Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Drama Queen

I wasn't enjoying high school very much until I became a drama fag. This is not a slur; for some reason, "drama fag" was common usage for all the creative people who wore black, smoked cloves, and hung out in the back of the quad, and it was a badge of honor. I became a drama fag, rather suddenly, after a childhood friend encouraged me to try out for the Woody Allen play Don't Drink the Water, and I was miraculously cast as Kilroy (played by a man in the original.) I say miraculously because the ranks were pretty hard to breach, and I most certainly did not squirm through with my talent--apparently, the director had a crush on me.

The show was a massive, staggering high. And a few months later, we performed a scene at a drama festival at Cal State Long Beach, where I had maybe four lines, but they must have been my best ones. At the awards ceremony, I heard my name called and raced to the stage, smacking outstretched hands, to receive a medal for Excellence in Acting. I remember hugging a short, bald man holding the medal, like he was giving me an Oscar.

A tiny taste of the roar of the greasepaint and I was hooked for life. But somehow, it's never been easy like that again. Sure, I appeared in a few shows in college, and even the musical Chess while in grad school (I was the oldest person in the cast) but auditions were my nemesis and I usually ended up in the chorus. And that was okay. Even singing one line by myself to the entire theater was a major buzz, and the rehearsals and particular camaraderie of a group of strangers who put on a show never ceased to jolt me with the horrible, wonderful state of being alive.

Often, I fantasize out loud about being in a show again, but I always turn out to be busy when it's time to audition. The fact is, just the idea of driving to a new place and waiting in line with strangers grips me with dread. Let's face it...I'm not a trained singer or dancer. Hell, it's hard for me to stay up late.

So I guess I'm kind of amazed that I even considered it when David forwarded me the audition notice. It was for a new kid-friendly musical called The Daddy Machine, for The Diversionary Theatre. David and I go there all the time, and the shows are always lively and funny, often featuring three or four actors in multiple parts. Now, the Diversionary is a professional theater, but the notice said "non-equity" and "we support non-traditional casting." I read it over and over. I needed a head shot and a resume, and didn't have those things. But David offered to make me the former and reassured me I had stuff for the latter. I also needed to prepare "32 bars" of two pop songs. I had no idea what 32 bars would be, or what counted as a pop song.

And the audition was in two days. Two days! I thought and thought, and then told David I just didn't have enough time to prepare. He understood. But then all of the sudden, I found myself sending an e-mail to the contact, Travis. I told him I just found out about the audition, and that "my qualifications include teaching Nia, acting in college, and being a total karaoke diva. Oh, and a mom. Does that count? :)" He wrote back in like a minute. "Come at 9:30. Just tell them what you told me."

David said, "Sounds like you have an appointment." Indeed it did. I worked on my resume, and Jessica kindly re-formatted it for me. I read on-line about how to staple the resume to the back of the photo, and lots of other helpful tips. I chose my songs--both of them more than 30 years old, but hey, I know them well and when I sang them for David, he said I sounded great.

Monday felt like a dream. I wasn't terrified, exactly, because I kept reminding myself that I've come a long way since high school. I've been in a musical; I dance around in front of strangers every week. But I definitely felt like I was going to do something bizaare, and kept trying to imagine the outer reaches of the bizaare-ness. Of course I couldn't. That's what's so bizaare.

Monday evening I said goodnight to Jarrah and goodbye to David, put on my spiffy new workout clothes (the notice said "be prepared to move") grabbed my book and bottle of water (suggested on-line, in case they were behind) and set off. I had planned to be at least 30 minutes early so I could review the script while I waited.

When I pulled up in front of the theater, it was flooded with light but I didn't see anybody. Inside, a smiling young man was making phone calls behind a desk, but the lobby was otherwise deserted. When he got off the phone, I whispered "Travis?" "Trevor," he grinned. I finally managed to tell him my name and time, and I watched him scan a printed list with teeny-tiny names all over it. "Actually, we've had a lot of no-shows, so you can probably go right up," he said. This threw me. "I was going to look at the script for a bit," I said, retrieving what looked like one from a sort of in-box on his desk. "Is this it?" But clearly there wasn't going to be time now. I was going to fill out an information sheet, and go right up.

"Do you mind my asking how many people are going to be up there?" I said, trying to smile ingratiatingly. "Three," he said, and I said "Oh!" because that seemed a very small number. (There were actually four.) My confidence, shaken by the knowledge that I was not going to see the script, returned somewhat when I realized that I wasn't going to have to audition in front of 50 people, nor was I going to have to wait in line with smoking waifs with jaded expressions. I wasn't going to have to wait in line at all, with anyone. I was the only one here.

While I filled out the forms, I tuned in to his phone calls, and realized pretty quickly that he was letting people know they were being called back. I heard some congratulations, and instructions for what to wear. It took me out of the moment, because my mind wandered towards, "Ohhhh, those people are so lucky. They're being called back. I wish I was being called back. I wonder if I'll get called back?" I tried to shake off these thoughts, but they beckoned to me with a long, evil fingernail.

