20+ Musical Theater Terms You Need to Know

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Musical Theater Terms You Need to Know

The world of musical theater is magical, but it can also feel like a foreign country!

Some of the musical theater terms are consistent all over, but sometimes even veterans of one market (such as LA like myself) can feel like a fish out of water in a conversation with people auditioning regularly in New York!

So whether you are brand new to the scene (pun intended 😜) or have been auditioning and performing for years, you might find yourself in over your head in a conversation in a holding room or when reading a breakdown.

So this week, I’m going to get all of us up to speed on some common terms you may hear in the musical theater world so that you can join in with confidence!

But first, is this our first time meeting?

Hi! I’m so glad you’re here!

I’m Kelly Gabel and I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur helping women to create their Purposefull life. 💙

I am so glad you are here and taking the first steps towards taking control of your auditions and more importantly, your audition mindset!

Have we met? Since you clicked on this post about vocal auditions, I want to make sure you know that I also have the following blogs to help you prepare to NAIL your future auditions:

Practical Stuff


The Secret Sauce

You’ll also want to grab my FREE Confident Audition Cheat Sheet where you will find my personal strategy for preparing for the practical and mindset aspects of auditions!
You should also join us in the Triple Threat Therapy Community on Facebook!

Musical Theater Terms

Creative Team
The creative team is a term used to reference the people sitting behind the table at your audition. They are usually the people who will be directing, music directing (actually sometimes the MD will be behind the piano rather than the table), choreographing, and producing the show. Most auditions will have the creative team listed somewhere, either on your audition form, the sign-in sheet, or posted in the holding room. You may also hear them referred to as the “panel” or the “production team”.

Open Call
An open call is an audition where everyone is welcome to attend. There is no union preference given but there might still be a list and/or previously scheduled appointments.

The Actor’s Equity Associate (AEA) is the union for actors and stage managers. They work to protect wages and working conditions. In order to perform in a Broadway show, you must be an Equity member.

Chorus Call/ECC
The ECC or “Equity Chorus Call” is a type of audition that is held for singers and/or dancers that are not trying to audition for a specific or leading role. Typically, they will hold one call for dancers, where you will learn choreography as a group. From that, they will most likely cut some of the dancers. Those that remain will be asked to sing and potentially learn more choreography. At the singer ECC, you will need to bring 16 bars (or whatever the breakdown requests) of something have prepared and go in one at a time. After this vocal audition, you might receive a callback or be asked to stick around to learn a dance combination.

An EPA is an Equity Principal Audition. This is similar to the ECC only these performers are interested in being considered for leading roles. This always starts with a vocal audition. You are usually allotted enough time to sing roughly 32-bars of a prepared audition song.

An EMC is an Equity Membership Candidate. This is a program that allows performers to accrue 50 weeks of work in Equity theaters as credit toward eventual membership in the union. On the practical side, the benefit of being an EMC is that you will get seen before any non-union performers at an ECC or EPA.

A non-union performer is not affiliated with Equity and is also not a part of the EMC program. They are typically the last group to be seen at an ECC or EPA.

This person is present at an audition to coordinate the audition schedule. At an EPA or ECC, this person is usually an Equity member representative. At smaller auditions, usually this person is affiliated with the theater. If you have any questions about the audition or the panel, this person can usually answer them. Something important to note, while the monitor is not a part of the creative team their opinion is usually respected and often requested by them. They are paying attention to anyone in the holding room that is acting unprofessionally or is just plain rude. How you treat the monitor (and your fellow auditioners) is a part of your audition. Actually, your audition starts the second you step out of your vehicle. You never know who you are interacting with, so always be professional and respectful to everyone.

Alternate List
At open calls, they typically work off of an official list of audition appointments…especially if it is an Equity call. At these big “cattle” calls, the non-union and EMC usually start arriving at the call early and start an unofficial list of auditioners in the order they arrived. It’s always worthwhile to get yourself on that list and often the monitor will honor it, but not necessarily so be patient and flexible.

Holding Room
At most auditions, there are people waiting around for their turn to sing, whether they have an appointment or are on a list at an open call. The holding room is where they sit and wait. This is also usually where the monitor is stationed.

In the room
This is a term that is used to indicate the room where the auditions actually take place.

8 bar/16 bar/32 bar cut
When you go to a singing audition, they typically limit the amount of time you can expect to get for your audition. While some theaters are moving towards a time limit guideline instead (ie 1-2 minutes), your larger open calls will still use the bar cut method instead to help them with time management during the call. If you are building an Audition Rep Book, it’s best practice to pre-determine 8/16/32 cuts so that you will be prepared in any scenario. You do this by literally counting the bars (measures) of music. This can even change throughout the day if you are at a particularly popular audition. As the day progresses, the panel might start to shorten the amount of time allotted to each performer. Keep in mind, though, that the tempo of your song does play a role here. If you are singing a ballad, you may want to err on the shorter side of the bar count allowed in the breakdown to avoid the possibility of being cut off mid-audition.

