King(s) of New York: Newsies Auditions

In March, I found a casting notice for Newsies in the actors’ newspaper Backstage. I wrote it in my planner, but assumed I wouldn’t go, since, due to not being seen at open calls for the past two years, I don’t go to them anymore. But my acting career has been slow and one night at the end of April, I was talking to my friend Kaitlin who said, “I want to be an actress NOW. Someone cast me in a Broadway show…” Kaitlin happens to be a HUGE fan of Newsies, so I mentioned the audition. She was very excited and it was basically decided then that we were going to go together.

Fast-forward to Thursday, five days before the big audition. I had a callback for a musical and my throat was feeling rather scratchy. I was very annoyed; the NYC plans were already made, the tickets had been bought and the hotel paid for, and, if my allergies were acting up as usual, I wouldn’t have a voice by Monday, the audition day. On Friday, I woke up super achy, but still had to teach for six hours. I felt progressively worse as the day went on, and when I got home, I took a shower, fell into bed, and did not move except to eat dinner. Saturday morning, I was in so much pain that I cried. I had planned to so some serious scriptwork for Time Stands Still, and I attempted to do so, but that only led to me shivering in a cafe because a fever had started up. I took to my bed and there I stayed until Sunday afternoon when I could finally move my limbs. And while it sucked that I had some sort of flu-plague (which as of two hours ago was diagnosed as bronchitis), it does not affect my singing voice like allergies do.

By Monday, I was feeling much better. I rose at 6:45 to get ready and was at Kaitlin’s house by 8:20. Even though our bus to the city wasn’t until noon, there were no trains from her town after 9 am, so we did what we could. We ate breakfast while waiting for our bus and made good time into the city once we departed. I took Kaitlin to Pret a Manger, a sandwich shop that fed me most days when I was in London and has now, to my delight, migrated to NYC. After dropping off our bags at our hotel (the awesome European pseudo-hostel that I stayed in in January) and changing out of our rain boots, we hit the subway again to get to the Strand, an awesome three-story bookshop that Molly told me about. We both spent WAY too much money there; I got three books and one play, and Kaitlin got more than that. For dinner, we hit up Ellen’s Stardust Diner, famous for its singing waitstaff. They have great food too, but my bronchitis had stolen my appetite, so instead of having the cheeseburger and fries that I wanted, I had lentil soup. NOT THE SAME. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was about ten, so we took our showers and got ready to rise very early the next morning.

At 5 a.m., the alarm rang. At 5 a.m., the only thing going through my head is WHY: “Why am I up this early? Why is any actor up this early? Actors work at night. This is morning. Why don’t we just go back to sleep and shop later (much later)? Why did we think this was a good idea?” But I had not paid to stay in a New York City hotel to go shopping. I had done so to audition for Newsies. So I rolled out of bed and heard Kaitlin grumbling all the things I had been thinking from the top bunk and turned on the light. She grumbled louder and I promised her that if she got out of bed, we’d stop at Starbucks before getting in line. By 5:45, we were out the door, headed for the subway. We stopped at the promised Starbucks and then made our way to casting company office.

Let me explain something before I go on: it is customary for actors to show up to open calls hours before the call actually starts. But that does NOT mean that the office is open then; it’s not. Which means that we are voluntarily lining up on the sidewalk with nowhere to sit, sometimes in terrible weather conditions. We got lucky on that day, though- not only was it not raining or anything like that, it was also pretty warm for 6:30 a.m., which is when Kaitlin and I joined the line. We were #3 and #4. My plan had paid off: unless a thousand Equity actors showed up, we were going to be seen (keep in mind, though, that a thousand Equity actors showing up is ENTIRELY possible in this economic climate and career field.)

