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If you’re still trying to figure out which songs and monologues you want to use for your UPTA and/or SETC audition, take a look at which Theatre Companies will be in attendance…

UPTA Companies

SETC Hiring Companies and Casting Needs

Look up their seasons to see the shows (and roles) for which you’ll be auditioning, then adjust your selection and focus(!) accordingly.



“I’m sorry…”
“…that this page is falling out of my binder.”
“…this page is ripped.”
“…that when I copied this it cut off the bottom of the page.”
“…I didn’t erase the old markings.”
“…for not putting this in a binder. I hope it stays on the piano.”
“…I keep meaning to fix this page.”
“…I’ve never heard the piano part before, could you…”
“…I’m not sure this cut was marked properly, could you…”
“…I don’t know what this intro sounds like, could you…”
“…but I’m not sure this is the right key, could you…”
Invest the time, money, and effort – all of which would be very minimal – in order not to start your audition with an “apology” which could very well give a first impression of a lack of preparation.


In the process of cutting down a song to a suitable length for an audition – whether that be in terms of a number of measures (16-32 bars) or a span of time (30-60-90 seconds) – I sometimes feel that the singer has not simply edited the song, but, instead, they have unintentionally rewritten it. It has turned into what has come to be known as a “Frankencut”.

This happens most frequently when a singer wants to showcase a certain part of their range, usually the upper half, their “money notes”. They pick the measures of the song that hover in that vicinity, and devise their cut accordingly. In the process, they eliminate the measures, the notes in the original melody that set up those high notes. They also edit out the words in the lyric that correspond to that phrase. The grammar of both the text and the music is altered.

To best illustrate this point in this post, I have used the classic song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. I have notated it in 2/4 for demonstration purposes.

Ex. 1 – The song proper in 24 bars.


Ex. 2 – This is a 16-bar cut of the song. It has been edited in order to highlight the higher notes of the melody, the upper part of the singer’s vocal range. Notice how the melody is altered, changed. Notice how the lyric becomes just a string of words rather than a complete thought.


While this is definitely an extreme example of a Frankencut, I have played many that have come close to this.

Ex. 3 – This is the last 16 bars of the song which would serve as a good 16-bar cut.

Keep in mind is that the song that is “new to you” is probably not new to those who will be listening to you: the company reps. (HINT: Read the copyright date.) We know how the song goes: “Why did you change it?” Some cuts do work well, but there are also cuts that can perk up our ears and raise our eyebrows, and not in a good way.

Personally, I also believe in respecting the work of the Composer and Lyricist. Some of the Frankencuts that I have played and listened to over the years have essentially thrown out and ignored the craft put into those songs by the original writers. -And when I personally know some of those writers that can add a bit of an uncomfortable je ne sais quoi to the proceedings.

Since my space is limited here, the one piece of advice I would like to give in regards to avoiding a possible Frankencut is this:

-Sing your cut for someone else besides yourself and your voice teacher and accompanist. Find a set of fresh ears.
-Better yet: Give your cut to someone else, and listen to them sing your cut.

Let the reactions and feedback guide you to your next step.


THREE QUESTIONS to take us into the weekend.


Just some food for thought, rather some food to prompt some thought(s).

Read each question.
Answer each one for yourself.
You might end up with some more questions.


While I have appreciated and marveled at what some people have managed to cobble together with pieces of cardboard, poster board, foam core, construction paper, decoupage glue, craft scissors, pinking shears, paper cutters, packing tape, duct tape, as well as gold stars, Hello Kitty® stickers, and multiple colors of crayons, highlighters, and/or Sharpies®, there really is no need to go to all that trouble to make your sheet music presentable.

All you really need is a good copy of your sheet music, a 3-hole punch, a few pieces of scotch tape, a 3-ring binder, and a pencil. Maybe even a Post-It® note or two.

I’m also not averse to the two sheets of paper of your two-page cut taped inside a manila folder.

And for the record: I don’t mind plastic sheet protectors, and, in some instances, they can actually come in handy. -Yes, I know this seems to be a hot topic of debate amongst some of my colleagues, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t @ me.


Let’s start at the very beginning.

“Hello, my name is Jose Simbulan. Number 88.”

I rarely have to give, to say, to announce my full name – my first and my last name – on a regular basis. In fact, I believe the only times I ever have to do that is when I give my briefing at UPTA and SETC at the start of each day. It is then no surprise that the most common fumble at combined auditions occurs during an actor’s slate, when they state their name and number.

