Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Say What You Need to Say: An interview with Laurie Rogers

By Tina Boosahda

Do you ever wonder what the audition panel is thinking? Ever wonder what you should or should not say in an audition? How much is too much contact with the company? Do they want to hear from you at all? Our readers asked, and now, we shall ALL receive! I recently had the pleasure of speaking with conductor, coach, and Opera Saratoga’s Young Artist Program Director, Laurie Rogers, about some common questions singers have about the before, during, and after-audition process. Her advice is authentic and will take you a long way this audition season, ensuring your audition and collegial etiquette approach are up to par!

Q: After an audition, when a singer receives rejection, waitlist, or acceptance letters from different opera companies and/or summer programs, what should we say in response to those emails or mailed letters? Should we even contact the company at all? What would you like to hear? 

No need to contact the company unless of course you receive an offer, in which case we will want your confirmation that you intend to accept the offer, and then we would love to hear from you in a timely manner so we don't have to chase you down to find out if you will be joining us. This can get tricky if you are fortunate enough to receive multiple offers, or are waiting to hear back from other young artist programs and trying to juggle it all. We are barraged with communications anyway, so replying to a rejection or waitlist notification doesn't accomplish anything. And please don't write asking for feedback if none is offered. We hear so many singers that it is virtually impossible to give individual audition feedback, unless it is a format like the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which builds this is as part of the process. If I give feedback to one person, then I'll have to give it to everyone, and there simply isn't enough time to do this.

In terms of house auditions for opera companies, much of the same applies. If they want to make an offer to you, they will. If you don't hear anything within a reasonable amount of time after your audition, it may simply mean they don't have anything they feel is appropriate to offer to you right now. In 6 months to a year, if you have significant additions to your resume, you can follow up and let them know where you have been performing or what engagements you have upcoming.

Q: Before the rejection, waitlist, or acceptance letter arrives, and right after a good audition, is it appropriate to contact the company/individuals associated with the company that you just sang for and thank them for hearing you before you hear from them, accepted or otherwise? Or will a simple thank you face to face in the audition room suffice? 

Honestly? While my mother brought me up to write thank-you notes, and it's a lovely and polite gesture, it won't make a bit of difference in your audition/application to our program. I rarely even respond to thank-you notes, and although I appreciate the gesture, it's really not necessary, and if too profuse they can come off as trying to kiss up. However, thanking the panel right after your audition is common courtesy. If you appear rude or arrogant or preoccupied, that may give us cause to wonder about your collegiality, which IS a factor in our consideration. On the front end of the audition, saying hello to the panel is also polite; coming to the table and shaking hands with everybody is excessive and potentially unhealthy during flu season!. We do like to keep a slight buffer zone...

Q: This one might be a no brainer, but since you coach, I have to ask… In a coaching situation, is it appropriate to contact the coach after you've worked together and thank them for hearing you and working with you? 

I never actually had somebody thank me afterwards for a coaching. Perhaps if somebody well known or extremely busy has made time in their schedule for you, or done something else above and beyond, that would be worth a thank-you note. What I do like to get is an email asking to set up another coaching!

Q: As a follow-up on the coaching question: Is it fitting to add them to your resume after you've worked together once? Or, should you coach with them a certain amount of times before you put them down on your resume?

I get this question in master classes a lot. Don't use those lists on your resume, teachers, conductors, directors, and coaches, to name-drop. Same goes for master classes, which I personally don't think belong on resumes. When we read your resume, we need to be able to contact those people you have listed if we have questions about you, and they need to be able to know you and your work well enough to speak on your behalf.  It's a small world and we are quite likely to know a number of the people you list. Very frequently I will text or message a colleague in the middle of someone's audition to ask them specific questions and if they don't know you well, it will backfire on you if and when I do contact them. You need to be the judge of your relationship with that coach. I would find it a rare case that I could speak at length about a singer if they have only coached with me once.

Q: How much is too much contact with the other side of the table? Do you want to hear from us at all?

Only if you have a legitimate question. In our YAP Tracker audition application listing, we give out specific instructions about who to contact if you need something. Remember, you are one of many, many singers applying to our programs, although sometimes it feels like you operate in a vacuum. Last season, Opera Saratoga had a record-breaking 1,031 applicants. Out of those we heard about 400 live auditions. That's a lot of people to keep track of, and if everyone sends follow-up emails it can get a little overwhelming. I've also gotten emails from singers who haven't heard back from us yet after auditions, usually trying to make it sound like they are about to accept another offer and try and force our hand; it doesn't work. But I am speaking specifically about young artist programs. If, for example, you take an agent audition, it's not a bad idea to thank them for hearing you. In the end, while it's a nice gesture, it doesn't affect our decision in any way. It's more important to sing the best audition you possibly can to make a good impression!

There you have it. Now, go forth and make amazing impressions in every audition you take!