After the initial audition, the panel/creative team narrows down the group of auditioners to a small(er) group of people that they are still considering for their production. The criteria for this condensed group of performers will vary widely depending on the production. However, in most cases, it’s based on everything from talent/skill, look, chemistry with potential counterparts, etc. Those people that continue to meet their needs after the first audition will be asked to attend a callback audition (or maybe several). In some cases, the callback happens the same day/evening as the original audition but in most instances, it will be at a later date. You may be asked to attend the callbacks when you are still in the room at the first audition, or you may receive a call or email after the audition asking you to attend.

Personal side note: Both as a performer and as a coach, I have watched way too many amazing performers make themselves crazy waiting to hear about callbacks and/or beating themselves up for not getting one. Not getting a callback is not a sign of your lack of talent and it doesn’t even mean that the creative team “doesn’t like you”. There are so many factors at play in who is asked for a callback and most of them have very little to do with your performance in the initial audition.

Dancer vs. Mover
This one is pretty self-explanatory actually. Occasionally, following your vocal audition, the creative team might ask you if you are also a dancer. While many shows require the leads to have stronger vocals and may not require as much dancing, some shows are truly looking for a strong singer as well as a dancer with extensive training and precise dance technique. If you don’t consider yourself a dancer but you know that you can pick up choreography well, you should call yourself a Mover. It lets the panel know that you can hold your own but that you don’t have a strong dance background.

Sides is a term used to describe pages from the script that are provided you to in advance for an audition. For musical theater, you don’t typically receive sides until callbacks. You may receive them via email a day or two before the callback, or you may receive them when you arrive at the callback.

To be off-book means that you have memorized your lines and any blocking/staging you have been given. In an audition setting, this would typically be used in reference to any audition sides that you were sent in advance. Unless previously noted, you are not expected to be completely off-book on audition sides, but it’s best to be as close to it as possible so that you can truly be present in the room and be flexible based on any direction given, or performance choices made by your scene partner or the reader.

The Reader is the person in the room that reads all of the parts in audition sides that do not belong to the role you are auditioning for. They usually sit off to the side of the table (or even behind it) rather than getting up and performing with you. They may or may not give you a ton to work with, so try not to get too caught up in their energy.

Typing is usually done when too large of a group of people has shown up for an audition. When the panel knows that they will not have time to see everyone that is waiting, they will bring you into the room in groups ranging anywhere from 10-30 at a time. They will look at you, your headshot, and your resume and make a cut based on what they know they need to see that day. At a dance call, typing is usually done by teaching a short across-the-floor routine and running everyone through it quickly. They will make a cut based, again, on what they know they need to see that day. While typing can be frustrating and disheartening, it is actually beneficial to the performers. While there is always the chance that someone “off-type” can completely impress a panel and change their mind about what they want, that is not usually the case. Being typed out might be frustrating, but at least you don’t waste your whole day waiting around to audition for something that you have very little chance of booking. It has very little if anything to do with your talents so don’t take it personally!

Song that “shows your range”
If you are asked to bring a song that shows your range, that can mean that the panel needs to see the entirety of your vocal range but not necessarily. This might also be referring to character range. It would be wise to research the show and the role deeper to help you determine what range they are specifically referring to.

These terms are speaking about vocal quality.

A “belt” is when someone sings in their full chest voice and is typically referring to notes in the higher end of a singer’s range. This is a strong and rich vocal that is most commonly found in more contemporary musical theatre and pop genres. Belting can be very taxing on the voice and should be used sparingly and ideally under the supervision of a vocal coach. If not done properly, belting can potentially lead to vocal injury.

“Mix” is the technique of adding more air and breath support to your chest voice vocal to provide a cushion for higher notes in your range. Working closely with a coach, you can develop your mixed voice to a level of strength that can trick many people into thinking you are belting, only it is far more sustainable for you physically.

These terms typically appear in the character breakdown for an audition and indicate the vocal range/quality required for the role.

Pop/rock style
This is referring to a genre of music. If you are asked to bring a song in this style, you might want to look for an actual pop or rock song, not from a musical, to show them the vocal quality they need to see.

Legit Singing
If you are asked to sing something ‘legit’ then typically you are being asked to bring something a bit more traditional or classic in style. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be old, but that would be a safe bet. While legit-style singing is present in more contemporary scores, it is more likely that the panel is asking for something more traditional, such as “I Could Have Danced All Night”.

Contrasting Song
Often after you sing your prepared song the panel will ask for a contrasting song. What they mean is that they want to hear something that shows them a completely different side of your voice and character than what you just showed them. Usually, being asked for a contrasting song is a good sign…unless you are not prepared. Your Audition Book should be full of performance-ready songs in various vocal and style categories for just this reason. Often, the accompanist will start to look through your book and throw out song suggestions to the panel. Make sure that you do not have anything in your book that you do not want them to suggest!
Phew!! That was a LOT of musical theater terms!! Did I miss any? If there is a term you have been hearing a lot that you don’t understand (or maybe I used one in a description and then didn’t define it for you!) let me know!! I would be happy to help you understand so that you can be as prepared as possible…and maybe there will be a whole new list of terms to describe in the future!
To Your Purposefull Life,


Do you LOVE your audition material?
If you don’t have an Audition Book or you no longer LOVE it, I would love to help!

About Kelly

I am a multi-passionate Faith-based entrepreneur, empowering female #solopreneurs in their Business Process and Automation Transformation! 💙

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