Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tending the Career

I took a very quick trip to New York this week, to do some career-tending. That's sort of like bartending, but without the sliced lemons. In the early pages of this site, I wrote about my relationship with the Big Apple. I spent a lot of time there during my college years, and am proud to have seen the original Broadway productions of several shows which have since become legendary, such as A Chorus Line, Chicago, and Annie, among others.

But in recent years, I don't get to NY very often, and when I do, it is only to attend an audition. I had such an opportunity this week, when a regional theatre in Florida called me in to read for their upcoming production of the latest Mamet. It's not the kind of role I usually get to play, but if a regional theatre calls, one must answer. I made arrangements to hook the audition trip into an overnighter with my sister, and hit the road at the crack of dawn.

Though it's cheaper to take a bus to NY from DC, I really hate to do so. I prefer driving, and though parking is problematic in Manhattan, I have good luck with street parking at the north end of the island. During the day, the express subway shuttles me into the theatre district in about 25 minutes.

Because I'm a bit neurotic about being late, especially for an audition, I arrived in NY several hours early. I had heard through the grapevine (thanks, Monica!) that there was a general call for a couple of musicals happening only a few blocks away from my audition space. This call promised to be very crowded, but I dropped by anyway, just to see what was up. Turned out, they had plenty of audition appointments available after 3, so I signed myself up, and walked up 8th Ave to my Mamet reading.

The studios which house auditions and rehearsals in NY always rattle me. They generally take up a floor or two of a tall building, with a catacomb-like maze of hallways wrapping around rehearsal rooms of varying size. There is never an actual waiting room in these places, the actors wait out in the corridor outside the audition chamber. There are chairs set up, but make no mistake, you are waiting out in the hall. Along with everybody else waiting outside their own audition chamber. This week, I was not confronted with my usual experience; usually, these halls are filled with young actors/singers/dancers, spread out all over the floor, warming up, talking on the phone, and screeching with delight when they run into one of their friends. It is not conducive to the kind of quiet I like before heading into a reading. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned kind of actor: I like to concentrate before an audition.

But as I said, this week was an exception, and the only distraction out in the hall was a squirrely guy with a Napoleon complex, shouting into his cellphone. And, of course, the other distraction is one to which I have become accustomed over the years: everybody else waiting to audition for this play looks like me.

I was pleased to discover that the actual director of the play was in the audition room, rather than a junior associate or, worse, a casting director. This guy was warm and welcoming, and did my favorite thing a director in these situations can do: after my first read, he gave me some direction. I love that. I always pretend it means he is interested. I actually think this guy was genuine, as he had me read a second selection, then directed me on that one and heard me again. All in all, the audition made the trip to NY, and the jerk in the hall, worth the trouble. This audition may not lead to an immediate gig, but I am now on this theatre's radar, and this director will be pleased to know that he is now on my nationally famous Christmas Card list.

The auditors at the musical audition I attended an hour later, though, are not. This was a union-mandated audition, and was attended by hundreds of hopeful actors hoping to be seen. There was no one of creative authority in the audition chamber, really, but what the hell, it was worth popping in anyway. The snafu here was the accompanist, who was described by the monitor outside as one of the best in New York; I saw no evidence to support that rave. My song, a very well-known, easy to play tune (I learned the hard way, years ago, never to present a complex piece of sheet music to an audition accompanist, it rarely turns out well), was mangled only a few moments after I began.

The experience reminded me of a Facebook conversation I had earlier in the week. A young friend had a bad experience with her own audition in DC, where the accompanist had gummed up the works. I happened to know that this particular accompanist is the best in the city, and said so. But now I see that even someone with a good reputation can foul things up every once in a while. So, Aviva, I stand corrected. You are right, your lousy audition was probably the accompanist's fault!

So, I would call the trip to Manhattan a success. Though the musical audition was probably a wash, I can hope that I will remain in the files of the Floridian theatre doing the Mamet, and I had the added enjoyment of bumping into a young gal I worked with at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, when she was still a college student. I've already written about Beth Tarnow, who was a demure young thing when she played my daughter in Bye Bye Birdie several years ago, and who is now taking New York by storm. I was pleased to get the chance to congratulate her on her continued success.

After a relaxed evening of pasta, wine, and catching up with my sister, I returned to DC the next day, feeling good that I had done some nice tending to the career. It could be weeks, months, or even years before I know the effects of this trip, but I will still call it an effective one. Wrapping up the week, on Sunday, I will be participating in a reading of Walt Whitman's poetry, including his behemoth classic Leaves of Grass, to be held at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in DC. That event will likely be my last career-oriented activity until the holidays are over. Deck the halls!