Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ready to Rumble

In the typical "feast or famine" mode in which my life is lived, the past two weeks have been jam packed with activity. This following at least six months of relative slothfulness. Who's in charge of this stuff?

We have finished the first two weeks of rehearsal for Lord Arthur Savile's Crime at the Washington Stage Guild. I will surely be chronicling the journey from page to stage in future postings, but for now, I can report that the script seems to be a hoot, and the cast is up to the challenge of translating this Oscar Wilde story into the theatre. Our rehearsals have been cancelled this weekend due to the huge snow storm which hit DC yesterday, but my work was actually interrupted earlier in the week as well.

Monday and Tuesday, we presented our annual Equity auditions (I wrote a bit about them last year). I serve on the local AEA Liaison Committee which sponsors the event, and the past several years, I have assumed the responsibility of registering all the actors (close to 200), assigning them appointment slots, and then organizing them during the actual auditions. It's a fun job (or I wouldn't do it), but it takes its toll. Registration happened via email about three weeks ago; I spent the better part of two solid days at the computer, doing my best to accommodate special requests from actors regarding their appointments, fielding questions from non-union folks who confuse us with those other general auditions, and GENTLY suggesting to out-of-towners that they should stay off our turf and go to their own auditions instead (I am only marginally successful with that last one; we generally have a dozen or so schnooks who schlep all the way from New York or Chicago to audition for our theatres, most of whom cannot hire them anyway. We even had a gal fly in from Florida!).
During the auditions themselves, I serve as the point man for the actors, gathering them into their groups, giving orientation (which includes pleas for donations to keep our auditions solvent, hey, I'm not proud), and filling in extra slots with stand-bys. Here again, I enjoy the job, but after two long days, well, my dogs were barking pretty hard. We had a slightly lighter turnout than in previous years (around 10 fewer actors were seen this year than last), but we continued our proud tradition of getting every single actor who had the stamina to stick around an audition slot.

Naturally, I audition as well; I took a big chance this time around. I usually try to audition with a new piece each year, as many if not most of the auditors know me, or at least think they do. Last year, for example, I performed an Irish piece which garnered some praise (though failed to garner a gig). This year, I debated about even preparing an audition, as I had not run across anything which really excited me enough to present at the auditions. About a month ago, though, I hit upon something I thought would really stand out among the other 200 actron units. I decided to sing.

Now, a lot of actors include some singing in their auditions, there's nothing unusual in that. I, however, never have. I am certainly not nervous about singing, I do it all the time at auditions for individual theatres, but I have never sung at a large group audition such as this. But my decision to sing was not the dangerous part; my decision to ONLY sing was the chancy choice. Since I had no particular monologue I was crazy about, I decided to boldly go where I had never gone before (cue Star Trek music), and spend my entire 3 minutes of allotted time singing one song. This is hardly ever done at group auditions; even solid musical comedy performers who do not wish to present monologues always sing snippets of two songs; nobody ever does just one long tune.

(I subsequently learned that my current director and buddy Bill Largess did the same thing several years ago, but as far as I can tell, we are the only two actors who have tried such a thing at these generals.)

The song I chose was a tune Frank Loesser wrote for the great film clown Betty Hutton, for her film The Perils of Pauline. I have loved the song since I first saw the movie decades ago, but it is never done as an audition piece. And it is right up my alley, as it's really a comic monologue with a beginning, a middle, and an end, set to catchy boogie-woogie music.
I used to sing portions of the song at auditions, but finally gave it up when too many accompanists screwed up the playing. There are some odd repeats in the score, and the lyrics on the sheet music are largely incorrect. Once I decided I was doing the song, I visited the gal who had been hired by the Liaison Committee to accompany the auditions, and spent an hour in rehearsal. Mary Sugar is an excellent accompanist, and could have played the thing on site with no trouble, but it helped my confidence to rehearse in advance. She was free to mark the music to suit her own needs, and we ended up with a very serviceable sheet I can hopefully use elsewhere. I admit the hour was pricey, but worth it, as I entered the audition chamber with extra confidence.

The auditors who attend our auditions are generally a non-responsive bunch, which means I did not expect a whole lot of vocal reaction, and I was not disappointed. There were several loud laughs, and I could tell that the song landed as I expected, so I was pleased. I was congratulated by several attendees later on my choice (talk is cheap, give me a job).

If you asked me privately why I chose to sing one long song in lieu of performing a monologue at the auditions, I would have to confess this little secret. Don't tell anyone. I was glad others enjoyed the piece, but I actually aimed it squarely at two particular auditors, one whom I knew, and one whom I want to know. Both were representing theatres which have a solid musical role for me in their next season; I needed both to start to think of me as an actor who can sell a comic song.

I think I accomplished that, at least in one case. I received a callback a day later from the fabulous artistic director of a summer stock company, stay tuned on that score. In the other case, I think I will need to attend another general audition, this one at the particular theatre, before I might be considered for a role there. But I have planted the seed in this guy's mind, ready for me to feed it with my own brand of fertilizer at our next encounter.