Auditions — “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
There is nothing quite like returning to the theater department after a three-month vacation. The hugs are a little snugger, the screams a little louder, the smiles a little toothier — the excitement is piqued and it is palpable. However, the genuine enthusiasm about seeing friends is clouded by the fundamental nature of our profession: competition. Theater is a competitive field, there’s no getting around it, and no one ever, ever wants to talk about it. A brilliant professor of mine once told my class that the minute we graduate from Temple, not only will our colleagues be our competition, but our professors, too. That’s a terrifying thought.
Unlike organized sport teams, there is no smack talk, no mortal enemies — for the most part — it is a very professional competition. However, that doesn’t mean that come callback time, the department doesn’t resemble that infamous scene in “Mean Girls” when the girls, in this case all actors, miraculously morph from humans to animals. We’re just professional about it. I’m getting ahead of myself, I should explain these theater words, I’m sure they sound as comprehensible as Parseltongue.
An audition is the first step to casting a show; depending on if it’s a musical or play, one will either sing a song or perform a monologue. Sadly, I’ve never auditioned for a musical at Temple — I absolutely would if they got rid of the pesky singing and dancing requirement. But, alas, it’s a “necessity.” Lip-syncing isn’t a reasonable option and using a recording of Kristen Chenoweth is frowned upon, so I’m just plain out of luck on the musical front. Broadway will have to wait. I digress.
After the preliminary auditions come the callbacks. “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy. But here’s my monologue, so call me back maybe.” Not everyone gets called back — it’s up to the director’s discretion and vision for that particular show. We go from 24 tributes to 12. When I first started auditioning for shows, not getting a callback sent me into instant Sylvia Plath mode: Life wasn’t worth living, school wasn’t worth attending. I was a talentless, useless — a leper, if you will, if I didn’t get a callback. I was having personal apocalypses on a regular basis — forget 2012.
I still recall the first time I ever auditioned for a show back in high school. It was “M*A*S*H.” I went into the auditioning room feeling like the queen of the school. I looked cute, so I thought. I had a great monologue, so I thought. And the director liked me, so I thought. What could possibly go wrong? Well. When I was doing my post-audition, check-myself-out-in-the-bathroom-mirror ritual, I turned around and — to my horror — I had a massive stain on the back of my jeans. The monthly visitor had struck again and she showed me no mercy. Needless to say, I didn’t get cast, nor did I ever wear jeans to an audition ever, ever again. Wow, it is almost as embarrassing recounting that memory now as it was then. It was so tragic.
After my “incident,” I didn’t audition again for a year and a half because I was so hideously mortified. Unfortunately, in this field of work, “bad” auditions are inevitable, just like in other fields. Sports stars have bad tryouts, businessmen have bad interviews — failure and rejection are two things that no one can escape. What is even more unfortunate is that some incredibly talented actors quit trying after a lousy audition or two — in my case, dozens.
For some actors, like myself, auditioning isn’t our strong suit, just as test-taking or interviewing or athletic tryouts aren’t other people’s strong suits. My job isn’t to be a professional “auditioner,” my job is to be an actor, an artist — auditioning is just a means to that end.
It pains me to see the new freshmen come in wide-eyed and energetic, fresh out of high school and still buzzing from the high from being the star of their high school plays, ready to conquer the Temple theater department and watch their spirits crumble into dust before the callboard when they see that they haven’t been cast in a show. I used to be that freshman — it’s devastating. I still feel that familiar pang of disappointment and failure when I haven’t been cast in a show despite my extensive efforts to thwart those feelings by hiding behind the mask of aloofness. As an actor, it is my duty, my privilege, my obligation to the art to keep trying, to keep auditioning for whatever comes my way.
When theater alumnus Kunal Nayyar – you might’ve heard of him, he’s just on this little show called “The Big Bang Theory” — came to speak to the department, something he said really resonated with me. He said that if we are actors and acting is what we want to do, what we have to do is audition for absolutely everything. Never pass up an opportunity no matter how small the project may be, or how superior or experienced we feel. If a director cares enough about a show or a scene to produce it, then we should care enough to act in it — don’t let anything be “below” us, because you never know who you might be auditioning or performing for. Morgan Freeman could be watching, Meryl Streep could be watching. Hey, you might even end up landing a role on an Emmy Award-winning television show.
Now, I claim no expertise in auditioning or acting by any means. I can only speak from personal experience. In theater, we have to learn the art of taking blows mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically. And not only enduring those blows, but also taking them with grace and recovering. Because, let’s face it, sometimes you forget your lines, sometimes you sing off-key, sometimes you aren’t prepared, sometimes you have inexplicable gas and sometimes you have a mortifying stain on your rump — all you can do is keep trying until you get exactly where you want to be. That, and don’t ever, ever wear jeans.
Until next time, I bid you farewell my dear, loyal fans.
Also, I’m still poor (help me — sad face).
Marcie Anker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.