as i was leaving an audition last week for a regional production of AIDA with terrence, i saw an AEA women singers call on the board for The Color Purple and terrence goes, why aren't you in that show? and i thought to myself: if i had a nickel for everytime somebody said that to me in the past six months, i could buy a brownstone. so i signed the list -- #66 -- i made a mental note about it, stuck it in my calendar and forgot about it. of course, the audition blindsided me the morning that i was to go in, when it finally dawned on me that i would really do 16 bars of something for their musical director. but what?
as i was mulling this over, the phone rings. it's a commercial agent i freelance with, telling me about an audition for a verizon print ad. just show up anytime between 12pm and 6pm. as i jot down the information, i'm thinking this sounds easy. too easy.
and then my palm pilot reminded me that i had another audition that day with a big window of its own -- 2pm to 9pm -- for jazzmobile's vocal competition, at harlem school of the arts. That was supposed to be 16 bars, too but they wanted a jazz standard.
sounds like a simple, straightforward "sing 16 bars and leave" kind of day, doesn't it. nothing could have been farther from the truth.
i figured i had plenty of time to get through the other two auditions because the window of opportunity was so wide open, so i show up at The Color Purple audition site first. it was packed. there were beautiful well-dressed black women everywhere -- chatting, laughing and carrying on. i didn't know that i was supposed to be there 30 minutes before call time, to get my number so by the time i showed up, they had already handed it to someone else. "i didn't know that," i sputtered to the equity monitor, who cackled, "oh, you've never done this before?" well, actually, i had -- but i was non-union then. i know all about packing a lunch and bringing a book and sitting all day and not being seen. i ended up with #81. there were quite a few memorable moments that happened all at once: the collective groan that went up when the monitor announced that they wouldn't be seeing any non-equity performers that day; the second collective groan that went up right behind it when he came back out to say that they didn't want to hear any music from the show; and of course, all of the people i saw that i hadn't run into in years, like helen g. who got married and has three kids, and denise du maine who can dance her face off. but i digress.
after sitting around for more than two hours, i realized that i wouldn't make my second audition with verizon, so i went to the monitor, explained what was going on and asked him if i could go in with the next group. he told me that i should go to the other audition and when i came back, he would make sure that i would be seen. so i jumped in a cab and off i went to 26th and 10th. when the elevator doors swung open, all i could see was a sea of well-dressed people of every ilk and variety. no children. lots of old people. quite a few babies. i jumped in line, filled out a form and signed in as #523. they were taking people in 4 at a time and it still took an hour to be seen. and all i could think was, am i going to make it back to The Color Purple before the audition closes?
so i jump in a cab and go back to the audition site at 37th & 8th. sure enough, there are three people ahead of me, waiting to go in. i made it by the skin of my teeth. when i walked in and put my book on the piano, i had an idea. instead of flipping it open to whatever song i was to sing and handing it to the pianist (who was remarkably young and fresh-faced), i asked the musical director and the casting agent if they'd heard a blues song all day. both of their faces brightened as they said no, they hadn't. so i sang stormy monday. and strangely, they let me get through the whole song. no 16 bars "thank you, we've heard enough" there. hm.
so i jumped on the A which got me to 145th and St. Nicholas in a flash. i walk 4 blocks down to harlem school of the arts and go inside to an absolute herd of people, all of them dressed up, milling about, clutching sheet music. they said they'd only take the first 100 people that day. i was -- you guessed it! -- #100. i killed time by going upstairs and surprising kelvyn bell in his office. brilliant guitarist. i worked with him a lot when i first came to nyc. when i checked on him a few years ago, he was teaching there. now he's the director of the program. crazy. we did a severe amount of catching up and then he bounced around 7pm or so. i actually waited until 9pm but i didn't get seen so i came back the next day.
when i met my friend for dinner that night and told him what i'd been doing all day, he said, "i could never do what you do. i could never wait like that." tom petty is right. the waiting is the hardest part.
that's not what usually happens at auditions, though.
i went back to the harlem school for the arts the next day at 3pm and -- surprise! -- i was #2. things were looking up. but not really. i'd recieved some horrible news that morning and i couldn't shake it. a friend who had found a new lease on life had died in a motorcycle accident some months shy of his 40th birthday. i think i carried him into my audition. i sang "On The Sunnyside of the Street" -- a nice bouncy upbeat little tune -- but i raged my way through it, with an intensity to each phrase that gave all of it another meaning that seemed to permeate the very walls of the room.
imagine it: three older black people sitting at a table filled with paperwork. i could look at them and tell that they thought i was a kid that knew nothing, certainly nothing about jazz. and well, why shouldn't they think that? most kids don't. there is the lady who walked me into the room, sitting on the couch by the door -- the organizer. there is some non-descript black girl standing around in the back, assisting someone no doubt. there is the pianist larry ham, whom i already knew and had worked way too many crummy gigs with. when i saw him, i thought, wow. do i know everybody in this town or what. larry is the kind of all-purpose pianist that you call out tunes and keys to, and he plays them flawlessly. he didn't even look at my lead sheet. i tilted my head towards him and i said, you got this, right? and he nodded. i mean, really. when you've played it 19 jillion times, it ain't rocket science. that's when one of the older black folks said good-naturedly, "count it off, now." and i realized, i'm never going to be one of those people that walks into a room and everyone assumes that i'm a bad-ass. i'm always going to have to prove it. the thing is, i don't mind -- because i can. but there are moments when this kind of thing is internally exhausting some other part of me. and this is one of them. but there was something more.
it was such a happy song and i was so morose. that contrast initially must have thrown them. but then i sang it with a fervor that left them wondering. and then i left.
my friend is over my audition process. he understands that talent doesn't mean employment or opportunity. plenty of talented people go begging. plenty of untalented people work all the time. whenever i go into an audition and do a great job, all i can really think is, well -- if i don't get it, it won't be because i wasn't good enough. and i leave it at that.
this time, something else happened. late last night, i got a call from the lady organizer. they chose me. i'm a finalist.