The Nature of the Business

I mentioned that I had a few appointments on Monday. One of them was an audition. It was for a Fringe show- probably my fifth or sixth Fringe show audition just this month. I am desperate to act in a show that is part of this festival. I am in love with it. I don’t even know why, but I am in love with it. This one was a unpaid, student-written, student-directed piece. Since I’m on my own now, I’m trying to shy away from unpaid stuff, but that’s hard, for a couple of reasons- 1) lots of work is unpaid, 2) I don’t mind doing unpaid work because I just want to act, but 2a) I should spend that unpaid rehearsal time at work, making money and 2b) I have been forbidden by the head of the theatre department at my alma mater to take community theatre shows, which unpaid work generally is. When I see a casting call that lists a part for me, I have to make myself look and see if it’s paid, and then spend awhile talking myself out of going if it’s not. I seriously just want to perform.

So anyway. Even though it was unpaid and student-done anything aren’t always regarded as the best, I wanted this show. Beyond it being part of the Fringe, I loved the script. I was sent two sides for my audition and kept reading them over and over and had a great time marking them up and thinking up things I could do. One of them was a real challenge, asking the actor to have a seizure mid-monologue. I was scared of this, but still, I loved the scene.

I went into the audition and though I was pretty nervous, I was also feeling good. I felt like I knew what I was doing, and the audition got off to an amazing start. The writer was the one running the audition, helped by a few other students, and she opened with, “Tell me about yourself and your education and what sorts of roles you’ve done!” I hate these sorts of questions. I know they’re asking for me to run through my resume, but I just can’t seem to figure out a way to do so without feeling awkward about it. I actually have a very good resume with an impressive variety of things on it, but I absolutely hate those people who run through their resume when they meet you, and I don’t want to be that person, even when asked. But I did it, and ended with telling her that I was a Creative Writing minor. “And the only reason I bring that up,” I said. “Is because I love this script because of the writing. It’s what really made me want to audition for this show.” She was thrilled and we ended up having a really great conversation about scriptwriting and where the characters could go. I told her that her writing made me feel everything the character was talking about in the scenes; I felt like I didn’t have to do any work at all, because the emotions were in the words. I was able to heard the two girls before me reading the scenes, and they were all so flat and unexcited, when, to me, the words made me want to do cartwheels around the space.

I got my chance to prove this right after I said it. I chose to do the more monologue-y one first, like the other girls had done. This was the crazy exuberant scene, and also the one in which the seizure happens. I climbed up on chairs. I jumped around. By the end of the scene, I was on the floor in tears. It felt great, and after a second, one of the guys in the corner said, “I really liked that.” “Me too,” the writer agreed. “It’s great to see someone take a risk.”

I was so happy to hear this; one of my problems as an actor is being unwilling to take risks- I prefer to stay in my comfort zone- but with script, I felt like what I did was absolutely what was needed, and they seemed to agree. I moved on to the more scene-y scene, which is super fun even on the page. It was more difficult than I anticipated simply because the reader was a little inexpressive, but still, I had fun. When I finished that, the writer said, “You have such an awesome, powerful quality to your voice. You’re really watchable.” HOORAY! They said they’d let me know within a week or two and then I left.

Okay, I have to say it- I was 99% sure that I was going to get this part. I can remember feeling that way only once before in my life, where I knew I had done well in an audition, where I got a fantastic response, and where I had the confidence that I rarely allow myself to say, “That was great.” I gave a very, very good audition for this show, and the only reason I can’t add that last 1% to my surety is because I know that if I get cocky, the universe will take my part away from me. So when I checked my e-mail while waiting for the subway home this afternoon and saw that it was the audition results, instead of plummeting to the floor as it usually does, my heart rose with hope. I was going to be on that list, I knew it.

I was not on the list.

It’s not a cast list, not yet- it’s just the callback list. But it’s pretty clear  from the e-mail that these (very few) people are the ones they’re going to consider for the roles.

I’ve been in the theatre world for too long to be stomping around crying, “WHAT DID I DO WRONG?!” (though believe me, I’m still thinking it.) I don’t know if I did anything wrong. I never will. But it’s still really frustrating when you know you gave a good audition and nothing comes of it. It’s even more frustrating when it’s for a show you fell in love with. I fall hard for stuff, and then it’s pretty hard to let them go when I don’t get the part.

I keep thinking, and everyone keeps telling me, that with all these auditions I’m going on, my chances of getting a role are greater. Something is bound to happen. But I don’t know… because the thing about theatre is that theatre owes nothing to anyone. And there are a lot of “anyones” running around that deserve a whole lot more than they’re getting and an equal or great number of “anyones” getting a whole lot more than they deserve, with no rhyme or reason for either.

