Audition Log


groundhogs-facts

I got cut this week from a Broadway audition.  Everyone I knew got kept, except me.  I waited for the usual feelings of shame, anger, and disappointment to bubble up.  I chatted idly with one of my friends, expecting it all to creep from my subconscious into my conscious mind to depress me.

It never happened.

On the way out I saw another friend in the lobby, and I felt no emotion as I told him I had been cut.  On the train ride home, I dug deep within myself for self-pity and self-hatred.   I came up empty-handed.

I had run out of shits to give.

I wondered if I had reached an enviable state of Zen enlightenment, wherein my self-worth wasn’t determined by ability to impersonate a hedgehog.  (That was literally part of the choreography.   I have a degree, by the way.  It was expensive.)  But I didn’t feel like I’d reached Zen enlightenment.  I felt numb.  Detached.  Like I’d been through this so many times before that I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

I went home and Googled ‘burnout.’  Here’s what I found:

“Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

Boom.

The article goes on to explain that burnout is different from stress.

“Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine, though, that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.

“Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.”

Until it bites you in the ass while impersonating a groundhog.

Or maybe the groundhog was the last straw.  Whatever the reason, I am so tired of this industry.

I believe a lot of people in this industry feel burned out, but since they don’t always notice it when it’s happening, they’ve learned to accept it as a sad state of affairs.  They become increasingly hopeless, cynical and resentful.  I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill you– for example, constant rejection– makes you stronger.  I think what may not kill you will drive you crazy.   Or make you sad, angry and depressed.  Or a little of all of it.

If you let it.

The only cure for burnout, as far as I know, is to do more of the things you love.

Here’s what I love to do:  write, teach class at Physique 57, take Delilah to the pool and to the park, cook and eat dinner with my family, drink wine, catch up on TV, read.

So that’s what I intend to do until this bout of burnout passes, until I find a project I’m excited about.  Actually, I have one:  I’ve been cast in a play in Morristown, one of my favorite places in New Jersey.  It runs January through February.  The theatre is in a museum on a road lined with mansions.  The play is part ghost story, part black comedy.  (There’s been a murder in a Victorian manor on a snowy night.)  I’m excited because instead of singing and dancing, I get to say lines on stage, which, truly, has always been my strength.  But I’m also looking forward to just chilling with my family over the holidays.   To not putting myself into positions where I feel depleted.  I don’t want to not care about a Broadway show.  But I also know that life is more than a series of shows and auditions.  And that I have more to offer the world than my impersonation of a groundhog.  Thank God.

Plus, it’s incredibly freeing to finally run out of fucks to give.

 

 

 

I checked my wallet for a Metrocard left over from my last trip to New York.  I wasn’t sure if I had one, and not having one would mean I had literally lost my status as a card-carrying New Yorker.  It would signify a change in my city girl status from ‘displaced’ to ‘former.’

Last Thursday I was back in the City for little more than 24 hours, landing at JFK at 11:PM Tuesday and departing at 6:AM Saturday.  I was auditioning for a new Flaherty/Ahrens musical going up at the Kennedy Center, a well-paying gig directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.  It was a good reason to return, almost justifying the expense of the last-minute plane ticket.  But in my eagerness I’d forgotten that “emergency” trips to New York were almost never a good idea.  Without time to prepare, without enough sleep, and with so many hours in transit, on audition day, my usually-reliable voice cracked on the third note.  I started over, but I’d already blown the audition.  In this industry, you have to be 100% all the time in order to be competitive.

But  remarkably I left my crap audition feeling better than I would have in years past.  After all, I had done my best, given the circumstances.  And I have other things in my life right now, like, I don’t know, a baby, and I couldn’t work myself into a state of despair and self-loathing the way I used to.  I just shrugged it off.  I should have remembered that when it comes to auditions, there really aren’t any emergencies.  There will always be another opportunity.

What there isn’t is another New York.  When I returned last summer I found the place stultifying and overwhelming.  This time I found it familiar and friendly, inasmuch as New York is ever friendly.  After a year or so in the urban jungle of LA– if one considers a patchwork of highways and beachfront “urban”– I found the closeness of the City comforting.  I know how to get around in NewYork, and I don’t just mean the subways.  I know how to get home from JFK in 30 minutes flat for less than $20.  I know just where to get coffee in the morning in just about any neighborhood.  It killed me not to have the time or the calorie allowance for a greasy bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the street vendors when I got off the train at 57th.  I walked into my audition knowing two people in the room and at least one person outside it.  Even when I blew my audition, I was aware that I was blowing it.  In LA everyone’s so fakey that it’s hard to read the room.  I’ve been assured that I would be called back “like, Thursday” only to have Friday come and go without my phone ringing.  (This is unnecessary, LA.  Just thank me for coming or say, like Susan Stroman said to me, “That was a great audition,” the subtext of which is “but we aren’t going to hire you.”  I’m a big girl, LA.  I can take it.)

