The aspiring performer is down center in the middle of a darkened theater. There’s the lamp for the cigar-chomping accompanist at the piano and a couple of random work lights and the singer coughs a bit and swallows hard. There’s quiet in the shadows somewhere mid house, a nod to the cigar and the music begins. It’s not quite the way it was rehearsed over and over in the imagination but it will do. Four bars done, now eight and a deep breath for the bridge and just before the next downbeat, from the blackness comes a loud, “Next!” At this point I usually wake up because this is not how auditions go, if indeed they ever did for actors in living memory.
My first big national cattle call, and NDTA (National Dinner Theatre Association) I still miss you, I did get a “Time!” because I went ten seconds over in my monologue, but being a rarer quantity at that call, a middle-aged man of a certain size who could carry a tune, I still got requests for PR and a few callbacks. One of them lead to work down the road and another to work the next week, so I don’t know this classic audition scenario first hand. Tell you the truth I would rather be on a platform at the end of a function room or on a stage, where the house lights are up so the theatre reps may see their notes and read our stuff, because it is more like a performance than just walking into a little room and figuring where to stand before the people at the table.
I never liked the term “preaching to the choir,” because in my choir experience, way up in the back, we didn’t listen especially. I guess it’s about telling people something they already know so forgive me if I’m reviewing overly familiar ground, but for the guys just out of school or for other oldsters who figure, “what the hell, let’s try,” the way auditions work will be different from what you’re used to and I’m here to help. Be prepared for a very long day if you’re not in the position to gain an appointment, but even then don’t count on the clock being on your side. Every so often really needing to be elsewhere that same day or the next can get a callback immediately in the room but just as often it can mean nothing’s going to come of this. I’ve been told well after the fact by some that they knew right then in the room I was the guy for the role! Not once have I had them share that while I was still there. Colleagues tell me of getting offers and starting to haggle over contracts in the room. Well, if they say so…
A friend of mine I’ve known since my bartending days and whose children call me “Uncle” is a big time business guy. He’s an MBA and as a CEO saved many companies from the brink. When I told him about how I spend my day, maybe, if I’m lucky, getting to do 16 bars – he was agog. Well, show biz isn’t the real world, however real the business part of it is. We actors are masochists and we keep coming back for more. And we take it because we have to. It’s the same punch line to all the horror story jokes about actors being mistreated: What? And give up show biz?
The constant rejection, or to be more PC, non-acceptance, is a fact of life. Even when an appointment is granted from people we know and have worked with before don’t hold your breath expecting to be cast. We have to have the mantra, “It’s not personal,” however personally we are wounded. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again,” as the song goes. For my colleagues you know all this, but maybe a family member, friend or coworker who doesn’t already might learn something if you leave this on a screen or print it out. All “normal” people get to see is us up there having fun, or looking like we are for fear of being recast. They don’t know about how so very much harder we work in rehearsals let alone how so much harder it is to get in the room and show a table of people who’ve already seen so many others that we’re worth notice.
As a rule, the folks in the room are polite and sometimes so nice it’s a bigger downer when the call doesn’t come. I love Kaptain Kangaroo’s magic words of please and thank you, automatic when we work in the theatre and the niceties are important. Sometimes, especially in callbacks, the guys in the room can be too nice and the bummer after is all the bigger. Some time back, I had an audition appointment in the city. It was a company in the Midwest and I could see me in a lot of their season. They must have as well unless they were just looking to fill slots. Well, I sang a song. I mean a song. Verse, chorus and coda and then I got to do another 32 bars and I read, I read several pages. I nailed some laughs too. The Artistic Director was smiling, I liked that, and we reread a few more pages and then he said it: “What a great audition!” It took all I could do to not burst into tears then and there. Say that to me? That’s breaking the rules! You were supposed to say, “Thank you,” and maybe we’d shake hands. “What a great audition?” Please! That means you won’t even sell me a ticket let alone hire me. Next!