Being discouraged is not something I enjoy, and that’s not how I’d label the way I’m feeling right now. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. I have the wild fantasy that they’ll realize a week before the show that I was the perfect actor for the part and they’ll call me up and say they NEED me. To me, discouraged means that you’re inching toward throwing in the towel. I’m not. If I were, I’d be in trouble, because this is the life I’ve chosen for myself and the life I want to lead. It’s always going to be this way- I’ll lose parts I really, really want. I’ll lose parts I don’t care about. But if going to college and not getting cast until my senior year, in a dream role that I worked really hard to get, has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes, it’s a really long wait before you finally get what you’ve been working for.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Caleb Wimble
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 00:52:20

    Hang in there, there are just so many factors involved in a director’s mental image of a role (even for Fringe shows) that it can be near impossible to predict success or failure based on feelings right after an audition. Keep on keeping on!

    On the note of being “forbidden by the head of the theatre department at my alma mater to take community theatre shows,” may I respectfully say that’s absolute hogwash as advice for a freshly graduated actor? Granted, some community theatre qualifies as a lower circle of hell wherein which talentless would-be high school director hacks attempt to micromanage a “movie” out of an overdone play with little to no understanding of how to work with actors, but the same can be said of many PROFESSIONAL theatre companies, to say nothing of Fringe shows (which can be brilliant or far bigger disasters than the worst community theatre). And there is very much such a thing as good, and even great community theatre. One of my greatest acting experiences since graduation has been with the Arden Shakespeare Gild, which has been incredibly fulfilling in getting the opportunity to work with veteran players who have not only an excellent understanding of the material but, in many cases, years or even lifetimes of experience on stage as part of a highly gifted community. I can tell you categorically that a number of my co-stars in that massive production are every bit as talented (and in some cases more so) as any industry “pros” I’ve seen or worked with in other Philly venues.

    Regardless, on some level experience is experience is experience, and I cannot tell you the difference a year of “collecting” parts – including some community theatre – has made both for me in my personal growth and for the reaction I get from casting directors looking over my resumé. “Wow, you’ve worked with all these companies? *When* did you graduate again?” It makes a difference, both educationally and vocationally.


  2. Rachel
    Jun 22, 2012 @ 03:09:24

    I think the point our esteemed (and I say that with no sarcasm at all) head of department is making for me in particular (and he has said this) is that I have incredibly recently had a breakthrough that made such a difference in my acting, and he’s afraid that if I go back to community theatre, I’ll be dragged back into my bad habits. As weird as that might sound, I do understand it; it was only after my breakthrough that I recognized how unchallenged I was by community theatre. I mean that in the least snobbish way possible; basically, I was good enough that I barely got any direction because the directors had bigger problems. At that point in my growth, I didn’t realize that I could play. I just figured that no notes/direction meant that I was doing exactly what they wanted me to do and kept doing everything the exact same way every time. It wasn’t laziness- I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, and I am nothing if not consistent. But this year, I’ve learned that it’s not only acceptable and encouraged for an actor to keep playing during rehearsals and (to a point) performances, it’s part of doing your job. This isn’t encouraged in many community theatres because it’s not so much a part of their process (at least in my experience.) So I do understand it to that point.
    That being said, I’m not one to turn my nose up at community theatre all the time at this point in my career, especially if they’re doing a play I desperately want to be involved with. What I’ve taken to doing is assessing whether it would be worth my time (for example, a community company was doing my favorite play in the world, where I’d get to play my dream role. However, I would have to commute two hours each way for every rehearsal and, having worked with that company before, I was not a fan of the “talent” they attracted. So even though it was my favorite play, I said no.) I do look at many community theatre auditions and think what our department head would say about my going, but mostly I’m assessing the opportunity it would be for me. If it’s a role that will help me grow or, better, a role I’ve always wanted to play, then I’m going to go, community or not. I think community theatre can be a great place to try things out. A few summers ago, I played Portia in Merchant of Venice at a community theatre. I was ridiculously, unbelievably awful, but it was my first ever attempt at Shakespeare, and while I was pretty terrible, I learned a lot and wasn’t putting my career at risk. (All I can say is, thank God we don’t have to put how good we were at the roles on our resume.)
    And I agree with you about the talent. While Philadelphia is chock full of amazingly gifted actors, there are also professionals on the other end of the spectrum. As another actor said to me recently, “You don’t have to be talented to have your Equity card.”


  3. Katie
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 08:39:13

    I think I’m starting to relate to this post (the really-cool-job seems to have not even read my resume and I’m trying to avoid docent work since it only benefits to get a name on the list, not useable experience for me or money, especially money, and even then it’s freakishly hard to get cool docent work, since I have zero art history. The only reason I can tell anything about Monet is because of Doctor Who)

    Re: Merchant- the only thing that stick out to me about that performance is that I was terrified my mom’s car was going to roll down that the slope, nothing about your performance being awful. (that sounds weird… but I think you get what I mean).


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