explain why it might be difficult for an audition pianist to sight-read it. If the song is really well-known, like say Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” (tricky with seven zillion page turns) or Andrew Lippa’s “Life of the Party” (requires the pianist to have a great sense of time), I’ll say that it’s probably not a big deal because the pianist is bound to know it. But if it’s a new, just released piece (like Adam Guettel’s “The Beauty Is”) or an original piece (perhaps something the actor did in a reading which has not yet been released for public consumption) or a strange arrangement or a chord chart or even a not-fully-notated transposition, I’ll suggest to the actor that he might consider taking his own accompanist to the audition.
When I lived in New York and I was playing auditions all the time, it was not uncommon in the course of an eight-hour day for me to move aside for another accompanist at least once or twice. Sometimes I rolled my eyes when an actor would bring her own pianist for a song I’d already played three times that day, but I understood that removing one element of surprise from the audition process probably made the actor feel more comfortable and more in charge of her own audition. And that was fine. And, actually, I didn’t mind the break. And sometimes, the pianist didn’t even have music and you just knew the two of them had been doing this one particular song this one particular way for seventeen years, and you were grateful that the actor wasn’t standing there trying to explain to you how it went when nothing was accurately written down, anyway. I never once had a casting director scoff at an actor’s choice to bring her own accompanist. They scoffed at everything else, but you know what I mean.
In my class in LA this week, however, several of the actors agreed that they had been told that bringing their own pianist to an audition made them seem rude and presumptuous. More than one had been told by a coach that under no circumstances should they bring their own accompanist, and they even seemed to feel that doing so might sabotage their audition. The assumption, I think, was that once they left the room everyone would be annoyed that they had brought their own pianist, as it somehow disrespected the already-hired pianist and perhaps even the other people who were in the room.
So my question is this — what do you think? Actors? Musical directors? Casting directors? Has the audition climate changed since the days when I was playing auditions? Or, maybe, is the NYC audition code of propriety different from the one in LA? I’m very curious to hear what’s up.
I’ve only been out of the NY market a short time, but when I was there, headshots were in black and white, the Variety Arts was still in business and nobody had yet heard of Max Crumm and Laura Osnes. So, you see, I could use your help.