Thursday, August 13, 2009

audition horror stories (part one)

Theater production is a painful pursuit: there's no money in it, little recognition, and really just one seemingly insurmountable humiliating obstacle after another. It's especially no fun if you can't laugh at it. So we asked some of our friends to provide some audition tales. Bad auditions. Wallpaper-peeling bad. Here's the first. (Our correspondent has asked to remain anonymous.)
I had agents. Agents are supposed to be a good thing. And I think for the most part, they are. But their judgment is just as likely to be off as anyone else's, and that's why I have this nightmare audition story.

I had recently played Essie in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU. For anyone who doesn't know the play, Essie fancies herself an undiscovered prima ballerina, and has been taking lessons for years, and spends almost the entire show dancing (really badly) around the stage. According to her own dancing teacher, "...she STINKS." So theoretically you DON'T have to be good, or even knowledgeable, about dancing to play this role (although Ann Miller played her in the movie). I have a little bit of knowledge and experience, but I would NEVER at any point in my life have presented myself as a legitimate "en pointe" ballet dancer.

God bless my (former) agents (the agency is now long since disbanded) - they decided, based on my having done Essie, to send me up for ANOTHER show where "an actress who could dance" was wanted - please bring toe shoes. So I went, toe shoes in hand, to find that what they really wanted was a versatile actress for multiple roles which would require being creative with movement and not uncomfortable in toe shoes. I got the part. In all honesty, I shouldn't have, but I did. (This is not the nightmare story - but here it comes.)

So my lovely, well-meaning agents, bolstered by my undeserved success (and, I suppose, thinking that my hesitancy to audition for that role to begin with was false modesty), arranged for me to return from that role to an audition for THE RED SHOES... yes, the Broadway musical that died HARD: 51 previews and 5 performances.

According to the breakdowns, they wanted a true triple-threat. It was THE RED SHOES, so true ballerinas were required. It was a musical, so serious pipes were required. Acting was definitely going to be involved, but it was unquestionably third priority. So really, they wanted a "ballerina-singer who could act." I, on the other hand, did (and do) classify myself as an "actress who can sing and dance." I had that discussion with my agents - more than once. They were CONVINCED that I could do this. And in spite of my DEEP protestations, they somehow convinced me that I should at least give it a shot.

Oh, dear.

Well, I wasn't TOTALLY unprepared. One of my fellow actors was a choreographer, and knew that my skills were very limited, and graciously agreed to choreograph a two-minute piece for me. He also coached me as best he could - BP, wherever you are, you are a saint! - and so I wrapped up my contract and headed back to NYC for an audition I KNEW I had no business going to. But then, I'd had no business, really, going to the one before, and I'd gotten cast in that one, so... why not?

Against my better judgment, I showed up to the audition. At least I had the right clothes on - dance clothes. But I knew INSTANTLY that I was way, WAY out of my element. First of all, I wasn't overweight by any means - not even by actress standards - but by ballet standards? Well, I was probably twice the size of every other girl there. Food hadn't passed the lips of any of those girls in years (unless it was on a roundtrip ticket). And I was watching them all warm up and mark through their steps - as easily as breathing. Every single one of them was a REAL ballerina, from ABT, or NYCB, or the Joffrey (I heard them all talking). There weren't ANY other "actresses who dance" there. I wanted to turn and run. And I should have. But I thought that would make me look bad (to my agents), so I decided to stick it out... but with candor.

My name was called, and I entered the room. The auditors were all sitting at the table, and I walked over to hand them my headshot and music, introduce myself... you know the drill. In the spirit of candor and full disclosure, I told them straight out, "Hey, here's the thing. I am NOT a dancer. I fake well, but I am NOT a dancer, and my agents INSISTED that I come so here I am. But I know you're all really busy, and that you have real dancers out there to see, so I'm happy just to say 'hi' and 'thanks' and let you get on with your day."

Alas. No. They were so sweet. So supportive. They asked if I had a piece (I did). They asked if I was prepared to do it (I was). They said they would like to see it (I still don't know why). And so began the LONGEST TWO MINUTES OF MY LIFE (and I have no doubt two of the longest minutes of theirs - for that day, at least). I have also have no doubt whatsoever that literally every single thing I did for those two minutes was a complete affront to the dancers/choreographers that were sitting at the table, and I was painfully conscious of that for every microsecond of each of those 120 seconds (but, hey - who was counting?).

When I finished, the room was utterly silent... until I began laughing. They were all trying so hard to be kind, but they finally gave in and started laughing, too. And although the audition itself was a nightmare, it DID end well. As I went to collect my music, they all stood up (still laughing) and shook my hand, thanked me for coming in, told me I had "HUGE chutzpah" (and yes, that's an exact quote), and by golly if there was a role that didn't require dancing they'd call me back. I thanked them for their generosity and sense of humor and said that I wouldn't hold my breath, but that I appreciated the thought and wished them the best of luck in their search. (And never, NEVER again after that accepted an audition that I didn't think I belonged at.)

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