The Anatomy of An Audition
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Auditions are bouncers. They stand in the doorway of your next job and, if you don’t please them, you’re turned back out into the cold. But, if you’re on that magical list, the velvet rope will be unclipped and you’ll be ushered into the throbbing, laser-light filled smoke of success.
I had my first audition in New York City on November 17th, 2009.
I had just bought my first large, paperback copy of Backstage (an acting publication that specializes in NYC and Los Angeles) and proceeded to send my mug and resume to any acting job posting that look remotely promising.
One was a play that, as the blurb described, was about gay jewish baseball players. It also required nudity from most of the males (frontal or back not specified). I applied to this job, but wasn’t sure I could get behind showing my goods to a large group of people for free. Luckily, I never got a response.
I emerged from the subway stop on the lower westside of Manhattan on November 17th. I’d gotten the call the before (November 16th) in the basement of Magnolia Bakery. A fuzzy voicemail from a woman named Lara (pronounced LAAADDDA I would later discover) asked me to audition the next day for a Discovery Channel Pilot her company was putting together.
November 17th. Project buildings loom across the street with endless rows of balconies stretching into the sky. Above a balcony clogged with black trash bags on the 14 floor there were two elderly ladies sitting in old, plastic furniture drinking beer. Someone was sleeping on the balcony of the 17th floor, and all the plants had died on the corner balcony of floor 26.
I puled out my NFT (Not For Tourists Guide) to NYC and plotted my course.
The greatest part of the NFT is its small size, basically a pocketbook, with a convenient map that dosen’t make you look like a tourist. It’s embarrassing not to know where you’re going. Most people are content wandering the streets for blocks looking for landmarks rather then reach for a map.
The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre is up ahead. It’s sandwiched between a Walgrees and an HR Block. The window if full of colorful, well produced posters but the theatre, from the exterior, is anticlimactic at best. Like so many others things I’ve encountered in this city, I assume the theatre is either a dive or a palatial underground palace that just looks like a hole from the outside.
Never judge a store by its front.
Two more projects buildings tower ahead, facing each other on opposing street corners. I pass by a playground attached to the nearest building. The playground’s centerpiece is a metal and plastic castle with three different slide off ports and, for turrets, it had recreations of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. I notice that, according to the playground engineers (or P.E.’s as they prefer to be called) the Chrysler building is the same height as the Empire State Building. I wonder silently if this is the playground engineer’s way of saying
“Fuck off Empire State Building! No one cares that you’re the tallest!”
I’m nervous at this point. I’ve got that bubbling, churning, heart racing kind of nervous that makes you feel like you drank three cups of coffee an hour ago and are starting to crash.
A kid leans through the bars of the playground, he’s wearing a green hoodie and has his hand outstretched. He can’t be older then five or six. He asks me:
“Excuse me sir, can you spare a dollar to save the pandas?”
I shook my head no, doubting that a six year old had the organization or the connections to translate my dollar into instant panda-well-being. Also, I was very nervous for my upcoming audition, so I thought:
Fuck pandas! They can’t help me now!
I was right. They couldn’t.
I reached the building where the audition was set to take place. It was on the thirteenth floor of a waterfront warehouse that had been renovated and transformed into office spaces.
Lights flashed repeatedly in a window on the twelfth floor. Either a photo shoot, or a vampire rave part, I wasn’t sure.
Having slammed a low-carb monster energy drink on the subway, I needed to pee. I passed by the entrance to the building and crossed the eight lane road between myself and a park that hugs the waterfront on the lower west side. I didn’t know what kind of facilities the audition site would have (employee bathrooms, porta-potties, dirt holes in the floor, who was to say?) so I couldn’t take the risk of having to pee and having an audition at the same time.
I chose a nice spot where the park jutts out on the pier towards Jersey City. As I “watered the grass,” I looked out across the Hudson River towards the 60+ story condo buildings that dominate the coast of Jersey City. Manhattan is beatiful from a distance, but I wondered if seeing it out the window of my overpriced Jersey City condo might just be a constant and depressing reminder that I lived in Jersey City.
