Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New York State of Mind

As my period of unemployment has lengthened, I've cast my net wider, to include New York auditions. I spent three days last week negotiating the Big Apple, in order to attend a general audition and two callbacks.

I usually stay overnight with my sister in a commuter town called South Salem, NY, about a 45 minute train ride north of Manhattan. This time, however, that option was not open to me, so I booked a cheapo rate (thanks, Priceline) at a hotel in Connecticut. Why Connecticut, you may query? Well, I had received a callback for a production at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT. I've auditioned a few times over the years at this small and homey theatre, and had in fact made the schlep up a few weeks earlier to attend the first call for their upcoming production of The Producers. It was a callback for this production which brought me back to the area.

I made the five hour drive easily, on Monday, and settled into the hotel. My callback was scheduled for Tuesday at noon. The theatre was located about 45 minutes by freeway from my digs. I arrived at the theatre about half an hour early, and was astonished at the number of parked cars outside. The parking lot, the street, even the construction site across the street, were packed. This was a dead give-away that Seven Angels had called back every actor in the tri-state area.

Not a good sign.

My heart sinking a bit, I found a spot under a tree, next to a ditch, and trudged across the street to the theatre. Since I had been there before, I was not surprised by the banner which hung above the front entrance, announcing that Seven Angels Theatre was also the Nunsense Museum. Yes, there is such a thing.

In honor of the series of musicals about tap-dancing nuns, the theatre had turned their lobby into a museum. (This is not quite as weird as it sounds; the artistic director of Seven Angels was an original cast member of those musicals, and had collected memorabilia along the way.)

I entered the lobby to find it absolutely packed with people. Well, not just people. Old people. Many, many old people. Most of them female, and all of them wearing tags which said, "Hello, my name is _______". It crossed my mind, just for a moment, that this version of The Producers was going to use actual senior citizens in its big production number featuring Little Old Ladies:

I dismissed that thought when I noticed that there was no sign-in table, no intern greeting actors, absolutely nothing to indicate that callbacks for the show were in progress. I had stumbled upon some kind of Senior Citizens' Fieldtrip to the Nunsense Museum. I went up to the box office and found a very helpful lady who looked at me blankly when I announced I was "here for the callbacks for The Producers."

Can you see this coming? The Box Office lady called the casting director's cellphone, and gained the information that callbacks were indeed being held. On 54th Street. In Manhattan.

This caster is a lovely lady named Renee, who has been kind to me since I first auditioned for her theatre five years ago, so she agreed to work me into the callbacks if I could get down to The City. I assured her I could, and hopped in the car. I estimated I could get to Manhattan in about an hour and a half, and while I dislike driving in New York City, I have done it often enough to be undaunted by the possibility. Still, when I passed a freeway sign announcing the exit for the train station, I made a snap decision to take the train into the city instead. I pulled into a municipal garage in Waterbury, parked the car, and dashed across the street to a train which was waiting at the station. I asked the porter if this train would take me to Manhattan?

She replied, rather dryly, "Eventually."

It was only in retrospect that I realized I should have listened more closely to her answer. The train did indeed deliver me to Grand Central Station, a whopping two and a half hours later. I had stepped onto a train which wandered all over Connecticut before depositing me in Bridgeport, after which my connecting train wandered all over New York. I didn't even get excited when we stopped in New Rochelle, and I realized this was the train Rob Petrie must have taken every day to get into the city to write for the Alan Brady Show.

I arrived at the audition site three hours late, but was greeted warmly by Renee, and I was soon ushered into the chamber. I sang my song, and was given two scenes to read (the same two I had read at the initial audition). Only a minute or so after I had stepped back into the hall to prep the sides, the choreographer popped her head out the door and said, "We're running so far behind, why don't you take those home and bring them with you at the dance call tomorrow."

Dance call?

Yep, I was being called back to dance the next day. This is rarely good news for me, for though I am not a bad dancer, I am not a quick learner and always fumble at such auditions. Never mind, I was glad not to have been eliminated at this point, so I agreed.

I dashed back to Grand Central in time to climb aboard the rush-hour return train. We repeated the wandering through New York, and I didn't even get excited when we passed through Brewster, and I realized this was the train which budding actress Ann Marie took when she moved to the city to become a star.

I was deposited in Bridgeport, CT, to change trains, but not before we passed through Tuckahoe, NY, when I have to confess, my mind wandered to the neighborhood in which my favorite limousine liberal used to live.

My connecting train in Bridgeport was undergoing mechanical difficulties, so I spent a full hour on the platform before finally making my connection. Another hour on the train, then another 45 minute drive back to the hotel, and I'd really had it with New York Auditions...

Except I had two more the next day.

Wednesday morning I checked out of the hotel and hit the road toward Manhattan. As I said, I have driven into The City often, and have found the best way to negotiate the traffic is to cross the George Washington Bridge and land on the upper west side. Often, I can find street parking there, but only if the timing is such that the crazy Alternate Side Of The Street Parking is causing the locals to rearrange their cars. Sadly, Wednesday is the one weekday which does not require one side of the street to be free for street cleaners, so nobody was moving their cars. I finally pulled into a garage and hopped on the subway to midtown.

My dance callback was not until 2, but I had decided, since I was already in the City, to attend the general audition for Opus, being produced at the Florida Studio Theatre. I had some success in Opus at the Washington Stage Guild a few years ago, and look forward to tackling that gem again. I arrived at the audition site just in time to snag the last available appointment for the day.

I had about two hours to kill before my appointment, and herein lies the problem I have always faced when attending a New York Auditions Tour: what to do with myself between auditions. I tend to want a quiet spot to sit, read, think, prep, snooze, whatever. No such place exists in Midtown Manhattan. The sidewalks were jammed with people (it was a matinee day for most of Broadway, and much of Off-Broadway, so there were even more pedestrians than usual, fighting for space), and the streets were clogged with trucks, buses, cabs, construction vehicles, etc etc etc, all making noise, spewing fumes, honking horns, and generally creating the kind of chaos which I really hate. It is impossible to find a quiet spot, even in a Starbucks or a restaurant or anywhere. I finally walked over to the Equity building to sit in their lounge area, but of course, auditions were ongoing there as well, and the place was full of actors jabbering about their lives.

As for my auditions themselves, well. The Opus general was simply presenting a monologue for a NY casting director who had very little interest in finding actors at this cattle call. If you aren't submitted by an agent in NY, you do not have much access to the really nice regional theatre gigs. Still, I was glad I took the time to do the thing. Afterward, I had another two hours to kill before the Seven Angels dance call.

Waiting around wears me out.

I needn't have worried about the dance audition. The choreographer in charge was a charming young gal who immediately separated the tap-dancers from the rest of us. Our routine was short and sweet and easy to learn and execute. I actually had a bit of fun. I was able to see, however, that neither the director nor the choreographer glanced in my direction, even once. I received further evidence that I was no longer on their short list for the show when I was released, without reading the sides they had given me to prepare the day before.

I returned to my car uptown, and whipped onto the New Jersey Turnpike just before rush hour, heading back to DC. It's a four hour drive, during which I had a long time to think about New York, and auditions, and how local actors manage the chaotic atmosphere which is inescapable in the city. These were not idle thoughts; the possibility of living in Manhattan myself has recently dropped into my lap. I'll discuss that possibility later, if the next several steps happen (steps which do not require action on my part), but I wonder if I have the deep-seated desire necessary to deal, every day, with the mania of Manhattan.

So far, I really DON'T heart New York...