Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Dance Party: When An Actor's Not Engaged In His Audition

This week's Dance Party is aimed squarely at the mirror. 
Even in undergrad, I provided some stinky auditions. It was only my second college audition, and I was very green, when I read for A Cry of Players for a pretty maniacal student director. The role was Kemp, the leader of a traveling acting troop who swept through a little town called Stratford and ignited a creative spark in a villager named Will.  At the audition, the director handed me the script and said, "Stand up center."  What he SHOULD have said, because what he MEANT was, "START up center" (and take over the stage in a very theatrical way).  But that's not what he said.  So, I dutifully read the full speech standing completely still, up-center.  I have no idea if this guy is still directing, but I doubt it, he had minimal communication skills.  I did get into the show, playing the young actor who always played the female roles.
I have never been the greatest auditioner, or even a very good one.  You might think this is a skill which would improve with age, or with practice, and truth be told, I'm not as bad as I used to be.  I certainly walk into the audition chamber with an air of friendly confidence, whether I actually feel it or not.  And I rarely give a real stinker these days, but I would have to honestly classify most of my auditions as "reasonable".  I have never conquered the knack some others have;  I have rarely been able to show the people behind the table my full range or capability.
One of my worst auditions was also one of my oddest. I was thrilled to be called back for a production of Love's Labour's Lost, for the role of Boyet, the advisor and confidante to the Princess of France.  I was given one of Boyet's speeches to study out in the hall. Ten minutes later, I was ushered into the audition chamber, where the director delightedly explained his concept for the show.  It was to be set in outer space. Yep, Shakespeare's romantic romp was to take place on the planet Navarre, with the ladies arriving from (wait for it) the planet France.  (I wondered silently if there would be Coneheads involved, for you SNL historians.)  He went on and on about his concept as I smiled and nodded, but I'm sure my eyes were glazing over.  When he finally finished, I turned my confused attention to the paper in my hand, to begin my reading.  "Oh, by the way!" the director suddenly piped up, "You're an android.  Go ahead."  The next 90 seconds are a complete blur, but whatever happened, I was cast.  During rehearsal we referred to our project as Love's Labour's Lost in Space, and it was the hit of the 2000 season at Centennial Theatre Festival in Connecticut.
Have I whined enough?  Not quite.  Though I rarely get gigs from auditions these days, I still attend more than my share.  Since opening my New York branch, I bet I attend more than just about anybody.  More often than not, I acquit myself fairly well (or reasonably), but these kinds of general call auditions are rarely held when a theater is actually looking to hire.  But attending them is good practice, or so I tell myself.
This reconverted rowhouse was the scene of a truly horrendous audition. It was for a commercial, and I lived only a few blocks from this casting office.  It was one of those sweltering, humidity-filled days which DC dwellers have to put up with, and I made the mistake of walking to the audition.  I was dressed casually in jeans and a sports shirt, as the role called for a "casual Dad."  Needless to say, by the time I arrived, I was drenched.  When I sweat (is this TMI?), it's not under my arms where it's noticeable, it's on my chest.  For some reason, my breastplate loves to perspire, and my shirt was dotted with huge spots of sweat.  Some arrogant young actor even snarked under his breath, "Nice shirt."  I would have baled on this stupid audition, but I had been paired with a little girl to play my daughter, so I did not want to leave her in the lurch.  Instead, I read the scene as best I could, trying to ignore the obvious: that I was sloppily wet.  Ugh.
This week, though, I regressed.  I presented a really embarrassing stinker.  I abandoned musical auditions in New York some time ago, as I find them particularly stressful.  I have a collection of audition tunes I use, and am very confident with, but they are not the kind of songs one hears at a musical audition in New York. (A while ago, I wrote about that particularly treacherous audition, "the 16 Bars", which convinced me how unlikely it is that I will get much response at a musical audition in New York.) 
It doesn't matter how confident I am feeling about my rendition of "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid," that confidence whithers as I listen to the guy ahead of me blast a power ballad from Les Miz.
But this week, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and attended a general call for a regional production of Mary Poppins.  Seems like lots of musical theaters have Mary in their seasons this year, and the father in that show is a good role for me, I'm convinced:  he's a bit pompous, a bit clueless, a bit bossy, and moves through the play with the kind of British accent which sounds exactly like mine.  The music sits well on my voice, and the character plays into my strengths.  So, I prepped a song and signed up for a slot.
The role of the father in Mary Poppins, George Banks, has been expanded in the stage musical.  There are those who think the show is really about him now, and they may be right.  I hope I get a chance to find out one day, but that day will not be soon.
It's too late to make this long story short, but in a word, I bombed.  I went severely off-key, and though I recovered in a note or two, thanks to the help of the accompanist (who could hear I was in trouble and emphasized the melody to get me back on track), the damage was done.  There is nothing quite so humiliating than singing badly in front of others (it's why many, many actors who can indeed carry a tune refuse to sing in front of an audience, it's just too dangerous and naked).  With a spoken monologue, even a classical one, if the actor makes a mistake, it's possible to cover it up without anyone realizing it.  But when you go off-key, everybody in the room knows it, there is no masking the fact.

Ah, well.  I still think that the role in Mary Poppins is a good one for me, and equally, I remain convinced that it will be a looooooong time before I sing again at a NY audition.  I know, "get back on the horse" and all that, and I'm sure I will.  Eventually.  For now, though, I think I'll just cower in the corner and hope nobody in the room ever remembers me.  Ever.
After a particularly embarrassing audition, all you want to do is escape into the New York crowd and become anonymous. I was not that lucky.  I worked with this gal, the lovely and talented Katie Sina, several times when she was a student at Shenandoah University, and I was a Guest Artist in their summer stock program.  (In the pic above, she was playing Lady Larken to my King Sextimus in Once Upon a Mattress.)  She graduated to a lively career in the regions, and is in fact slated to play Mary Poppins at Fulton Theatre in Pennsylvania this year.  She was also a regular player at the theatre for which I was auditioning, and was in the room assisting the director.  It's pretty deflating, to present a lousy performance when someone you know and respect is present.  Thespis was just not going to give me a break this time.
From The Pirates of Penzance, here is the song I ruined at my audition.  This clip contains a bit more than I sang.  You will get a minute or so of Linda Ronstadt in her surprising performance as the soprano ingenue (Linda graced the Dance Party only a few weeks ago, you can see that here), as well as the policemen singing "Tarantara," which I definitely did not sing. 
This video is a bit ragged, but is
full of life.

My song begins at 2:40, but I think the whole clip is worth a peek, if only to see the outrageous comedic talents of the late Tony Azito, playing the police sargeant.  This production of Pirates of Penzance was taped in Central Park, and was so successful that it transferred to Broadway, where it ran for several years and was turned into a film as well.  But I prefer this version in the Park, as the presence of the audience gives the players a lift, even if the actual video is a bit raw.  If you like it, I encourage you to go here, for a very early Dance Party featuring the show's star Kevin Kline, it's a hoot.

Oh, and my apologies to Misters Gilbert and Sullivan, for butchering their song on Monday.  I'll try to do better next time.