The world of music for the stage is all about categories. Are you male or female? What is your voice type? How old are you? What color are you? What is your physical type? Do you fit the director’s vision for the production?
I learned a lot about the boundaries around what one should or shouldn’t sing when I took a course called “Auditioning for Musical Theatre” (abbreviation: MT). Every week we participated in mock auditions in front of the class, with on-the-spot coaching and do-overs. It was hugely helpful for developing confidence and figuring out what to sing for auditions. I come from a classical background, but have been in several musicals and love MT. It was helpful to combine what I knew about auditioning for classical situations with what I learned about MT. The audition parameters are generally quite different.
Let’s say you are auditioning for “Next to Normal”. It would generally be perfectly fine (and sometimes preferable) to audition with a song compatible with the style of the show that is not from a musical. The important thing is to pick a song that shows that you have the vocal chops for the show. If it’s a famous song, it can work to sing one that is usually sung by “another gender”. (Many popular songs do not have gendered lyrics anyway.) If you sing such a song very well, you can make an excellent individual impression that doesn’t seem like an imitation of the original recording.
Similarly, when you are doing a solo program, you can tear down the boundaries of “the original character”. Roles in MT and opera are usually for specific types of voices and gendered characters. When you sing a song or aria away from a show, then gender expectations are mostly based on the text you are singing. It can be very enjoyable and liberating to create a solo program that lets you express text you relate to while setting gendered traditions aside. If you can feel the text and sing the music, why not explore whatever moves you? This is what audiences need to hear!
When choosing repertoire for your solo show, don’t be afraid to take on a character that is “not you in real life”. For my gender and sexual minority friends, don’t be afraid to be the “real you in real life” either. I love singing songs about love for women and men, because I love inhabiting the world of the song, and being the character needed for the moment. If we cannot act when we sing – if we cannot relate to the “as if” moments that live in the song – then we will be missing a lot of opportunities to bring beautiful performances to the world.
For those of us who operate mostly in the worlds of opera, musical theatre, oratorio, and choral music, these solo opportunities to branch out are good for the soul, and for those who hear us. “Appropriate repertoire” is the repertoire that you are moved to sing.