“Alright Champ, I guess we’ll be seeing you on Broadway.”
That line sounds like a Sondheim lead in to the 1st Act big finale. I imagine it being the final stinging blow tossed out the door by an agent named Harry Goldstein, counting his gobs of cash right on the desk, as our hero realizes his quest for glitz and glory isn’t going to be nearly as glitzy and glorious as he was promised.
That line was fed to me by a director as I walked out of an audition recently. There were no gobs of cash, but the guy was wearing a silver suit with a pink dress shirt which seemed fitting. The door slammed behind me with dramatic finality.
So how did our hero end up in this bad movie musical set up?
Three days before, a phone call about an audition for a new play. Low pay off-Broadway. The information is limited, but he has long since learned his lesson about letting ego step in the way of audition preparation (see here). So the day before he rents a studio and prepares two contrasting monologues. That night he gets plenty of rest and when he wakes up he follows the morning routine that makes him feel centered and ready to work (a home cooked omelet and a round of vigorous stretching, just in case you were curious.) Also, because this is real life New York and NOT a movie musical, at some point he spends 45 minutes making phone calls trying to rearrange his work schedule and then another 2o when the original coverage falls through. But as these things usually do, everything works out in the end. Our hero is well fed and stretched and someone has been found to sling craft beer to the masses in his absence. Off to the audition he goes.
At the audition he sits outside of the room on a bench with another young ACTOR in his mid 20’s. As a rule our hero says very little to other actors at auditions, but this young man seems open and affable and there isn’t a monitor in sight, so he breaks his rule.
Hero: How long have you been here?
Actor 1: About ten minutes, no one has come out yet.
Ten minutes seems long, but Hero is second in line and not in any hurry, so he settles in for a wait. The clock ticks three minutes. Then five. At ten another pair arrive, ACTOR 2 and ACTOR 3, and still no sign of life from the audition room door. Actor 1 is visibly annoyed.
Actor 2: How long have you guys been waiting?
Hero: I’ve been here ten minutes, but he got here a few minutes before I did.
Actor’s 2 and 3 take their positions on the bench. After five more minutes of waiting Actor 1 breaks the silence.
Actor 1: Do you think I should knock or something? This seems weird.
The Hero along with 2 and 3 all shrug their shoulders. Actor 1 continues debating for a minute, but the arrival of two more Actors spurs him into action.
Actor 1 (Cont’d): I’m just going to knock.
The others watch as Actor 1 approaches the door. Moments after his light knock the door swings open, and enter DIRECTOR a la’ Silver Suit.
Actor 1: Hey there! We’ve been out here for a bit, just wondering when you might get around to…
Director: Alright, alright, hold on for a minute champ, I’ll get to you when I get to you.
The door shuts. Actor 1 shuffles back to the bench and takes his place next to our Hero once again, slightly less affable than before.
Actor 1: Is it just me or was that really rude? Should I not have knocked?
Hero: No, I think you were fine. We’ve been waiting a really long time out here.
There is general agreement among the now 10 other actors sitting on the bench, and a few begin to talk about cutting their losses and calling it a day. Our Hero has had similar thoughts for the last few minutes. Forty-five minutes seems like an excessively long wait, and take out Indian paired with the second season of Orange is the New Black is calling his name. Actor 1 looks ready to do the same, but before they can leave the door to the room swings open and the Director is back.
Director: Alright, everyone in! Come on, everyone in, bring your bags…
Actor 2: Everyone?
Director: Sure, it’s a group audition.
Group audition. This sends up a the first red flag for our hero. Actually, this sends up the second because in retrospect the hour long wait without an audition monitor was the first. Upon entering the room our Hero notices there are already several other actors sitting in chairs around the audition space. He approaches one, let’s call him BILL just to shake things up.
Hero: Hey, what’s going on here? It’s a group thing?
Bill: Yeah, we’ve been watching each other’s monologues and giving notes.
Third red flag, and this one is big.
