Casting Director Bernie Telsey’s Audition Tips

Only in his 20’s when he landed at Simon & Kumin Casting as an assistant, Bernie Telsey quickly moved up in the ranks after his work with the hit musical, Rent. Today, he’s one of the most respected casting directors around and recently sat down with Playbill to give actors some audition tips.

Noting that “training is a must,” Telsey revealed what he looks for in an audition. “Auditions are like a blind date for the casting director and the actor. The audition starts the minute you walk in the room. Have a sense of presence. We may be looking for someone who has a certain size, shape and color…but many times if someone has the talent it will change our mind.”

He also shared that song choice is one of the other important aspects. “You can’t just sing one kind of song. You must have one old song and one new pop and modern song. Pick something where you connect to the lyrics. It’s storytelling. [Also] If you’re coming in for a show like Wicked don’t come in with a song from Wicked unless we ask you to.”

Be trained, he went on to say. “Have a sense of presence” and put actual thought into those song choices.

As far as what to avoid, Telsey said, “The biggest deal-breaker is not being prepared. You have to have a book [of songs you are prepared to sing at a moment’s notice]. You have to have more than one song. Even if the casting notice says you only need one song, if we like you we may ask you to sing another. The other no-no is overreaching. Don’t sing “Defying Gravity” if you’re not comfortable with it and if you’re not ready to start singing it eight performances a week.”