I offer the little black dress as a literal possibility of course, but also as a way to into today's musings...
It is so important to recognize WHAT you are doing on stage - and I am not speaking about blocking, choreography, etc, but WHERE you are and WHAT you are there to DO. This may seem straight forward, and I thought it was too, but am always amazed and surprised at what isn't common knowledge and wanted to share my findings!
I think simplifying is best. Think of your "on stage" appearances as 3 primary divisions: audition, performance in a show, performance as self. What happens with each? How are they related? How are they different? How do you spot the differences and MAKE the differences?
First - the audition. You are trying to get a job. Micro-managing is not going to help, as it is IMPOSSIBLE to figure out what a casting director is truly looking for. Dress for your body and your type without costuming yourself. Sing the material well, however, remember you are trying to get a JOB not provide nuance of execution. (especially in music theatre!) Audition is not performance - especially for those of us who are artists and revel in the audience energy. A performance in a completely odd way perhaps?!!! Audition is job interview - Often with a table of people or a person who seems to not be paying attention. (although often they are...hmmmm) A satisfying experience? usually not. Dress and present for the job interview not for a performance. Expect little or not feedback. Move past it quickly and into your day! Wear your little black dress if it's type, or change into it as you meet friends for dinner later!!!
Second - the performance as character in a show. That little black dress might be part of the vision or not. Your development of character will be a collaboration between you and the director and the vision of the show. Your blocking and staging will have to find the motivation of your character development. It will have to read fully on that stage and in the context of that production. Many performers are comfortable here because they can develop something other than themselves...The little black dress is up to the director.
Third - and perhaps the most exciting and the most frightening depending on the performer's experience and development! The little black dress as YOU the performer. Performing in concert, in cabaret, in recital - as you, by you, with you. How do you define YOU on stage? Not you as character, not you as audition type, but YOU. THIS character is often LEAST developed in artists - the character of self. The little black dress defines a sense of neutral - a starting point - As a basic unadorned entity that allows no where to hide. It simplifies. It creates a clean open canvas on which to paint nuance and subtlety and give life to the direction of CRAFT not character; of evoking emotional responses from the audience through commitment to language, to mood, to the DOING of a song and its reason for being sung. The commitment of having something to say!
I see often singers trying to side-step the third option by staying locked into the audition mode or performance as character mode - even while doing a performance as self. Letting type lead, letting a costume lead, blocking or staging overpowering everything else - or trying to creating a character through SONG WITHOUT BEING YOU! This never rings true. This rings scared. This rings fake. This rings confused. This is pretend.
It's okay to begin confused or scared as a performer. Often these strong reactions and responses evoke a growth - or certainly can if we are paying close attention! Daring to stand on a bare stage in a little black dress and heels (or the male equivalent obviously!) and DELIVER A SONG can be very vulnerable and at the same time LIBERATING!!! It is YOU and the MUSIC. You and the message. You and the creative force as you draw on your knowledge, craft, and artistic decisions. As you begin to claim this third vision of the little black dress, it perhaps will become an artistic muscle that becomes your favorite - no middle man, no diversion, no "jazz hands", no distraction.
Many artists are not comfortable with the third - they are happier in the 2nd - and sometimes, there are those of us who are happiest as self in number 3 and will do number 2 when needed. We just need to recognize the differences and not confuse them to allow each to have its deserved place in the theatre.
As you continue to develop your artistic life and your life in the business, recognize the areas you are required to explore. Know how you accessorize that little black dress. Know where you are wearing it. Know WHY you are there. Know HOW to be there. It's yours to find, accessorize, and ENJOY!