Tuesday, July 11, 2006

anatomy of an audition

I was seen for the role of Caroline in the London company of Caroline, or Change for The Roundabout Theater on Monday. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the production on Broadway but the music sounds like a soulful operetta (almost all of it is sung), very rangy, with lots of jazz moments that reminded me of Porgy and Bess. So lush, so beautiful. I picked up the audition material on Friday and got lost in it, in spite of the fact that I had to gig all weekend. I went into the audition knowing that I had done all that I could but wishing that I had done more. The music was too layered and dense for a finished performance in the audition. It made sense to give them the arc of what they wanted.

When I showed up, it was empty except for the accompanist, who was sitting in the waiting room. I’m 15 minutes late. I change my shoes and sprint to the toilet while I have the chance – oddly enough, you have to walk through the audition room to get to it. When I came out, they were ready for me – they being Jim Carnahan, who sat behind a long table and spoke to me warmly before I sang “Lot’s Wife.” When I finished, he stood up abruptly, saying, I’ll be right back, and left the room. The accompanist and I looked at each other. I rhetorically asked, what was that about? He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, I don’t know but you were fantastic. We introduced ourselves and began to chat. Suddenly, Jim burst into the room, dismissed the accompanist, nodded in my direction and said, come with me. We went down a flight of stairs and through a door that opened directly onto another audition room, identical to the last. This time, I sang for the MD, a sweet-faced woman whose voice I recognized immediately from the CD I was given to learn the music. We shook hands like fast friends. After I sing “Lot’s Wife” she looks at me as if she’s seeing me for the first time and says, your voice is amazing. She gives me notes, has me sing it again. We review the other material. All of a sudden, I’m done, I’m dismissed, I’m thanking them for their time, they’re thanking me for mine and Stephen is following me to the elevator as I make a hasty exit. I remember Stephen from the audition for “At Least It’s Pink!” from a few weeks ago. As I’m standing by the elevator thinking, I’m not sure if that’s ever happened to me, an audition and a callback in the same day, Stephen asks if I’m doing anything later that afternoon. I’m like, no, I’m free. He says, can you come in to sing for Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori at 4:30pm. I say, sure. I make sure I say it in this really polite way. And I make sure that I’m a little flat about it, like I’m slightly preoccupied because I’m so freaked out. I think I casually asked if George was going to be there. And then I left.

Rarely ever does anything move fast enough for me, ever. In one afternoon, I’ve had an audition and two callbacks. What in the ABC Wide World of Sports is going on?!

I can’t think about it too much. I change my shoes in the elevator, from high heels to flip flops -- i don't know why, but when i wear the "right heels," i sound better. i go to Jeniette Salon because they have a really great deal on Mondays for a manicure/pedicure (only $27!) and I’m thinking that having someone rub my hands and feet will take the edge off. It doesn’t. My friend takes me out for dim sum in Chinatown. It’s fantastic. Afterwards, we get Chinese ice cream and sit in the park with the old men playing their strange Chinese checkers betting game while I dream out loud. He’s happy for me, for the good job that I’ve done. And he means it. He even says that no matter what happens, we’ll work it out. My going away for a long time doesn’t mean that everything has to fall apart. I look at him like I’m seeing him for the first time and I begin to wonder just how dumb my luck really is.

The next thing I know, I’m back on that couch, waiting to be seen. I’m 15 minutes early. There are two ahead of me. I lose myself in my book – Marshall Chapman’s southern fried bio Goodbye Little Rock and Roller -- and in short order, I’m back in that room. The first thing out of Jeanine Tesori’s mouth as she shakes my hand is, I’m a huge fan. She saw Harlem Song and she loved my opening monologue. It was trippy, watching her move her arms through the air, affecting my poses as i strolled. Wow. Tony Kushner is adorable. He says his partner thinks we may have gone to high school together -- but no, no such luck. Jeanine mentioned that before I came in, George Wolfe called and I ended up blurting out that I had a crush on him while we were working together. For a minute there, we were all very chatty. It was the just right environment to open up and sing and be vulnerable. I told them the entire process was like trying to eat a turkey in one bite, which made everyone in the room laugh in agreement. And then just like that, it was over. I was walking in the sun with a feeling of confidence welling up in me and all I could think was, I did the best I could.

Like I told my manager on Friday when he was telling me otherwise on my cell while I was at the Starbucks watching Matt Dillon fend off those two unwashed masses – doing my best doesn’t mean that I’ll get the part. Doing my best doesn’t mean that I’ll get anything at all. There are so many variables involved when it comes to getting cast in anything that how much talent you have sometimes comes in dead last. and theater ain't like film or commercials. you can be in a film and not know how to act. case in point? matt dillon got his first movie because he cut school and a casting agent saw him and thought he looked right for a role. or what about robert downey, jr? after years of working steadily in hollywood, he found an acting coach and asked him to teach him how to act when he was cast in chaplin. with plays and musicals, you have to not only know what you're doing, you really have to have presence to pull it off. you have to be five times better than anyone, especially if you're black, because there are so many actors and even fewer parts. white actors loooooove to complain about how little work there is but it's actually not true. not from where i'm sitting, anyway. and no matter how they slice it, there's way less work for actors of color. way less.

ah, but it felt so good, to leave that room knowing that I did a great job. That's why there's no need to second-guess myself or wonder through the moments, reliving each one and wondering "what if" -- oh, no. I won't even be sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. It's out of my hands. The end.

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