While we were waiting outside, someone in line got smart and started the non-Equity list, which would ensure that those of us who got there first, would be seen first. According to the actor who started it, they HADN’T made up a list the day before and it was a madhouse. Kaitlin was worried that people would try to cut ahead anyway, but, as I explained to her, actors, in these situations, are generally pretty nice to each other. We all know what the others are going through and we appreciate that people rose earlier than us to get in line first. Though we all can be pretty cutthroat, we have our moments of caring, and they often come out at auditions (but still, watch your back…)

Though the audition didn’t start until ten, a nice office worker let us come up to the office around eight, where there were chairs and bathrooms. While Kaitlin and I had gotten pretty in our hotel room, most of the girls had the right idea of coming in their sweats and making themselves presentable in the bathroom mirror. Kaitlin and I took turns freaking out. It was her first Broadway audition, so she was very nervous. I generally don’t get nervous at open calls until it’s my turn to go in, because being nervous for six hours of waiting is kind of pointless. But that day, I had my bronchitis, and it was getting worse by the hour. It was at the point, by 9 am, that normal things like getting up and walking across the room or laughing would wind me, and that did not bode well for my super-belty song that I had chosen to sing pre-illness. I stressed over whether to change my song and then decided I had to- I was not going to go in there and wheeze at them. Like any good actor, I can sing any of the songs in my audition book if asked, so I handed Kaitlin my audition book and said, “Pick a song that matches Katherine’s [the character we were going for] personality, and I’ll sing that instead.” She pointed out three that would work, and I chose one that allowed me to show personality while singing in a way that didn’t involve too much deep breathing. I was still really nervous though. I know I can sing that song, but I was having issues breathing out, which is basically what singing is, and I had visions of completely choking (something literally), to the point where I nearly decided not to audition.

While we were waiting, an announcement came over the loudspeaker of our floor and told us that there was a fire drill and we all had to exit the building. Not a single person moved… because we are actors and would rather die in a fire than lose our spot in line to audition for a show.

The monitor (the person who takes actor’s names for the order of auditioning) arrived and though he was grumpy, he was competent, honoring the list we had made and shifting those of us who were Equity Membership Candidates (e.g, me) to the EMC list, which gets us in before the non-Equity people. Once the clock stuck ten, he started reading off the names of the first group of actors to audition- and I was in it! I lined up with the others and waited my turn, getting very nervous because as I tried to hum my song, I kept wheezing; I didn’t want to think what would happen when I tried to actually sing it. Also, I felt a nosebleed coming on.

When I entered the audition room, I couldn’t find the pianist. The piano was the tallest one I have ever seen, and I couldn’t even see his head over the top. Eventually I located him on the other side and gave him my music. The casting directors were super friendly, as has been my experience with this company. I introduced myself and my song and stopped myself from adding, “And I’m sorry.” The pianist played the intro of my song and I opened my mouth- and sang as well as I ever have. You would never have known that I was sick. Upon shifting into the big belty end note, I did come across as I little weak, but that could have happened in any audition (and definitely has.) The CDs were smiling and nodding and I thanked my lucky stars to have had such great vocal and theatrical training that allowed me to project in a way that not only hid the fact that I was sick, but also kept me from further injuring myself. After finishing, the CDs smiled and said, “Thank you so much, that was great. Thanks for coming in!” and then I skipped out of the room, thrilled with how it had gone. Even if I hadn’t been sick, I still would have been pleased.

After I went into the bathroom and suffered the nosebleed I had felt coming on pre-audition, Kaitlin and I waited for maybe twenty minutes before the monitor read her name off of the non-Eq list. I gave her a hug and wished her broken limbs, and when she was next in line, I went over and did it again. I watched her go in and then what seemed like three seconds later, emerge. It was so fast that I worried she had left mid-song. But as it happens, she started over once and said the CDs were super nice to her- and why not? She’s the perfect type for the part. On the elevator on the way out, I saw she was kind of tearing up. “Don’t worry,” I said. “You can cry. I cried the first time I auditioned for a Broadway show, too.”

So our plan paid off- we were seen within the first hour of auditions, the first time I’ve been seen at all at a NYC open call in two years. Sadly, I don’t have the money or the time to take two days off of work and pay for a hotel room every time there’s an open call I want to go to. But this HAS restored my faith in them a little bit. Free from our stress, Kaitlin and I went to a theatre bookshop, then got lunch, and after some celebratory froyo, we decided it was time to come home. We hopped on an early bus and were back at her house in time for dinner to talk about our adventures. NEW YORK SUCCESS!

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Aside

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