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School of Music

Behind the Audition: Derek Klena Teaches BYU Students How to Make it on Broadway

Broadway Actor Derek Klena Shares Three Keys to a Good Audition in School of Music Encore Lecture

College students universally face the challenge of finding their calling in life — following passions, striving for success and trudging through school can all be overwhelming tasks. In his “Making it on Broadway” lecture to BYU students, Broadway actor Derek Klena offered advice on preparation and authenticity that he gleaned from his acting experience — along with several tips for making it on Broadway.

Derek Klena Speaks to BYU Students in the Music Building Recital Hall. Photo by Emma Olson | CFAC External Relations

Klena is best known for originating the role of Dimitri in Broadway’s “Anastasia” and playing Christian in “Moulin Rouge!” which won a Audience Choice Award. Klena’s Broadway debut was in the role of Fiyero in the 10th anniversary company of “Wicked.” His other notable roles include off-Broadway productions of “Carrie” and his originating role of Eddie Birdlace in “Dogfight.”

Klena offered three pieces of advice on auditioning to BYU music students that can apply to making it on Broadway or to life in general.

First, preparation is key. There is no substitute for good preparation. “The most regrettable experiences of my life have been the ones when I have let myself down,” he said. “When I’ve gone into a room thinking I was ready and then walked out realizing I was not ready.”

Klena’s solution for a lack of preparation leads into his second piece of advice: Have a plan. This plan, however, shouldn’t be to book the job or get the role; Klena suggests planning for things that are within your control. “If I work on hitting a note and am able to hit it as I prepare, I know I’m going to nail that note this audition as I make choices and do things that are completely under my control.”

Klena’s final piece of advice is to be yourself. “You can’t be yourself if you don’t have the first two keys, because when you’re not prepared and you don’t have a plan, you’re flying by the seat of your pants hoping and hanging on for dear life. You’re unable to be present,” he said.

As a 19-year-old trying to get into Broadway shows, Klena auditioned for a role in the off-Broadway show “Dogfight” and booked the job. As one of the first people to be cast, he was able to sit in on the remaining auditions, acting as a fly on the wall for 50–60% of the time and having the opportunity to read lines with several people who auditioned.

“I can’t tell you enough how fascinating it was to see people be totally themselves. It left me thinking, ‘Wow, they’re really nailing it right now, this is the epitome of a good audition,’” Klena said. On the other hand, sometimes actors walk in acting like completely different people and perform what they think will win them the job. “It reads as being inauthentic, and it reads as nerves. It’s said your audition starts when you walk into a room and it truly does.”

Being authentic is the most important part of an audition, and it can only be achieved if all three pieces of advice are taken into account. “I’m not able to be [authentic] if I’m not prepared and I’m not centered in what I’m bringing to the room,” he said. “The people behind the table want to see who you are as a person and what you bring to the character.”

Derek Klena Performs “My Petersburg” from Broadway’s “Anastasia.” Photo by Emma Olson | CFAC External Relations

Klena ended his lecture with the story of the song “My Petersburg” from his role as Dimitri in “Anastasia.” The song wasn’t originally in the Broadway show and was added later. As he prepared to perform it on Broadway, the creatives on the show realized that the song needed more personality, leading to the addition of Klena’s show-stopping high note, which flawlessly demonstrated during his performance of “My Petersburg” to his BYU audience.

Klena said performance anxiety never goes away but emphasized that being prepared, having a plan and being yourself are principles that can apply in any situation — with performance anxiety, with finding a path in life and with booking a Broadway show.

“Control what you can control walking into a room, and the rest of it is history,” Klena said.