To become a member of the company, a fairly basic audition is required: It’s been known to be as simple as singing “Happy Birthday” several times for the music director. These auditions are not competitive—anyone qualified to perform with the company is accepted, anyone not qualified to perform is not accepted, without regard to other auditionees.
These auditions can take place at any time in the season, but the best time to join the company is in the fall, so that you can be with the next year’s production from the beginning, avoiding the necessity of catching up. That said, many of our best members have joined well into a season, so judge for yourself.
Auditions for principal roles are competitive, with each applicant for a role judged against all of the other applicants for that role. They are not strictly competitive, however: The best applicant doesn’t automatically get the role—if, in the judgment of the director or music director, none of the applicants is sufficiently capable of the role, none will be accepted, and the company will hold further auditions.
Exactly when and how principal auditions are held varies, because it’s up to each director/music director team to decide for themselves how best to identify the performers they want for the parts in their show. Typically, an audition includes a verse of a Gilbert & Sullivan song (chosen by the auditioner) and a reading of a scene from the show (chosen by the directors). Auditioners will have their voices checked through scales, arpeggios and such, and may be asked to learn a simple dance step, if the part they are seeking involves dancing.
The directors may at their discretion choose to double-cast key roles, especially if a large number of performances is anticipated; and they may designate understudies as they see fit.
The one rule underlying all the company’s auditions is a simple one: The directors choose the best person for each role, based solely on their own judgment. How long someone has or hasn’t sung with the company does not figure into that decision; nor does whether someone serves on the company’s board or in any other position in its administration, or is a friend or relative of any such person. There have been innumerable instances in which a longtime company principal has been beaten out for a role by a stranger who’s just walked in the door.
It isn’t that we don’t appreciate our veterans; it’s simply that we have an obligation to our directors to give them freedom of choice, and an obligation to our sponsors and audiences to present the best show we’re capable of. Our directors occasionally have made casting mistakes in the past, and may well do so again—but in every case such mistakes have been and will be based on simple misjudgment, not favoritism.