Once relieved, I sprinted back across the highway and entered the building towards my fate. A thick-browed man was slunched behind a desk right behond the revolving entryway. He was eastern European with hairy hands and lots of rings. He tells me “thirteenth floor” in a thick accent before I can tell him why I’m there. I’m very nervous now. Have people been showing up to audition for this all day? How many people (10,000+????)
When I’m nervous, I tend to stare at things for long periods of time. I do this as I ride the elevator up to the thirteenth floor with three other people. My target is the EMERGENCY STOP button. My fellow elevator riders are talking about their coworker’s gay relationship and, even though they have no problem with gay people, they wish his boyfriend would stop dropping by unexpectedly and drinking all the coffee.
I get off of the elevator and pass immediately by a set of bathrooms (dammit, they even look nice) and made my way to the production studio. I pass by a few people wearing heavy makeup that are in a hurry. The production studio has it’s name painted on the glass entrance.
These people are for real.
A young, bored and trendy girl is sitting at the desk. This is the same secretary who, when I tried to call the office for more information about the audition, kept transferring me to a disconnected phone line.
As much as I wanted to strangle her before, now I was very polite. I said I was there to meet Lara for an audition for the Discovery Channel Pilot. She tells me, without looking up from her computer, that:
“First off, her name is pronounced LAAADDDA, and secondly you’ll have to wait, she’s doing an interview downstairs right now.”
I look around the office, not wanting to just stare into the floor but also not wanting to make lingering eye contact with anyone. Everything is made out of glass with several framed posters from NBC and The Discovery Channel of productions the company has worked on. I take a seat in a couch pushed off to the side.
I have The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in my pocket.
I toy with the idea of taking it out of my pocket and reading, but if LAAADDDA has a deep seated grudge against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle then I would be screwed.
LAAADDDA opens the door and greets me politely, apologizing for making me wait. I stood up (a little too quickly) and said:
“No problem LAAADDDA. I brought The Hound of The Baskervilles with me.”
She gives me a strange look as she shakes my hand. I don’t know whether I mispronounced her name, she hates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or she’s repulsed by the fact that my hand is literally shooting sweat onto hers.
We talk about the subway as she leads me back to her office. I field questions about the length of time it takes the L train to go from Brooklyn to Manhattan. People in Michigan bitch about the weather when they have nothing else to talk about. People in NYC bitch about the weather and the subway system.
She leads me into an all-glass office. I meet a man named Joe with very professional looking glasses and a black turtle neck. He sits me down as he takes a seat across from me. Besides him is a large video camera pointed towards my face. He asks me if I have any questions about the monologue they want me to read before I begin.
I’m trying out for the part of John Smith.
John Smith was wrongfully accused of a crime, missed his family during his prison stay, and has a very simplistic way of looking at things and comes from a rural town because he says things like:
“I had faith’n God, just not in the Justice System no more”
I asked Joe when John Smith went to jail and for how long. Joe,pleased that I’d read the monologue before coming to the audition, responded that Joe had gone to jail at the age of 23 and had been locked up for 17 years.
“So, that would make him 40 years old, right?” I asked.
What I was really asking was:
“I don’t look like I’m forty even a little bit. I’m fucked aren’t I?”
Joe responded that I should not worry about John Smith’s age, and simply read the monologue as if it were “myself speaking.”
I signaled I was ready, Joe and LAAADDDA started up the camera, and I began.
I stumbled a bit at the beginning, but I felt more comfortable a few sentences in. I looked up at the camera during what I thought were the selection’s key points, struggled appropriately with the bits that I thought would be hard for someone to discuss, and basically read the words as if I were describing a traumatic experience (such as going to jail for 17 years for a crime I didn’t commit) that still haunted me.