The wait without any information was annoying. The sudden switch from audition slots to group audition is a little strange. But actors sitting around in a circle giving each other notes during an audition? That sounds not only ill conceived but possibly damaging, and our Hero wants nothing to do with it. He picks his bag up, thanks Bill, and heads to the door where the director is seeing the last of the new folks in.
Director: Going somewhere?
Hero: Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t know the process would take this long. I don’t think it’s a project I’m interested in, but thank you for calling me in and good luck with the auditions.
Director: Alright Champ, I guess we’ll be seeing you on Broadway.
Class the week before. Annie has just booked a role in a short play festival and she tells our hero about her experience so far working with her director.
“The part is difficult, but I’m learning to take care of myself. The director has ideas on what it should look like, which is fine. But I told him hey, for now I’m going to work on it like this. I will bring it to where you want it eventually but this is where I feel comfortable and where I need to work to get it there.”
Outside the audition room. The door has just slammed on our Hero. As he walks back down the hall he feels his blood boiling. What kind of unprofessional schmuck yells “See you on Broadway” and slams a door in your face? And where did he find that suit? And then, a worse thought. What if I’m the one who is wrong here? Should he have stayed? Tried to make the situation work?
He steps into the elevator, and then hears someone call down the hall.
Actor 1: Hey! Hold the door!
Actor 1 steps in after him and they let the doors slide shut. The ride is silent for a moment, and then Actor 1 turns.
Actor 1 (Cont’d): Did I hear him say “See you on Broadway?”
Hero: Yeah, I was just thinking about that. Did you leave?
Actor 1: Are you kidding? Can you imagine working for that guy? What an asshole. He makes us wait, treats us like cattle, and then has the balls to make us feel bad when we don’t want to work with him. I wouldn’t waste my time.
Hero: Good, I was starting to feel like maybe I was crazy.
Actor 1: Maybe we’re both crazy. But hey, if one of us ever does book a gig on Broadway, imagine how much fun it’s going to be telling this story.
What is it about actors that makes us so afraid to take care of ourselves? That’s a rhetorical question of course, because I know the answer, or at least the answer for myself. I’m afraid of sticking out. I’m afraid someone is going to look at my headshot after I walk out the door and say “Well he was alright, but so difficult to work with.” Or that a few weeks into rehearsal a director is going to wonder if they’ve made a mistake by casting me. But if you give a Violinist a banana instead of a bow and tell him to play, it doesn’t matter how long you wait, you aren’t getting Mozart. You don’t hand a painter a hammer and expect a watercolor. An actor is an artist as well and though our tools are internal we need them just as surely as anyone else. And at the end of the day what any director wants from us is a consistent performance based in truth. Taking class teaches us how to get there, and it’s up to us to nurture our individual process and let help our directors work that into their vision.
Time and time again I hear stories about actors who have had audition experiences similar to the one I just described, actors who have worked under nightmare directors, actors who have been forced to compromise their process for the sake of product. I’ve lived those stories. Just because you are auditioning for someone doesn’t mean you are the only one in the room who is being auditioned. We get to choose who we work with just as much as they get to choose who gets the part. When I interviewed Mark Alan Gordon a few weeks ago for the Studio Spotlight series he said something very similar:
“It’s been interesting getting work and deciding what work I want to do with my craft. It was that watershed moment of what is my emotional connection, what does this theatre believe in, what does the Artistic Director believe in? When I get an audition I look at it as I am interviewing that director, I am interviewing those people in the room.”
Walking out of that audition was taking care of myself as an artist. It allowed me to walk away with my pride intact and my head held high, and walk into my next audition with confidence. The alternative was sitting in that room and listening while other people who had no business giving me notes told me how to act. That would have been death to my creative process, and I couldn’t let it happen. And for the record, I did walk into that next audition with confidence. And the director had a monitor for us, and had given us a breakdown of exactly how the audition would go (monologues followed by a group movement callback), and that allowed me to mold my process to fit what they were looking for. Suddenly I wasn’t scrambling to connect to audition material in an unfamiliar and unsafe environment, I was bringing myself to material in a place where I felt comfortable and cared for. And now, three weeks into our rehearsal process for that job that I booked, I understand what Annie was saying on that day. I’m learning to take care of myself.