Nowadays a lot of video submissions are accepted, and yes, we do have to get up and sing, act or even dance, but it’s in the comfort and safety of our own territory with generally a friendly face behind the lens. Sometimes we did audition for the hiring party some time ago and made an impression but there was nothing in their season for someone of our particular specs. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing like an unexpected email or phone call that wants to know what open time I might have.
The first time this happened I was at a dinner theatre doing Titanic and it would have been a great effort and expense to get to the NDTA auditions and back with very tight time. Yes, NDTA, I still miss you but I’m starting to see other cattle calls now. I sat down at my laptop with my dial up via payphone in Actors’ Housing connection and pulled up the attending theatres. Figuring the best excuse to not be there was because I was working and the schedule wouldn’t allow me to travel a time zone away, I examined who would be at the call and what their seasons would be. Anything of interest, even remote interest to me, I sent them P&R with a short cover email. I must have sent out twenty-five to thirty of these. About a week later, a few days after the auditions had been held, I heard back from three companies. One was very interested.
As the days went along this one theatre’s associate producer, who’d be directing some of the shows had seen me audition the year before when he was representing another company and had remembered me. We talked and he made me the offer. Same money I was making at the dinner theatre, and a decade ago OK money, but the big thing was the roles I would get to play: Warbucks in Annie, Grandpa in You Can’t Take It With You, Ben Rumson in Paint Your Wagon and Tevye. Tevye? MJ gets to play Tevye? I thought I’d have to own a theatre company before that happened. There was another role too in a George M. Cohan scored hodgepodge of a musical but I am slowly forgetting all about that dog of a show. I later found out that a good friend of mine, who’d directed me in a few of my earlier shows, had turned down the gig. In fact I got a few gigs thanks to him turning them down. Thanks, Joe. I had the best summer since I was ten. I also worked my ass off but learned more doing those shows in rep than I could have learned anywhere else. As to playing Tevye, the audiences were ever kind but I also remembered something I’d heard on TV when I was a kid. George Jessel, who was once the Toast Master General of the USA, and famous for giving the eulogy for just about everyone who died in Hollywood from the 1940’s on was on The Tonight Show when Carson was still in NYC. Johnnie asked if he’d seen whoever it was in Fiddler, because everyone was saying he was the best Tevye yet. Jessel took out his cigar and said, “They said that about Herschel Bernardi when he took over for Zero Mostel then about Harry Goz. They say that about everyone because it is such a good part you could put a beard on Nixon and they’d say he was the best Tevye ever!” I got a lot less nervous. Besides, that was the summer I met my Wunderkind and acquired more bastard sons than any other gig I’ve had yet. Yes, the best summer since I’d been ten.
For me my favorite way to get a gig is when the casting people have seen me in something. I love knowing certain parties are out front when I’m doing a show and I’m ever glad to let theatres know when I’ll be playing nearby or my tour will be a short drive from their venue. When I had some help in uploading some things to YouTube more people got a chance to see me and the better Online PR Sites have a deal on videos. I’ve got a to do list to add once my next show opens and I have the help of proper young adult supervision to get this old man’s stuff up and running. The way my hardcopy or Word Doc resume is formatted I not only list my directors but also the producer or artistic director of the company. In short, I’m inviting one and all to check my references. Folks who run theatres know other folks who run theatres and they talk to each other and I know a few offers came after phone calls were made.
When I do have to go into The Room it’s always nice having a friendly and familiar face as the monitor. Sometimes the producer will even allow me to come in on the callback day to be seen, at least in places I’ve worked before or my agent has as usual done her job for both of us. Doing a Christmas show a few years back a colleague pointed out the casting call for replacements for a tour of Camelot. The call would be in NYC after the first of the year. One of my show biz bastard sons was on the tour as TD and would be monitor for the auditions. When I got there I noticed a few other geezers waiting. My pal went in The Room to spy for me. He came back out shook his head, gave thumbs down and me a wink. Thanks, kid, any nerves I had were going away and fast. Inside The Room I saw the producer, who’d been the boss from a previous tour and remembered me as not only not being a problem but a peacemaker. I read and was asked to go out and come back in after someone else was seen again. When I came back in I’d taken to heart the notes the director gave me and had a lot of fun contrasting Merlin and Pellinore vocally. I read the sides again. Got some notes and read again and got some good laughs. Producer asked the director, “Do you want to hear it again?” The director came back with, “Heavens no! One more time and it will be a full performance,” so I smiled quietly and after some small talk checking on my contact info left the room. My lad the monitor gave me a hug.
Like knowing the accompanist, already having a rapport with the producer or having a friend as an inside guy, these can add up to making the audition experience less hellish than we sometimes make it for ourselves. What I would like to remind myself is that these advantages are not always going to help. I’ve not got a few gigs because the expense of out of town talent was a budget consideration in these tough times. I’ve nailed my laughs in the room but it turned out they didn’t see the character as funny, or as MJ sort of funny. Oh well. There’ve been times when The Room was filled with strangers and I got my laughs and got the gig because I wanted, I mean really wanted that part and that somehow reads. If I could just get out of my own way more often I’d have a lot more fun getting in and out of The Room. That’s what we all need to do: forget anything except how much we really, really want the gig, go in The Room, take no prisoners and get the gig.