Thursday, September 10, 2009

16 Bars

No, it's not the game plan for the next Gay Pride Weekend. It's instead the most onerous term in the entire theatrical lexicon (at least to me): 16 bars.

For you non-musical types, a traditional musical theatre song hovers around 64 bars (measures) in length, and usually includes two verses and a refrain. Sometimes three verses and the refrain repeated. Who cares. The point here is: 16 bars equals approximately one-half of one verse of a song. And it is the preferred length of a general audition for musicals. Often, it is the required length of the audition.
"Show us your best 16," is the command from casting folks, and it is usually at this point in the audition process that yours truly drops to the back of the pack.

Don't get me wrong, I love doing musicals, and am proud of my work in them. Over the years, I've played quite a few classic musical roles. Cabaret's Emcee, Damn Yankees's Devil, Grease's Teen Angel, Fiddler's Motel the Tailor,...Forum's Pseudolus (and ten years later, ...Forum's Senex!) are just a few of the parts I loved playing in my earlier career. As I've matured, I've had a ball with Moonface in Anything Goes, MacAfee in Birdie, the King in ...Mattress, the Duke in Big River, and just recently, Sancho in La Mancha. It's a very nice list, of which I am quite proud. You know how many of these great roles I secured with an audition which began with "16 bars?"

None. Zero. Zip. Nada. I have never landed a role in a musical by singing 16 bars. I must be in the minority here; everybody else must be able to show the entirety of their ability in half of one verse. Those who successfully navigate those bars are those who sing snippets which include a very high note, and usually a pretty low one, too. I can't choose songs that way. Songs are speeches to me, sung by characters. All of the material I use during musical auditions resembles a monologue.

During the past week or so, I have been auditioning for Olney theatre's spring musical (that's Spring: 2010. We have a terrible habit of casting shows waaaaaaaaay too early here in DC...but that's a different rant), a chamber musical which had a brief life in New York, Triumph of Love. The folks at Olney are very good about seeing me for their shows, and for once, I did not fail during the initial "16 bars" phase. I am sure this is solely because, in addition to singing a snippet, they also asked for a brief monologue. I was called back a week later, to sing and read for one of the supporting, comic characters. That went well, too, so I am closing the book on this audition pleased with my work. This week, we read one very brief scene between the two henchmen, and the director mixed and matched actors, very normal during the callback phase. And of course, we sang one of the numbers in the show. That went well, too. The gent who will be getting this part is a stronger singer than I, and is better known in DC as a musical performer (and he's good, too), so there isn't any bitterness about losing this one. Just more reinforcement of my history with such things. You know what we sang during these callbacks?

16 bars.