Andre and I don’t know where we’re going to end up come the fall.  We could move back, and I could do the type of work I want to do in New York, but life up until this point has seemed easier in LA.  There’s the weather, for one, and you can’t beat warming up in your car.  And as my friend Stephanie says, “It’s easy to live anywhere after New York.”

Or is it?  Despite my long flight, despite my terrible audition, despite the humidity and the crowds and the expense, this time around I felt like I belonged in Manhattan.  In fact, for the first time in my long, destructive, frequently soul-crushing relationship with New York, I felt like New York wanted me back.

I cannot believe I’m writing this.  I really can’t.

Like most actors, I have spent most of my career bemoaning the existence of a casting director, which most of us view as a “hurdle” to getting cast.

“If only I could get seen for that,” we’ll moan over a few drinks.

“So-and-so never calls me in!” we’ll say to one another, or simply to ourselves, when we learn that [insert dream musical here] is being revived on Broadway next season, and that so-and-so is casting it.

Of course, for every casting director who “won’t” audition you, another casting director loves you, goes to bat for you, and calls you in with regularity.  Each casting director keeps a stable of people:  regulars, like on Cheers, who presumably audition consistently and well for their respective offices.  As actors we know this, and we appreciate their loyalty.  But still, most of us are in this profession because we’re passionate about it and it KILLS us when we can’t get seen for a dream project.

And sometimes we’re not even happy when we do get seen.  “If only I could get in front of the creatives!” actors say when they have gotten the audition, but haven’t gotten the callback.  By “creative,” we mean someone from the directing, music or dance team who can see how truly great you are, someone who knows talent!  The casting associate sent to the first round of auditions is frequently a 22-year-old liberal arts major from the University of God Knows Where.  (If you’re a CD and you’re reading this, you’re probably like, “That’s not true!”  And you’re right.  I am exaggerating.  But that’s how it feels!)  Especially on an open, first, or replacement call, offices tend to send the lower-ranked associates.  Not the interns, exactly.  But a step above.

What we forget, of course, is that this particular not-quite-an-intern has been extensively schooled in What the Creatives Want.  He or she may not have any experience (or imagination, for that matter), but that person is looking for something specific.  What we also forget is that these 22-year-olds have nowhere to go but up, should they choose to stay in the field.  And many of them do, working their way up the office ranks or branching out into directing, managing or some other aspect of the business.

But, like ’em or lump ’em, casting directors have always been part of the business for me– a hurdle or a conduit, depending on the project.

Until I moved to L.A.

Not only am I blown away by the number of casting offices in this city, but I am also blown away by the number of projects without a proper casting director.  In L.A. the business is bigger.  Much bigger.  This is because the city of L.A. is a one-trick pony.  It’s got the entertainment industry, and that’s it.  New York is the epicenter for finance and fashion and journalism and architecture:  reason 4,024 that NY is the best city on Earth.  But in L.A., all they’ve got is Hollywood.  Now, I came to town well aware of my position at the bottom of this giant totem pole, which was good.  If I weren’t aware, I would have been made aware in a soul-crushing manner.  Of course I fit right in to L.A.’s theatrical totem pole; however, compared to NY it’s more like a pogo stick.  (For NY actors:  I can walk into any EPA and get a slot 20 minutes later.  In line behind me is a non-union kid auditioning in character shoes.  To sing.  Bless her heart.)  But of course I don’t go to many theatre auditions because a.) there aren’t any, and b.) I can’t do theatre till after Puddin’s born.  This has also been a problem for the handful of agents I’ve met with.  My lack of TV credits, coupled with my questionable ability to work over the next, like, nine months, have added up to a lot of “Nice to meet you.  Maybe get in touch once the baby’s born.”

So to build a reel and get some film experience, I have been auditioning for non-union projects and student film.

And that’s how I learned the true value of a casting director.