When I finished, Joe nodded and said, “That was good. Very good, but this is something distant. You’ve been free now for ten years. Less emotions and more straightforward storytelling. Try it again.”
What Joe was really telling me was:
“That’s not what I wanted, so now you must take what I just told you and read that selection differently so that I can test whether or not you can take direction and how quickly you can adapt what I said into concrete results.”
I read the monologue again, this time taking more time with my sentences. I simply told the story, adding more of a hopeful note to the whole proceedings as if this was a traumatic event, but I had conquered my false accusations and was now a free man.
Joe and LAAADDDA seemed pleased. They looked at each other and smiled.
Joe asked me if I had a copy of my head shot and resume for them.
I did not have a copy of my head shot and resume. I immediately grew flustered.
“No…sorry…I didn’t bring one….but I did send you one in my email.”
Joe and LAAADDDA exchanged looks. They were no longer smiling.
“That’s ok, we’ll just print one out. ” Joe said. What Joe really said was “You’re not prepared for this audition, so I don’t think you’re a reliable person. Get the fuck out.”
“I don’t have a printer, you see.” I pointed out.
“Thanks for your time… Scott… you did very well.” Joe said as he ushered me towards the door, “you did veeeery well.”
Joe said this in the same tone that parents use when they tell their kids that, even though their cat Fluffy was just run over by the garbage truck, that Fluffy was now in pet heaven Heavenand had all the string and all the cat nip he could ever want for all time.
I turn away from LAAADDDA and Joe after saying my “thank you’s” and “goodbyes”, sure that the audition was lost. I grabbed for the door out of the office but stopped myself. It was a glass door with a big metal handle and no disernable hinges. Do I push it? Do I pull it? Does it do both? stupid fucking door! Just let me out of here!
I make a decision and pull the door open, only I pull with a little too much gusto. The door then sails past me and crashes into the wall. The door’smetal handle smashes into the glass wall in a painful, echoing crack that permiates through every room in the office.
I turn back towards Joe and LAAADDDA with my hands raised. They are both looking at me like I’m holding a murder weapon.
Joe goes to check the door. I’m standing in the doorway, wanting to escape but also wanting to end the audition on a higher note then me breaking their door.
“Does that happen a lot?” Is what I come up with.
“Yeah.” Joe replies while checking the wall for damage. I get the impression that, in fact, that does not happen a lot.
I think to say something else, but instead turn the corner and walk away. The rest of the offices, alerted by the sound of something breaking down the hall, turn and watch me as I walk past. I breeze by the office’s secretary, who is now having a one sided conversation with a bored looking woman about her budding music career, and push the door out of the office and make my escape.
On my way back, I pass by the playground castle with the Empire State and Chrysler Building top again.
That interview went ok. I tell myself.
Fifteen minutes later, I tell myself: that interview did not go ok.
I’m on my way to a party being thrown at a bar in Chinatown to celebrate the 2010 issue of the NFT guide coming out. I pull out my NFT to guide me there.
As the streets turn from upscale delis, salons, and chains to big neon signs in Chinese, I get a call from a New York number I don’t recognize.
It’s a woman calling from a talent casting office. They want me to come in and try out for a commercial the next day. I jot down the important information (audition tomorrow, the place and time) thank her, then listen as she unsuccessfully hangs up on me and then calls another person and tells them exactly what she just told me.
Probably a scam, I think at that point, but still, it’s an audition.
I wish I could have told Joe and LAAADDDA that theirs was my first audition, and how proud I was just to be there, but such sentiments are seldom appriciated by casting directors. Either way, I royally fucked up my first NYC audition, but subsiquent auditions have looked much better by comparison (at least I didn’t break the door on the way out of that one!) and I can now laugh at the fact that Joe and LAAADDDA won’t soon forget my once in a lifetime exit.
Great story… :)
I remember you once saying something being jealous of me as I had a job…
But I’m jealous of you – you’re out there living my dream…
Good on ya, man – keep it up… :)