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.

At least two inches of crud coated my vocal chords when I woke up Wednesday morning.  It was not a good start to the day.  After two audition-less months, appointments had been flooding in– well, sort of.   I started out the week with a dance call for 37 weeks of employment at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia.  The showy choreography was right up my alley, complete with eight bars of lifting my leg over my head and hopping around in a circle.  (I’m great at that.)  I was one of only three girls invited to come back.   But on the day of the callback I was battling cruddy chords.

The day before on Tuesday my chords had been almost as shitty.  I’d had an audition for Oliver at the Gallery Players, the small Brooklyn theatre where I’d done Merrily We Roll Along six years prior.  I was eager to audition for Nancy, a role I had made my own in the 7th grade at Ashtabula Catholic Elementary.  It was my first of many whore roles.  Naturally, I remembered every word of the dialogue, and I was dying to bring this tour de force to New York, with 20 years’ worth of improvement.

Fortunately my cold on Tuesday was just settling into my chest, turning my pingy musical theatre voice into a throaty, tortured gravel.  Perfect for Nancy, whose material sits low.   I had also chosen, for the first time in my career, to wear a wig to an audition.  I knew the costume budget for Gallery was small, and my cute pixie cut is not Dickensian.  I didn’t want to be written off on account of my hair.

However I also wore a gray dress that has never proved to be particularly lucky, and new, not-yet-tested-for-luck black boots.  I was a little worried:  I thought I looked perfect for the role in wig and said dress, but audition clothing carries its own particular brand of luck.  I  tell myself not to be superstitious and that I shouldn’t worry about the fact that I’ve never gotten a callback wearing a certain dress or shoe.  But these doubts, coupled with a hairdo that didn’t match my headshot, coupled with my low, unpredictable voice, made for an unsettling audition experience.  Walking into the room, I felt I was selling a whole new bag of goods, and while I sang my best, the creative team remained poker faced, and I left feeling desperate and awkward.  Callbacks aren’t until mid-March, so time will tell if this perception  was accurate.

The next morning the congestion had risen to coat my vocal chords.  The day before I’d managed to fake a distinctive ten-packs-a-day type of tone, but by Wednesday morning I sounded like a croaking toad.  Thank God I’m married to someone who understands the meaning of the term ‘vocal rest.’  I was silent throughout the morning, downing hot water cut with lemon and getting intimately acquainted with the Vicks steam inhaler.  By 11:00 I could maneuver through scales, although the notes wouldn’t quite pop into place.  I didn’t know what would happen in the room.

Fortunately no wig or dubious dress was required.  I put on a short number that showed off my legs, applied my leg makeup (I am not joking), and hit the A train.  The Barter Theatre wanted to hear a country song, but they did not want us to belt it.  (Name one country song that doesn’t require belting.)  I did a country ballad that I could, under ordinary circumstances, mix instead of belt.  Unfortunately, these were not normal circumstances.  At the climax of the song, my E flat wandered into unclaimed territory between my nose and my head like an gold rush Okie searching for a glory hole.  Damn song!  Damn voice!  Dammit!

I felt 37 weeks of employment slip from my grasp as the director, convinced I couldn’t possibly be that bad, asked for another song.  I read him nearly every title in my binder, which, incidentally, split open the moment I set it on the piano as if it knew I was doomed.  None of my songs were appropriate, not You Can Always Count On Me, not White Boys, not Tell Me on a Sunday, not When You Got It, Flaunt It.  Nothing.  We finally settled on Unusual Way, which is so overdone.    However, since I had been singing it for a decade, my voice did what it had been trained to do.  Thank God for technique.  However, the song was, as always, mediocre.  I have got to get it out of my book.  (Suggestions for a contemporary music theatre mix song are appreciated, preferably in the form of a 16 to 32 bar cut.  Thanks.)

Auditions are full of ups and downs.  When you wake up with crap on your chords, you can assume you’re on the downswing.