A casting director is the hallmark of true professionalism.  A casting director will not waste your time.  Yes, he or she may send you 41 pages of material to learn in three days (unlike last time, I am NOT exaggerating), but he will not have everyone “just show up at 11:30.”  He will send you detailed and specific instructions about the audition; you will not have to email him to find out if an accompanist will be present or other such nonsense.  If a casting director is present, you will not be auditioning in someone’s home.  You can safely assume that the creative team is looking for talent, and not just somebody to sleep with.  A casting director won’t call in a million people.  They will wade through the submissions and eliminate those who aren’t right for the part, as well as the amateurs; i.e., those who show up without a headshot.  (“Do I need one?” I heard somebody ask.  You always need one!  Even in the age of digital submissions, they will need to make notes on something.  Like a picture of your face.  At the very least, give them something to file away for later.  Even if they don’t take it, bring it!  Eye roll.)

I’ve learned that casting directors exist for good reason.  I’ve always known they make the casting process easier for the ones doing the hiring.  What I didn’t know is that they make the casting process easier for the actor, too.  I’ve learned to steer clear of any project not helmed by a professional CD.  I’m just too old for the bullshit.

And I miss being a part of somebody’s stable!  Come to think of it… I miss the whole barnyard.

I didn’t realize how much I’d grown to like Long Beach until I booked the national tour of Billy Elliot.  The knowledge that I would be leaving and would have to endure hotel after hotel with an entirely new group of people made me appreciate the cozy lemon of an apartment my husband and I shared on the corner of 3rd and Hermosa.

“Life out here doesn’t suck,” I said to friends with more than a touch of surprise.  Living blocks from the ocean is every bit as cool as I’d imagined.  Even though I have yet to take the plunge into the somewhat frigid waters of the Pacific, I have driven, jogged and biked beside it under the hot-but-not-too-blazing sun for weeks now.  I love the water.  I love the Olympic-sized pool where I swim laps under the flags of other countries.  I love the thrift stores and restaurants.  I am even growing to love our quirky apartment, where one window is still painted open and the lesbian couple below us engage in violent domestic disputes.

The discovery that I love my life came at the end of a long day of traveling.  I had flown back from New York for the second time that month.  The first had been for an audition for the Broadway company of Matilda.  I am pretty sure I blew that audition, not because of my performance in the room, but because I have a strongly held superstition that the more people I tell about an audition, the lower my chances of booking it.  And due to circumstance I had had to tell everybody what the hell I was doing in New York:  my sister, her husband, her college roommate, my soon-to-be-married friends Eve and Charley, my recent homeowner friends the Boags, the book club, and almost the entire cast of Mary Poppins.  The second time I was much more discreet.

Having auditioned for Billy a million times I was fortunate to have to simply audition privately for the dance and the music supervisors.  The director, apparently, already wanted me.  I had flown to New York so they could cover all their bases, or at least that’s how my agent made it sound.  I tried to work up audition nerves, but two months in SoCal had worked their magic, and all I could work up was a Zen-like tranquility.

When I got back to California, I walked into our comfortable house filled with flea-market furniture, and I didn’t want to leave.  I found myself hoping the call wouldn’t come.

It did the next day.  I was comforted by the tour schedule, which had a whole slew of gaps in it according to the Billy website.  I would be able to come home every couple of weeks to see Andre.  He and I agreed that it was the ideal situation:  grad school kept him so busy that it was a matter of time before I would begin to feel neglected, and I could earn money and insurance weeks doing a show I’d always wanted to do.  That illusion was shattered the following week, when I got the actual tour schedule, which filled in the weeks not posted yet on the internet.  We’re going to some cool cities:  Austin, Vancouver, Montreal, and some clunkers:  Fayetteville, Peoria, Greenville, SC.  But from January to March I’d be hard pressed to see Andre.  This depressed us.  We headed out to the mountain town of Idyllwild, California to celebrate our anniversary, determined not to talk about it.

But in the car I pondered.  Is this how Jay-Z and Beyonce feel when one of them has to go on tour?  It is the nature of our business to be apart, and we knew this when we got married.  One of us needs to be working– subsisting on unemployment and student loans has been stressing us both out.  And I was glad to get the job.  But after the vibrance of California, life on the road seems to be a dismal proposition.

Ironically enough, my first audition in L.A. was for a pre-Broadway workshop back in New York.  (Yes, just like Smash.)  I technically couldn’t do the workshop, as it interfered with a friend’s wedding, but I needed to jump back into the audition pool.  I made an appointment, which felt absolutely luxurious, and drove Miss Daisy, our elderly ’94 Camry, from Long Beach to Los Angeles in the thick of AM traffic.

While the landscape of southern California never fails to astound me, the cities themselves are generally ugly.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Valley.  The Madelyn Clark Studios, where the audition was held, sits on a street littered with auto repair shops and fast food joints.  I drove slower than usual, certain I would miss it.  I needn’t have worried.  The studio doubled as a rental hall, and an electric horse and carriage was perched on the roof, as if it had been catapulted from Disneyland’s Electric Parade.  (Presumably to attract renters with bad taste.)  I circled the block a few times before parking on a side street.  I put on my heels, lugged my backpack full of audition materials out of the car, and crossed six lanes of traffic to enter the building.