If you are not in the habit of announcing yourself, practice saying your name. Out loud. Don’t apologize for it. Be proud of the name your parents gave you – or the name that you have decided to bestow upon yourself for professional reasons. Don’t let hearing yourself say your own name trip you up.

Your slate is not only the start of your audition, it IS part of your audition. It is, in essence, a very, very, very short monologue. Don’t treat it like a formality. Don’t throw it away. It is an introduction, your introduction. A first impression. Use those two (or less) seconds to show the company reps a glimpse of who you are, your personality, your likability. -This is especially true at SETC when the timing of your 60-90 seconds starts with the first word out of your mouth. Then we get to witness you shift gears and acting beats as you go into your monologue or song.

And then once you’re done, you get to do it again.

“Hello, my name is Jose Simbulan. Number 88. Thank You.”

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I shall be returning once again to Memphis to play for the Unified Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA), as well as heading to Knoxville to play for the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Professional Division Auditions. This will mark my 20th(!) anniversary playing for UPTA, and my 25th(!!!) with SETC. That amounts to about 35,000 (give or take) auditions from those two conferences alone; and that is on top of the auditions I play regularly outside of those two weekends in February and March.

To mark this joint milestone, I want to pass along a couple of things I have learned over the past 25 years. Things I have learned from and about myself as an audition pianist, as a collaborator. Things I have learned from the various company reps who sit in on those auditions looking to hire Actors for their upcoming seasons. Things I have learned from the Actors – from You.

Read the rest of this entry »

Somewhere in the air between Houston and San Diego I just started giggling. There really was nothing else I could do, and there was nothing I wanted to do in a way. The past 12 hours just seemed to be “one for the record books”. Traffic on the way to the airport. A snails-paced shuttle bus from the parking garage to the terminal. A reservation that did not come up in the system. An airline employee who kept giving me and her computer screen puzzled looks. An unusually long security screening line. An eventually missed flight which led to an unplanned four hour pre-flight layover in an amenity-starved airport. Etc., etc., etc…

Of course, the giggling didn’t start until after the second half of my journey had begun. I had yet to deal with lackadaisical janitorial practices in the terminal, an inadequate air-conditioning system, and a fellow passenger with a medical emergency (which, thankfully, was not emergency enough to cause the plane to change its course mid-flight – which, according to the chatter, could have been a possibility).

For practically anyone who’s ever met me, giggling is not an uncommon state of being for me. Part informal greeting, part coping mechanism, part stress reliever, part signal of acceptance. This time, however, was a true LOL moment. As the flight attendants continued to discuss how to proceed, as passengers stood in the aisle trapped by the beverage cart, as people who were supposed to get their free beverage — myself included – wondered if they would ever get their free beverage, I just began to think about all the bumps and inconveniences of the past 12 hours. It was all out of my control (most of it anyway). There was nothing I could have done to prevent it nor remedy it. It all just happened. Not only the past 12 hours, but also the past 12 months. It all just happened. And all I could do was giggle.

Right now, I’m in the midst of a run of a show that I had absolutely no previous investment nor interest in. It was completely off of my radar. And then like magic/coincidence/happenstance/serendipity, I’m playing again. I’m working again. I’m back at a theatre I love. I’m among people I love and missed, as well as those I’m gladly getting to know better. I’m in a place both literally and figuratively I hadn’t planned or even envisioned a year ago, let alone six months ago.

I really have no idea where I’m going with this train of thought. Or even if there is a train of thought here. What I do know is that I’m still currently in the air somewhere between Houston and San Diego, and that in less than 48 hours my youngest brother will be getting married to a woman he loves. And that will be a wonderful thing to have happened.

…In the meantime, the line for the lavatory in the main cabin has grown to six people deep. And, yes, that made me giggle.

It’s Christmas Eve. And I’m spending it – and tomorrow in New York City. It will be my first Christmas not spent with my family in many years. And this song, well…

This is for my Mom and Dad. My brothers Don, Mike and Jay. My nephew, John Michael. My nieces Alexandra, Alyssa and Emily. And for Steve.


I’m dreamin’ tonight of a place I love
Even more then I usually do
And although I know it’s a long road back
I promise you

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light beams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams


I Miss You. I Love You.

*And I’ll definitely be seeing all of you in my dreams, and, in person(!), a few days from now.

