It is a fact that as a nonunion actor/singer/dancer, waiting is your #1 job. Standing in lines, crammed into holding rooms, or fidgeting on the bench outside the room. People tell you that your job is auditioning, but it’s not – it’s surviving the eternal waiting period to psyche yourself up for your (literal) thirty seconds to perform for someone who may not even look up from their iPhone. And you do this every single day.
Well, on the days where you’re not waiting tables or waiting on children or waiting for the phone to ring from your temp agency.
And boy, is it a motley crew in that audition room.
My actor friends, prepare to nod. A lot. You’ve met all of these girls in the Ripley holding room or on the bench outside the door in Pearl. And if you’re not an actor, well, get ready to meet the cast of the audition holding room, a.k.a. my life.
Hum-singing under her breath, she flips unceasingly through plastic protector-covered pages of her music book. Which song to pick? Which would be the right one? This one has a money note at the end, but this one is within forty years of the style of the show, so that makes it the best choice, right? What is everyone else singing? What is everyone else wearing? Will they see that she’s perfect for this role, even though it’s ten years older than she is? Theatre’s about imagination, right?
Unfortunately, this girl often hasn’t learned that frizz isn’t professional. I want to toss her my John Freida Frizz-Ease and straightener and point her at the mirrored wall behind her back, but the fact is, there isn’t an unused outlet in the next five rooms, and I wouldn’t send her into the lion’s den of a bathroom for anything.
I met one of these just the other day. “This is my first audition for something other than community theatre!” she confided nervously. We were at an Equity Principal Audition (EPA) for a currently running Broadway show, in which there’s only one white female role. Clearly the poor high schooler had no understanding of “type” – the kind of role, or brand, that you project when you walk in the room. I applauded her nerve (I couldn’t conquer my terror enough to audition for the high school musical), but I felt bad for the casting director in the room who had to sit through a few dozen girls who weren’t right for the part in any way. Hopefully she’ll learn one day – we’ve all been beginners who have no sense of how we embarrassing we look!
In contrast, about five chairs over sits the girl whose loud chatter assures you that she knows EVERYTHING about show business and auditioning. I mean, she’s done one summer season at a (never-heard-of, probably only paid $100 a week if it paid at all) regional theatre company, hello! And she graduated a full year ago! Clearly she’s a professional in every sense of the word. She auditioned for Berney Telsey (‘s casting associate’s assistant) last week and would TOTALLY have gotten called back if she hadn’t had to go in just before their lunch break when they were super distracted with hunger – how unlucky for her!
This is one of my least favorite neighbors. Her voice has an unnatural resonance that bounces off the mirrored walls and enters your ears no matter which way you turn; no curtain is porous enough to absorb its strident haughtiness. And she never. stops. talking. Five hours waiting? Don’t worry – her opinions on her friends, their friends, her life, her awful job, her parents, her career, her hair, her makeup, and most of all, show business, are bottomless.
The irony is that this moronic, foundationless torrent of words psychs me out. Despite catching the gaping holes in her knowledge, I begin to think about how much more she knows, all the people she’s more connected with, how her dress is probably more appropriate for the role, how her hair has much more bounce and shine than mine, and on and on. Suddenly I find myself wondering if the song I was planning on doing is correct and if my headshot really is a good one. Nothing is more destructive to a good audition than self-doubt. As The Know-It-All is all too familiar with when she walks out of that room.
The Southern Pageant Girl
She’s got plenty of hairspray holding her (bleached) blonde bouffant bump to the sky, and those ringlets were undoubtedly set in cement this morning with her curling iron. Her very feminine dress shows her (assisted) assets up top and demurely flares to just above her knees in a perfectly fifties silhouette. Not gonna lie, I covet her dress in spite of myself. She’s got enough makeup on for the nosebleed seats in the Astrodome to see her perfect complexion, and boy, does that lipstick/gloss duo pop. Don’t forget the nude 4” platform Steve Maddens, because let’s face it, honey, pantyhose can only lengthen the leg so much.
I have no idea what she sings like, but she’s probably booked plenty of jobs on her looks alone. We’re an equal opportunity employee business, so don’t worry about that annoying “talent” part of showbiz.
My favorite part is that she knows nearly every girl in the room except me. They’re all best buds! ‘Cause that one time she saw her at an audition made them BFFs forever. This role has been perfectly captured by the inimitable Annaleigh Ashford in Season 1 of the hilarious web series “Submissions Only”, which you should watch if you loved (or wanted to love) Smash but would like the actual, unvarnished, painful yet endearing reality of an actor’s life.
The Bitter Complainer
You are not going to believe how much is going wrong in this girl’s world. The universe certainly handed her a lemon of a life. Her apartment’s super is the biggest jerk this side of the Mississippi, her day job just suuuuuucks, and they spelled her name wrong at Starbucks – oh my God, can you believe it? As if her morning hadn’t been bad enough due to missing her alarm after that cah-razy night at the gay bar.
Unfortunately, the Bitter Complainer is usually an unattractive body type. Worse, even more often, she’s undertalented, and yet she can’t understand why she’s never called back for these ingénue roles. She also has not objectively looked at herself in that particular dress in the mirror; it clings in the WRONG places and highlights, rather than downplays, her less appealing features. So a chorus of, that casting director just hates her for no reason, that director was too busy making a phone call to pay attention to how great her rendition of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” was, and that company was probably only really looking for Equity (union) actors which was why she didn’t even get called in, ensues. Sadly, usually The Bitter Complainer has a Bitter Complainer friend sitting by her side, and the story swapping can run for two depressingly angry hours.
It’s a fact that making it in this business is considerably harder if you’re not a standard body type. Heck, even I run into casting issues because of some tummy/thigh spots, and I’m thinner now than at any other time in my life. But the fact is, I know quite a few wonderful, sweet, professional women who can act and sing circles around me that are plus-size. You know what I never hear from them? A complaint. They find, or make, their own, opportunities to shine, and then they nail them.
Sorry, but I have zero tolerance for The Bitter Complainer.
The Supporting Cast
Now the thing is, there are lots of girls that are very nice, very beautiful, very talented, very happy, very friendly, and even very professional in these holding rooms. The problem is – they’re not the ones who talk all day long. So of them, I don’t have strong impressions that follow me from audition to audition like the rotting garbage stench on 8th Avenue. What I have instead are fleeting images more akin to the delightful whiff of lilies as you pass the corner flower stand:
- The Fearless Token Minority (one day I may blog about whether or not the low number of minorities auditioning for musical theatre reinforces the minimal number of roles available to them, but I love that these girls go for any role despite the breakdown)
- The Drop-Dead Gorgeous Model (I’d kill for those sharp cheekbones!)
- The Humble But Talented College Graduate (I’d love it if she got the callback)
- The Friend From Class I Didn’t Think I Knew That Well But Have A Great Conversation With (ignoring the fact that I only know her traumatic emotional history and not a bit about her actual life)
- The Ultra-Familiar Face I Can’t Quite Place (if I’m brave, I’ll tell her as much point-blank, and we’ll spend five minutes throwing names and places at each other and finding absolutely nothing in common)
Are there similar archetypes in the office world or the education world? Or are these sorts of girls unique to the performing world? Let me know what you’ve observed, because I’d love to know if yet again the theatre business is just another business.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonlparks/5139930960/”>Jason L. Parks</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>