In New York, most of the studios where auditions take place occupy an entire floor of a Midtown skyscraper.  A bored security guard will ask you for photo ID or an Equity card.  Sometimes a photo is taken or a signature is required.  You wait for what seems like ages for the elevator to come, and then cram into it with 436 others, half of whom look just like you and want the same job.

On this day in LA, I saw exactly one girl in a slutty dress holding a binder full of sheet music.  She was crossing the street in the opposite direction.  We did not acknowledge each other.  I walked up to the building and went in through what I later discovered to be a side door.  I found myself standing in an empty foyer with rooms on either side of me.  Through the door to my right I could hear someone teaching a time step:  “Shuffle, hop, step, flap, step, shuffle, hop, step, flap, step.”  A dry-erase board next to the door simply read, “Suzanne.”  I turned and left the way I came.

I walked around the building until I finally found the main entrance.  There was an office to my right without a receptionist.  The rest of the place was done up by someone with a serious commitment to old lady chic.  Parlor furniture and ornate lamps filled the tiny space.  I saw a man with a  clipboard standing in front of three women dressed like hookers.  I figured I was in the right place.

There were two single-stall, unisex bathrooms, and none of the hookers seemed to need it, so I stepped into one and began making up my face.  When I emerged, I was pleased and surprised to see my friend Michelle in the waiting area.   Neither she nor I were dressed like hookers– being recent NY transplants, we must have missed the memo– and her presence made the surroundings seem… well, still strange, but less so.  Finally something, or rather, someone, was familiar.

My bag on the first day of auditions. It weighed 13 pounds.

I was completely unprepared for returning to New York, particularly the horrors of the audition scene.

I had spent the last nine months suppressing all memories of auditioning.  I was thrilled to be on stage in Poppins, and even months into the contract, when the thrill had worn off and become routine, I thanked God every day that I was employed as an actress.  But all of this was coming to a close.  To make things worse, or at least considerably more surreal, we had finished out the contract in Mexico City.  The cast spent the day at the pool and drank too much tequila at night.  It didn’t feel like work.

My plane touched down on Monday night at 11 PM, and my first audition was scheduled for 2:15 the following day.

I got up the next morning and made my way, sleepwalking, to Pearl Studios.  It was all too familiar:  the ragged steps at the 34th Street train station, the surly, disinterested guard requiring everyone to sign in, the stale smell of the studios, even the faces auditioning alongside me.   The only thing missing was the desperation and anxiety emanating from me, even though it was palpable from everyone else.  I handed in my head shot, which had ‘Sorohan’ crossed out and ‘Garner’ written over it in Sharpie.  Very professional, but with less than a day back on home soil, what could I do?  I put on my game face, determined to summon enthusiasm.  Mentally, I was still reeling from my show closing, still processing that I was sloughed back onto the audition heap.  But I had to forge ahead.  I repeated one of my favorite affirmations:  “God did not bring you this far to drop you on your ass.”  It was slightly comforting.

It helped that this audition was for the lead in My One and Only, even though that’s a tap show, and tap isn’t my strength.  (More like my Achilles heel.)  It helped that the audition was an agent appointment and not an open call.  It helped that I had worked on the material with my cast members, and I suppose it helped that I didn’t feel desperate.  Just sad.

After I sang and read the sides, I was asked to stay and dance.  Unfortunately, I was required to tap, throwing me right into a worst case scenario for me.  I blew the combo, but at least it was over.  No misery waiting for the phone to ring.  No time to go home and cry, though, and no time to dwell.  I had three more auditions that week.  (All of which went just fine.)

At home I struggled to adjust.  Unpacking overwhelmed me, as I suddenly hated everything in my closet.   I began amassing large bags to haul off to the Goodwill.  I asked my husband for the time and space I needed to adjust.  I felt guilty for wanting to be somewhere else, for wanting to be in a space where I knew what I needed to do each day, where my role was clear and my paycheck assured.  Back in Brooklyn I wanted to stay in bed all day or I wanted to huddle alone on the couch, but I could do neither.

The flowers with which Andre surprised me on my return to New York.

I’m not sure when my life will re-align properly.  My tour ended just over three weeks ago, and I’ve had a dozen auditions since.   I’m still not ready to “return to normal,” if normal is the cycle of auditioning, agonizing and scrutinizing.  But I can’t just stay in bed all day.  I do believe good things are going to happen this year.  After all, God did not bring me this far to drop me on my ass.