I turned in my forms and it was time. I followed Trevor upstairs, at a distance, because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to burst in there or what. A friendly man met me at the door to the theater and shook my hand. Another friendly man followed suit. Sitting in the audience, there were two friendly, smiling women. Of course these people had names, but I was too nervous to process them then, let alone remember them now. Especially since, the niceties done, maybe three more seconds went by before one of the men said, "Okay, I'll just take your sheet music and we can get started."

I wasn't too worried. I figured I'd just explain. "I don't have sheet music," I said apologetically. "I was just planning to sing without music." I mean, how big a deal could it be? That's what they do on American Idol. So I was ill-prepared for the nice man's sudden frown and the lock-down on my plans. "I'm going to need to hear you with the piano," he said. "What are the songs?" I told him. More frowns. "I don't know those." And then...

"So...Happy Birthday?" He swooped onto the piano seat and fluttered a few keys.

Readers, have you ever sung Happy Birthday for a crowd of strangers? Yes, of course you have. Many times. Let me rephrase:

Have you ever sung Happy Birthday to a crowd of strangers and mused "Gee, I sound amazing. Listen to that vibrato. My voice just soars on that third line. I really nailed it. I sound like an angel on furlough from heaven. How can these people concentrate on that baby and those cupcakes when I'm singing like THIS?"

But I didn't have time to think about any of that. I was trying to stay positive. I smiled and faced the nice women. They were smiling, too. I missed the intro a couple times. Forgive me--I don't normally sing Happy Birthday with a piano accompaniment. Finally, I launched.

The first time through wasn't hideous, although I panicked when I got to "dear..." and said "Sammy!" and one of the women cracked up, not unkindly. When I was done, the piano man was smiling hugely (maybe he'd been laughing, but I hadn't noticed.) "Great!" he enthused. "Now, again." Suddenly the key was much higher, and I could feel myself kind of losing it. I did remember to breathe (score one for me!) but there were some scary trilling sounds at the top of the third line, and possibly some voice breakage. I don't remember exactly, because I swiftly blocked it. In any case, after the second time through, the piano man stopped.

One of the women asked me about my part in Chess. I told her I'd been the American Reporter, and she had no further questions, your honor. Then the non-piano man, located to my left, asked "So, you've mostly been in a lot of choral and harmony groups?" and I said, very honestly with what I hoped was charming self-deprecation, "No, I haven't been in any groups. I'm a karaoke diva, though." I started to say something about e-mailing Travis and yada yada yada, but there was a sudden sensation of all the air getting sucked out of the room, and a crisp "Thanks for coming in!" from the non-piano man.

I think I might have yipped "Oh!" before recovering "Thank you for your time!" and "Nice meeting you!" to all the others, but only because I couldn't believe I was being dismissed without having read. What I meant by the "Oh!" was a sort of "Oh, this is only a vocal audition, no reading tonight?" dipping to a minor key "Oh, was that karaoke comment the secret password to the exit?" dueting with "Oh, you mean my Happy Birthday was so abyssmal that a brilliant reading can't tip the scales in my favor?"

At this point, I would have sprinted to my car, but because my life is always more absurd than other people's, the non-piano man followed me to the door, and said, "Could you tell Trevor to send up anyone who's still downstairs?" I was a little surprised to be asked for favors, but I'm not spiteful, so I walked back into the lobby and lifted my chin, smiled casually, and acted my little heart out: "Hi Trevor! Just wanted to let you know that if anyone else comes in, you can send them right up. Have a good evening!"

Then I stumbled out to the car, blinking in the cool darkness, and marveled, "It's all over. In like five minutes. And really the whole thing was over as soon as I walked in because I was unprepared. Why was I unprepared? I can't believe I was unprepared. That really sucks."

Next time, I'm going to know to bring sheet music, even if it's not mentioned in the fine print.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sam!

Bravo for being so brave!! I would have never had the guts to do this. Even if you didn't get a part, you put yourself out there and took a chance. I think that is really amazing :-)

Love, Lisa

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I am so proud of you. You did what I've been wanting to do for years. Congratulations! I had to sing Happy Birthday for a producer and director when I tried out for Annie a million years ago. It is definitely more nervewracking without the prospect of cake and ice cream following! Good for you, Sam. I hope to talk to you soon!



Anonymous said...

I am reminded of a quote, although I can't remember who said it - "Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death."
Be proud of the fact that you didn't give up. You'll have better one's in the future so chin up and break a leg!

Anonymous said...

Another definition of courage is being scared but doing whatever frightens you anyway.

You're a brave soul. Better luck next time!

Best, Gail

Anonymous said...

That which does not feel fearless, is indeed.

My hat's off to you. (Particularly like the visual of the "smoking waifs with jaded expressions"!)

Marlene said...

"Most certainly did not squirm through with my talent"??? Girl, you ARE a diva. It doesn't just take courage to get up there, it takes talent, and talent you've got in abundance. The reason David sent you that email wasn't just because you were courageous. The reason we read breathlessly through that post wasn't just because you were courageous (though you are)--it is because we all know you can be a star. We are just waiting to see what else you will star in.