(Music & Lyrics by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon and Walter Kent)

October 14, 2008

I should be asleep by now. In fact, I should have been deep in slumber an hour ago, ideally two. Instead, I lie here in bed, my mind spinning, my head full of conversations that may or may not have occurred, in a language I barely understand, but, tonight the cadence of which stresses and unstresses in the recesses of my imagination. I could blame the sugar I consumed earlier for this bout of insomnia, sleeplessness. The cans of cane sugar-sweetened soda, the snack-size candy bars, the still-warm from-a-box-mix brownies served with two scoops of French vanilla ice cream. No. All that glucose, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup has already metabolized.  Instead I just find myself thinking. Thinking too much.

The past couple of weeks have been filled with a string of unknowns. Some of those unknowns have been answered. Others have yet to be settled. Still others have reached a point where due to their intangibility they must just be accepted, reckoned with, made peace with, allowed to remain a question mark.

And so began a blog entry that I did not finish at the time. But I will finish it now. At the very least append it. -And apologize for “stresses and unstresses in the recesses”.

Those opening and closing paragraphs were written during a very dark hour, literally and figuratively. It was around 3:40 in the morning, just hours before my mom was about to go in for heart surgery. I will gloss over the details for the sake of the privacy and out of respect for my family, but I will say that at that moment I was scared.

Dealing with the “concept”(?) of someone dying – even just possibly dying – is daunting enough, but when it comes to the mortality of one’s parents, there really are no words to fully describe that feeling, that fear, that possible, tangible and intangible loneliness. Otherwise flowery language gains weight, credence, even solemnity. I was scared. And I never imagined that I could feel that so deeply.

Fast forward a few weeks later:

November 30, 2008

I’m having lunch across the table from my Mom, deciphering the Vietnamese lunch she just ordered, and talking about her upcoming trip to New York City in a few weeks.

One question answered – along with a litany of prayers. One unknown now resolved.


October 24, 2008

Dona nobis, nobis pacem,
Pacem dona, dona nobis,
Nobis pacem,  pacem dona,
Dona nobis, nobis pacem,
Pacem dona, dona nobis…

Each time the refrain of the “Agnus Dei” would repeat, it would not only increase in volume and texture, but in passion, despair, anger, resignation and retaliation. I just sat there and let the waves of sound and instruments and voices wash over me and surround me. I could feel my pulse quickening along with my breathing, as if I was trying to stifle an eruptive bout of sobbing.

It had been almost 30 years – 27 to be exact – since I first experienced Bernstein’s “Mass”.  I still have the VHS tape that I used to record the PBS broadcast of the 10th Anniversary presentation at the Kennedy Center.  At that time and at that age, I was more intrigued by the scale of the project, the seemingly disparate musical and theatrical elements, and, of course, being a “good, Catholic boy”, the controversy surrounding the treatment of the Eucharist at the climax of the piece.  I remember wondering how the boy soloists got chosen to sing on TV, let alone at the Kennedy Center. I was singing in my church’s Children’s Choir, and had never been approached about possibly singing elsewhere, and I didn’t know anyone else who had either.  Even my knowledge of Bernstein at that time was basically limited to “A Great Musical Figure”, “Someone Important”, the composer of West Side Story.  But something caught my eyes and ears in the promos for that initial PBS broadcast, enough to make me tune in and tape it, and watch it repeatedly until no amount of tracking could ever clear up the picture.  27 years later in Carnegie Hall it would all become clear again.

From the opening tape loops going into “A Simple Song,” to the final “The Mass is ended: go in Peace,” it was a most special evening. There was definitely a Sense of Occasion.  Not only was I there with a good friend, but I also happened to know a couple of the performers, and had cursorily worked with the conductor, Marin Alsop, years before she was chosen to lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (which she was conducting that evening). Admittedly, there are moments in Bernstein’s “Mass” that mark it as a product of its time, but, like all great pieces of Music, there is just so much there that transcends musical categories and compositional languages.  There were passages that made me feel like a wide-eyed, open-eared 13-year old again that night, but I was also reminded of the education and experience that my Life has brought me during the intervening 27 years.

We’re fed up with your heavenly silence,
And we only get action with violence,
So if we can’t have the world we desire,
Lord, we’ll have to set this one on fire!
Dona nobis, Dona nobis.


November 2, 2008

Last year, there were 39,265 runners in the ING NYC Marathon, and my youngest brother, Jay, was among them.  He had wanted to don his running shoes again for the course through all five boroughs, but due to his work schedule, he was not able to apply for this year’s race.  However, he was able to head to New York City to cheer on and support his girlfriend, Maria, who was one of the lucky 38,832 runners selected to run in this year’s race.  And just like I did last year with Jay, I was able to track Maria’s progress via SMS alerts and on the marathon’s website – from the comfortable warmth of my apartment – before heading to down to the Finisher’s Area along Central Park West.