Given that I have chosen one of the world’s most emotionally traumatizing career paths, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my agent coughed up yet another audition for the national tour of Mary Poppins.  Last year’s audition is chronicled here, and as some of you may remember, it resulted in tears and a clove cigarette.  So this year when I heard they wanted to see me for the exact same part, I had to resist the urge to bang my head against the wall.  Was I to endure the torture a second time?

“They wouldn’t have you back unless you did something right the last time,” my Poppins-cast-member-friend Elizabeth said when I called for support.

“But they didn’t even keep me to dance,” I protested.

“We’re going to go over the dance,” she reassured me.  “You’re going to go in and kick ass.”

Fortified by Elizabeth’s confidence in me, I threw myself into the material and learned the audition tap combination.  (Which would be cheating except everyone does it.)  I arrived Tuesday morning feeling not just prepared, but determined.

This time I was asked to stay and dance along with four other women of various types.  I gave the combination all I had, as did the talented women around me.  My agent called that night.

“You’re the top pick,” she said, “But they can’t offer you the part yet.”  It turns out that the woman I would be replacing hadn’t officially put in her notice.  This sort of preemptive auditioning is rare in my experience.   In Dalmatians they waited until the person’s second to last day before auditioning replacements, throwing on the swing (me) to fill in the gaps.

Nonetheless, I was elated.  I had won the day!  The prize might be forthcoming, but I had Done Something Right.  I called the husband to tell him the news, cracked open a bottle of wine, and settled in to wait.

Actually, the phrase “settled in to wait” isn’t quite accurate.  More like, “paced the apartment, completely unable to focus,” or “obsessed to such an extent that I lost sleep.”  My husband was helpful, as usual.  “Don’t believe anything till you’ve signed the contract,” he warned me.   The rain he poured on my parade came from an honest place:  the issue apparently was that the cast member I would be replacing had been on maternity leave for a year.  (Yeah, Disney gives a year.  Cool, right?)  Last year, I had auditioned to replace her during the length of her leave.   The girl they hired last year instead of me had indicated that she did not want to stay on the road longer than May, and the new mother does not want to return to the tour.  She has told everyone that she intends to give notice.  So they need somebody new.  That’s where I would step in.  “There’s no way she’s taking that baby on tour,” said my friend Stephanie, who had just given birth herself.  “And there’s no way she’s going to leave it at home.  She’s going to park it in New York and wait for the Broadway slot to open up.”

“You don’t know what she’s going to do,” my husband said.  “Don’t get your hopes up.”

My agent said we should know by Friday, April 15th.  Here is a short list of things I have done to fill the time:

1. meditated in the park.

2. got a mani/pedi

3. made potato bacon pie (Weight Watcher’s recipe)

4.  went shopping

5. checked my phone every three seconds.

By Friday I was ready to gnaw off my arm.  I also got hit out of nowhere with a cold, leading me to believe I had worried myself sick.  It might have had something to do with lack of sleep.  I would wake up in the middle of the night to pee and lie awake fantasizing about paying off my credit cards.

But by 6 PM Friday I knew I would have to wait through the weekend.  I wrote the first draft of this blog, mostly to create an outlet for my anxiety.  As an actor you get used to a certain amount of uncertainty regarding the future, but this was epic.  I began to steel myself for rejection.  “Her mother’s coming on the road with her,” I could imagine my agent explaining.  Or “she’s arranged to swap parts with the Broadway girl.”  Or some equally unlikely scenario.

By the following Thursday I had become acquainted with a whole new form of torture:  that of waiting  for The Call.  My initial excitement began to be replaced with frustration.  What is going on?  What is taking so long?  Every night I went to bed thinking, “I’ll get the offer tomorrow.” I was starting to think it was all a figment of my imagination, some sort of psychological defense mechanism, like how people develop multiple personality disorder to cope with severe emotional trauma.  In my case I’m creating imaginary calls from my agent whereby I  imagine I book the part, but there’s a catch.  There’s always a catch.

Finally today, April 26th, I got the official offer.  The job starts Tuesday.  I leave Friday to visit the spouse in Rochester, where he’s doing a lead in The Music Man, and I will fly from there to Columbus.   No news on whether I’ll still be able to do Ulla in Producers at Sacramento Music Circus.  My agent thinks it unlikely, but we’re waiting.  Always waiting.  Until then I’m scrambling to pack, get a hair cut, eat up the fridge, et cetera, et cetera.

Whew.  Sometimes life is exceptionally strange.

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