Your audition book is a reflection of you. If you're an incredibly organized, Type A person, your book is probably already divided into neat categories. If you tend to wing it, your book might be filled with song cuts marked in strong, scribbly pencil, and you probably have an extra-sweet smile to share with the accompanist alongside your apology: "I'm sorry this is such a mess."
Many of us, myself included, fall somewhere in the middle. Our main audition pieces lie in the front of our books, with all the cuts clearly marked. The random 50s pop songs or operetta pieces drift towards the back. We may be missing a page from the complete song, so God forbid we ever need to change the cut.
But regardless of your temperament, let's review the basics of a professional musical theatre audition book, and then I'll share some tips I have found that help me stay on top of my game. Feel free to share your own in the comments!
1. Get a three-ring binder. It should be approximately one to one and a half inches. Anything more, you'll screw up your back carrying it in your bag; anything less, you'll eventually overstuff it.
2. Buy some non-glare page protectors. There is a little bit of debate about this, but I am in the page-protector camp. Page protectors will keep your sheet music clean and dry, and make pages easier to turn for the pianist. Also, if you have to change your cut, you can easily do so.
Do your best to keep all of the pages of the song together. If you have sheet protectors, you can tuck the unused pages in between the ones with your audition cuts. You could also put them in the pockets of the binder itself, although I usually use that for headshots, resumes and monologues. But try not to lose the rest of the sheet music. (It's easy to do.)
Whatever you do, do NOT bring music in a book to an audition. It won't lay flat on the piano, the pages can be difficult to turn, and you will definitely annoy the accompanist. Likewise, loose sheet music can fall all over the place, and frankly, it's not very professional. Lead sheets are a no-no. Make sure your sheet music includes the bass clef for the left hand on the very bottom of the page, if you've made a copy. (When photocopying music, I usually adjust the settings to 94%.)
3. Choose an organizing system. It's best to organize by genre and/or time period, with your strongest suit closer to the front of the book. This way, when you get an audition, you can say, "Okay, Golden Age uptempo. What do I have?" And flip to that section and find it. It will also highlight which categories are less strong for you-- either because you simply don't get many auditions for, say, 80s rock musicals, or because you have a gap in your book that you need to fill. For more information about how many songs you need to be competitive during a busy audition season (like right now), check out my blog post, The Perfect Audition Book. And remember, the time to learn new songs is now. Not three days before the audition when you realize you need a new song. If you find a song you like, start working on it.
Allow me to rephrase. Start playing with it. Don't think of it as obligatory work. This will reinvigorate your sense of fun with the material. It will be like when you were young and would sing, dance, or act out songs in your room or in your car. (We all did this, right? It's not just me...) It's important to make it fun sometimes. And it's essential to have a well-rounded audition book.
One additional thing: I consider my book to be my work place, so I have pictures and quotes and things to that make me feel happy, inspired and confident just from carrying it around. I encourage you to do the same.