It’s audition season where I am. Colleges, regional generals, conservatory, etc. It’s an exciting time of digestive distress and dreams crushed underfoot.
It even has a smell, and it’s rarely a pleasant one.
Back when I was auditioning regularly, my searing question was “What are the auditors thinking?” Just like the number from Chorus Line – how many people does he need? – but also, do they need my type, what sort of material do they like, or hate, and do I stand any chance at all?
But the answer mostly came down to: “You’ll go batshit trying to figure that out.”
Today, as a coach and director, I can tell you there are many things I was terrified that auditors were thinking about me when I was auditioning — things that now, as an auditor, I’m not thinking at all.
I’m not thinking:
- Ugh, this song again (or the variant: ugh, this monologue again)
As an actor, I used to search all over to find audition pieces that were unusual. No old chestnuts for me, I thought! Well, it was a waste of my energy. A director who’s been in the field for a while can read your skills, whether you’re skating your freestyle or the figure 8’s in your compulsory exercises. If you can totally nail something from the overdone monologues list, it’s like you just served up the best cheeseburger in the world. Okay, so it’s a cheeseburger. But you NAILED it, right?
Something else I’m not thinking:
- This fool doesn’t even know he’s out of his league.
One of the crucial virtues for actors and artists is the ability to punch up, that is, to compete above your weight class. So, when someone comes in completely under-prepared for the level of gig at hand, I think “The bawls on this guy! Good for him.” I won’t actually hire him, unless there are truly no better options, but I try to be as respectful as possible, because this guy could turn up again later – better, bigger, networked, and he may remember me.
Another thing I’m not thinking:
- NO one would ever cast this guy.
Oh yeah they would. Time teaches you that. The guy might not make a living as an actor downtown, but there’s someone, someplace, in some tiny theatre in Yelm or wherever, who’s going to be grateful for him. He may actually draw standing ovations for their Christmas production, bringing their budget into the black and saving the theatre from closure. So be respectful.
Now. Just because I’m not thinking snotty 7th grade mean-girl thoughts about auditioners, that doesn’t mean other auditors aren’t.
I had a student last week come back from a college audition where the auditor had whined, “I only asked for 32 bars, but you sang me the whole song…” My student had done 28 bars, precisely.
That auditor was a dick.*
Some really are. Some are playing Nero, relishing the thumbs down, because they’re dented inside. Some are marking time, sneaking some Candy Crush, just meeting a union requirement and not really listening at all. And some are normal people, but forgetting to be kind, forgetting that they are the stewards of an entire community.
So this is what I’m thinking now, thoughts not pointed towards the actors and singers, but toward the directors and gatekeepers on the other side of the table:
When we sit as auditors, we do more than cast this show or fill that class roster. We create the storyline of a whole industry. Is it humane? Is it sustainable and healthy? Is it worth caring about?
Or is it a gladiatorial arena, where we pitch our own citizens into the fire to make us feel warm… for a minute, or two minutes, or 32 bars?
* Either he was a dick, or he can’t count to 32. Or both.