Auditioning:  The People in the Room

But we try to anticipate and try to prepare for a long day but more and more the scene in the city is getting less and less attractive… and that’s on a good day. Once upon a decade ago I could show up for an open call around the starting time and be seen before lunch. Since being lucky enough to enjoy representation I’ve often been able to book audition appointments, and sometimes when others are coming for call backs but don’t count on the time slot being set in stone. Part of the audition process is also the impression we make on the monitor and often the CD will play that part in the initial calls, so behave. Allow for a long wait just in case, for as our harder times trickle down making ever more theaters cut back, the audition day is more of an ordeal than I remember…and again, that’s if we’re lucky. The audition is the most bizarre of any way in any time we have to perform.

When I think back on my decade and change as a professional actor, I do have to concede that I’ve been jolly lucky for the gigs I’ve had because, as my colleagues tell me, I guess I do work a lot. Nevertheless every day out of work, even from the comfort of a long time family home, drags time out worse than a ten of twelve from an inner Circle of Hell. Rehearsing, previews, opening and then the run all go by so quickly, even with a long run, but every second between gigs is its own Twilight Zone of tedium. The longer we’re out of work the harder it can be to get into that room and give it our all… for sixteen bars—if we’re lucky. I may have had better luck than some but I don’t discount that being a grown up hasn’t helped me some days. I don’t want pity, I want the job, but I’m not so proud as to not accept folks feeling sorry for me to get me a better spot in the line before the People in the Room get tired and cranky.

My first pro audition was a national cattle call for the NDTA, and yes I not only still miss you, but I wish whoever runs your site would answer emails. I’ve also done SETC and UPTA and for me, playing the big room with all those producers and casting directors is always more like being on a stage so once I get my turn I’m generally at ease. Well, I am a ham who sometimes carries extra cloves in my pockets. For me it is in The Room with the table of but a few people when I find some angst, even some nerves beforehand. Again, I’m lucky being a grown up character man because I don’t often see a lot of other grown up competition, but when I do it’s funny to see how we size each other up, especially at a callback round.

I came into the city on my days off from one show for an audition for a national tour. One of the producers, who was a co-casting director saw me and worked with me, coached me for better than half an hour. It was grand and except for the plane fare and the hotel a free master class in audition prep, getting me ready for The Room the next day. When I got there I was one of nine middle-aged men of different height, hair and hulk. Guess there are only nine character man types. I didn’t get the tour, but for a bit of time I could land an appointment for an audition from them, and why not since is another story, but for now I figure being a grown up who works on maintaining a rep of being polite and personable has worked for me. I mean being petty, pissy and pouty takes so much effort and I like to pace myself.

Still, no matter how ready and psyched I am, some days there is nothing more unsettling than going into The Room, however big or small and trying to figure out who’s who and what’s really going on. Sometimes The People in the Room take a break and are wandering around the holding area or hallway and sometimes I might be noticed as a full-figured middle aged chap tends to stand out from the fit twenty-something set.  That’s been more than helpful a few times. Last year I was the only non-agile-twenty-something at a call for a summer theatre. Even with typing there was little chance of everybody there getting from Holding Room into The Room… Maybe I reminded the monitor of a favorite uncle, I don’t know, but I was the very last one seen. “Hello,” I said as I entered. “Hey, a grown up!” and got a nice laugh. I got to do two 16 bar selections. I didn’t get it but being remembered down the road works for me. They just haven’t remembered… yet... At a more recent call that packed Nola to the gills, as if it isn’t always a crowd scene there, one of the Room People noticed me as I sat patiently waiting and waiting. Really, I had nowhere to go that wasn’t going to cost money so I stayed and sat and saw a few colleagues from many previous gigs and that helped. Hugs ever help. As my section was being lined up for what might be slaughter we got the news from a still amazingly perky monitor, “OK, guys, give it all you’ve got with your best 8!” Bloody hell. How do I do the math now? Inside the room the chap who’d noted my presence over the morning through now early afternoon was at the piano. As I tried to show him the cut I hoped would work he pointed to the first bar and said, “Let’s start here and see what happens.” Thank you! Didn’t get that either but nice to be treated like a human being by another grown up.

One time I had booked an audition for a role in a show I’ve since done many times in several places and can see making a nice niche for myself playing him over and over. Yet, I was a bit nervy before going in but when I did, I knew the accompanist! He’d been my MD on a very long tour. He stood up, the handshake became a hug and he introduced me to the table. Then he said, “Remember that story I told you at dinner last night? This is that guy.” It must have been a good story because I got a laugh for nothing. Then he started playing my song and about three bars in he stopped. “I’m sorry, MJ, I’m playing in the wrong key. Let’s start again,” and we did. Now I have to say I didn’t notice what key he was playing and I’m pretty sure we were in the same one but after I think I knew that part of the story must have been—“MJ doesn’t fluster”. Thanks, Maestro. I did get that one.

Auditioning for my first tour I was in the city for the callback round. I read a character man scene with about a dozen different young ladies. Same two and a half pages, so by girl three or four I was off book. Hey, it was adapted from a movie I already knew well so no big deal for me. In the hallway, the gal who I ended up doing that scene with many times on the road said to me, “You must be in the running because you’re the only one here for that part.” “Could be, or the guy they’ve hired is busy today,” and the monitor laughed and went into The Room. I think I heard a laugh behind the closed door. Everything at an audition counts. But what to do to focus before The Room beckons? How may I get on point and bring up my very best? Well, I do say a few prayers, that’s for sure and I do my breathing exercises to relax but focus and if it will get me a commercial, 5 Hour Energy Shots too, but it’s more personal than that. I ask myself as I’m on deck, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Beat. “I don’t get the job.” Beat. “Do I already have the job?” Beat. “No.” Beat. “Well, then, there’s nothing to lose.” The door opens as the previous actor exits. Time to enter. Beat. “No prisoners!”


# Ken
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 2:05 AM
Love these stories of auditions and being on the road. Please keep em coming on a regular basis MJ
# Melanie
Wednesday, August 31, 2011 11:23 AM
I love this! It helped me so much and made me remind myself of many things. You just never know!
MJJ Cashman
# MJJ Cashman
Saturday, September 03, 2011 7:35 PM
Thanks for the kind words, guys, it really means a lot. I guess every bad day I have ahead can at least turn into a page or two here. MJJC

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