Audition: National Tour of Young Frankenstein

Time: 10:30 and 12:15

Song: You Can Always Count on Me/Deep Love

Outfit:  Black and Blue short dress from Express, black tights, fierce black boots, feather headband

This log entry chronicles both the initial audition and the callback.  The train appears to have stopped there for me, but Scenery Chewer will keep you posted on any consequent auditions.

This first audition took place at an EPA (Equity Principal Audition, required by Actors’ Equity) on a rainy Thursday.  I managed to walk in at 9:30 and get an appointment time right away, which is not uncommon in the summer.

I was not in the mood to audition.  The monitor (who runs the audition, but does not actually audition people for the casting office) was in hyper look-at-me drive, which annoyed me.  In fact, everything annoyed me until I ran into my friend Elizabeth, who is One of Those People I Love To See at auditions, as opposed to One of Those People I Have to Pretend to Like to See, Even Though I Don’t.

I must’ve done reasonably well because I got a call from my agent the next day telling me I had a callback for Elizabeth, which is the Madeline Kahn/Megan Mullally role.

After downloading the 20 plus pages of sides, which included two full-length songs and several short scenes, I realized the particular challenge of trying to recreate an iconic performance.  In cases like these, you are never sure if they want you to just do what Megan Mullally did or create the role from scratch.  I opted for the second option, but having watched the movie to literally figure out the context of these wacky scenes, I realized I could not possibly create a character without the influence of these two women. I enlisted the help of my friend Stephanie and struggled through the weekend.

The morning of the callback I took ballet class, having been told that there might be a dance call later in the day.  I hoped I would fare better at this call than I had for my Broadway callback for Young Frankenstein, at which, during a particularly ebullient bell kick at the end of the combination, my left tit came flying out of my leotard– in front of Susan Stroman.  I tried to laugh.  “Do I get the job?” I joked.  No one laughed.  I did not get a callback.  I called my boyfriend and cried.

On the train ride down to Chelsea Studios, I put my Ipod on shuffle.  This is one of my weird pre-audition rituals, whereby I look for hidden meaning in the songs selected.  I was working with my ‘musical’ playlist, hoping for inspiration.  The first song that came up was ‘Breathe,’ from In the Heights.  It’s about a girl who leaves her hometown destined for greatness and flops.  Great.   I skipped to the next one, depressed.  It was ‘Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go’ from Big River, which isn’t exactly cheerful, but I sang it with friends in college, so I keep it.  Next was Tommy’s ‘Listening to You.’  Hmmm.  Then ‘Big Spender’.  I was beginning to realize how stupid this ritual really is.

Once there, I realize the audition is being held in my unlucky studio.  This is the place where I blew my final callback for 101 Dalmatians.  I got callback after callback until I was auditioning for the entire creative team. I thought I was fierce, but somehow I must’ve blown it at the end because I didn’t book the job.  Still haven’t figured out how or why.  Anyway, this audition was being held in the same room.  “I may as well leave now,” I thought.

Now, I would not describe myself as a particularly superstitious person.  But every actor I know considers at least one of New York’s audition spaces unlucky.  And I’m sure that every actor has  tried-and-true rituals and superstitions, from an Ipod shuffle to a lucky outfit, lucky studio, lucky appointment time, whatever.  It’s our way of attempting to have just the teensiest bit of control in an industry fraught with rejection and ruled by dumb, plain luck.

At any rate, the studio did prove to be unlucky.  I did one scene and one song, but no more.  Possibly they wanted a Madeline or a Megan, and I can only be me.  Possibly I let nerves get to me.  Possibly, I was terrible.  Or possibly– no, probably they looked at me and went, “Isn’t that the girl whose tit flopped out of her leotard last time?  Oh, Lord.  Next!”

Audition:  Vices, the Musical

Outfit:  New-to-me jazz pants from clothing swap (thank you, Stephanie)

Location: Ripley Grier, 520 8th Ave.