I remember being struck by the scope and variety of everyone gathered along Central Park West last year, and this year was no different.  With 38,800+ finishers, that meant that there were at least that many people trying to meet and greet them as they made their way out of Central Park. Family members, friends, co-workers, spectators, fans, fellow running enthusiasts, police, guards, medical technicians, tourists who just happened to be in town the same weekend as the race. My eye was repeatedly drawn to the finishers who were making their way through the Crowd, wrapped in their silver-blue-orange-white mylar blankets.

Some people had obviously had a much tougher race than they had planned, or ever thought they would, but their limp and hunched backs were happily betrayed by the finisher medals around their necks and the smiles on their faces.  A “DNF” was not an option. Then there were all the people who just kept looking and looking for their friends and family.  They would catch my glance, I would catch theirs, smile hopefully for a moment, and then once they realized that I was not whom they were looking for, they would move on to the next cluster of people holding up flowers and homemade signs of “Congratulations” and “You Did It!”.  And then there were those who walked along Central Park West with their heads up, their eyes down.  Not looking for anyone, no one meeting them at the finish line.  Perhaps they had not even told anyone of their plans for that first Sunday afternoon in November.  They had just ran the 26.2 miles for themselves. I Did It!


November 4, 2008

A very different sort of race.  A very different sort of finish line.

Seconds after the race was called that night, I started to hear car horns and people cheering outside, fireworks. I ran to my front door… People were leaning out of their windows continuing to spread the news at the top of their lungs… Waving American flags as they drove by in their cabs… Hugging their neighbors and strangers alike on the sidewalk. I stepped into the street, and let out my own joyful noise…



November 11, 2008

I’m back at Carnegie Hall:

Zankel Hall

Jeremy Denk, Piano

IVES – Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840–60”
BEETHOVEN – Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106, “Hammerklavier”

As I said before: “Monster program!”

I’m not even going to attempt to explain the musical importance of these two works, especially since Mr. Denk has already done so quite beautifully and intelligently: Program Notes.

As for my opinion of the evening’s musical proceedings, there’s really not so much more that I could add to my previous “Bravo, Jeremy Denk!  Bravo!” Suffice it say, it was one of those rare times when I was able to sit back in my seat and just Listen.  Insightful, intelligent, thought-provoking, dazzling, coloristic piano playing, music making. A few weeks later, I still want to Listen.

*And for a very interesting and entertaining discourse on the “Hammerklavier” and “Reaganian Counterpoint” – as well as to tie this entry into the previous one –  I highly recommend:  The Interview.


November 16, 2008

I had not really heard much about “Slumdog Millionaire” before I decided to see the movie.  I knew that it was set in India. I knew that Danny Boyle was the director, and I had read the headlines of a couple of reviews, but none of their content. After being very pleasantly surprised by Boyle’s previous “fairy tale”, “Millions”, I decided to take a chance on it. In a way, I guess I followed some sort of self-created “buzz”. I’m so glad I did. It’s been a while since I’ve cheered and cried tears of joy(!) at the end of a movie.


December 6, 2008


I’m back at MoMA, and, yes, I’m making way through the Van Gogh exhibit for the umpteenth time.  I basically race through the rooms, except for a brief stop in front of “The Stevedores in Arles”, a truly fascinating painting, all yellows, ochres and greens. I make my way to the final room of the exhibit, the display of books, Van Gogh’s literary inspirations, and find myself drawn to the excerpt from Victor Hugo’s “L’Année Terrible”.

He does not complain. Proud before the filthy mob,
He laughs, since heaven is given to those who lose the world,
And since he has this hospitality for shelter,
And since –O joy! O infinity! O liberty!
Conquering fate, facing evil, piercing the veils,
Driven out by men — he can lose himself in the stars!


“Milk” at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square (in theatre 25).  I basically start to cry as soon as the Coming Attractions finish, and the movie proper begins.  Two hours and eight minutes later and after crying a few more times, I’m once again reminded of Everyone who has gone before me.  Thank you.


It’s snowing! I’m in Times Square. I’ve stopped crying, and the smile has returned to my face. I can’t stop giggling as I walk up Broadway from 42nd Street to Columbus Circle.

First Snow 2008/9 in Times Square

*And, as an added bonus, an express train pulls into the station as soon as I get down to the platform. Yes!

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