Time: 2:00

I need to learn to tell my agent no.  No, I do not want to spend an afternoon auditioning for a principal dance role in a new musical out of Boca Raton.  First of all, I have never booked a principal dance role in my life– which is not to say I never will.  But when said role involves partnering and silk work, and no singing or acting, I’m fairly certain someone else will get the gig over me.

But either because I have no balls or because I’m grateful for any audition that comes my way, I agreed to show up at 2:00 PM this afternoon at Ripley Grier studios to audition.   Originally the plan had been to take 9 AM ballet class on the Upper East Side, requiring me to get up at 6:45 AM.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen.  I instead ended up taking 11:30 Advanced Beginning Jazz at Steps, which turned out to be a strange class I do not recommend.  The teacher was a total bitch.  Most jazz classes have a sort of laid-back camaraderie, very much like the Broadway Dance class depicted in Centerstage.  Not here.  She walked in, put on music and started class.  No one spoke or cracked a smile, no one applauded at the end.  There were only four people there, which should’ve been a clue that everyone hates this class.  At one point, I asked a question.  “Just watch me,” she barked.  I went through the rest of the combination fudging the same spot because she just couldn’t be bothered to answer my question.

However, it did warm me up, which is what I needed.  I felt prepared for the audition physically and mentally. You see, dance calls in particular are always full of bitches.  The energy is always negative, competitive and shallow.  I hate them.  Usually I put on my Ipod and block everything out.  Ipods are essential armor in New York City.   They distill the insanity of the subway, the vulgarity of teenagers, and the negativity of audition competition.

But with headphones I was able to hear the theatre’s peon announce that we would be auditoning in two groups, and that we could decide for ourselves who went in which group.  This was bizarre.  No one checked us in or collected headshots.  No one seemed to be in charge.  In addition, women and men were auditioning together, which is unusual, yes, but also doubled the number of people there and added to the chaos.

At 2:00 on the nose, half the group rushed the studio.  I was fine going in the second group until the peon came out to tell us that the first group would take an hour and that we could come back then.  We all looked at each other, astonished.

There is no reason for a dance call of 30 some people to take an hour.  I firmly believe that the first round of an audition should be tambe, pas de bourree, pirouette. Then make a cut.  You can tell within 16 counts if somebody can dance or not.  Beyond that, it’s a matter of style.

But what was the style?  We all crowded around the window of the studio, bitchiness dissipated.  We watched the first group of deer-in-the-headlights dancers getting pummelled by an evil, flingy, lyrical jazz routine that was full of angst, twitching and blatant overindulgence.  We all turned to each other like, “What the hell?”  It was stuff out of So You Think You Can Dance, the final four.  I’ve never auditioned for that show.  I don’t think I can dance that well.  From the looks on my fellow dancers’ faces, they didn’t, either.

A few people had the audacity to leave.  Those remaining talked about leaving or joked about it.  But what would we tell our agents?  An hour later we all filed into the room.  Still, no one collected headshots.   At any time, I could’ve slipped out of the room and no one would’ve known.

Except that despite the difficulty, I almost had it.   I kept tripping up over a series of turns near the end that I couldn’t quite coordinate.  I was later to find that no one could.  Ninety percent of us biffed that sequence.  Part of the problem was the room was so crowded that no one could do it full out.  Because of my long arms and legs, I am always terrified that I’m going to nail somebody.  I didn’t hit anyone today, but another leggy dancer whacked the tiny Asian in front of her in the back of the neck!

Now, if somebody whacked me in the back of the neck, I would go, “That’s it!”  And I would definitely leave.   But not this little thing.  She walked in a circle for a second, rubbing her neck, then put on a brave (stupid) smile and said, “I’m okay!” No one believed her, but she kept on dancing.  She did not get kept in the end.  She had a really shitty afternoon.

At the end of the day, I never did get that turn section right.  When it was over, I was happy to get home.  Lunch had consisted of a sugar-free Red Bull and trail mix.  I was desperate for carrots, hummus, a shower, and a cold Presidente, although not necessarily in that order.