Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Week of Drama

And I mean that in the actual, not figurative, sense, Readers.

Last weekend I got some unhappy news. (I was going to say "devastating," because that's how I roll, but I think some of you would have protested.) I had been hearing rumors that my little theater group was going to stage Steel Magnolias as the winter show. Six juicy roles, all for women. The reason I'd been hearing rumors, as opposed to facts, is that after two years with this group I am still not an insider. Aside from official e-mails (which never tell the whole story) my intel is like a game of Telephone. (An aside: I have always remembered this game as "Operator," but even Wikipedia, which references the rather racist-sounding "Chinese Whispers," has no recollection of that. End of digression.) I figured that eventually I'd get the e-mail announcing that auditions were in, oh, five hours or so, and I'd scoot on over and knock some socks off. After all, I played a bawdy southern babe in last year's winter production. It's kind of my wheelhouse. Then I learned there would be no auditions. The show has been precast with the director's choices, kind of like how scripts go to Julia Roberts for "consideration." And that, Dear Readers, is the end of that. Oh, except right when I was at my lowest, hurt and sad? I get an e-mail from a former castmate that reads "Hi Sam! Saw this and thought of you! XOXO!" Attached was an announcement for a new theater group forming, with the following tagline:

Have you ever been told you're too old, fat or ugly for traditional plays? Then this group is for you! We will cast from within and show the world that you don't have to be beautiful to act.

Well, that was kicking me when I was down. But what could I do? This director has seen me in seven shows (three of them his) acting my little heart out, and if I haven't impressed him yet, I think I've run out of ideas. I saw my future as as choice between these two options:

1. Swearing off performing for the rest of my life, and retiring to an undisclosed location, where I will gradually lose touch with the rest of the world (hey, the title of the post has DRAMA in it!)

2. Do the terrifying, unthinkable thing and get out there and start getting rejected (oops, I mean CAST) in other companies' shows.

So, I decided to give the latter a fair shake. I began scouring the want ads, and made some notes about shows that sounded promising. Despite some leads, nothing was imminent, so I congratulated myself on my initiative and left it at that. But that very day, I got a message from my friend Jessica, who said she had just auditioned at a Starbucks (!) for an original musical and had a callback. She had mentioned me to the director (how awesome is she?) who wanted me to call.

I thought about that for a while. It made me crazy-nervous. I knew that in addition to a cold read, I'd have to do a cold sing. Possibly in a Starbucks. I've auditioned for musicals only twice in my life, and neither went at all well. I mulled it over for a day and finally called. When the producer/director/writer called back, she sounded really nice. She asked if I could come to a rehearsal on Tuesday and audition for her, with some other women. I guess I've done crazier things, I thought to myself. I said okay.

It all sounded so vastly, mysteriously terrifying in every way that I couldn't get my mind around what to be nervous about. I knew that most of the cast was already in place so I figured she was looking to see how we'd fit in.

The first thing that happened is I misjudged my timing and arrived 10 minutes late. All my audition books say "The best way to not get hired is to arrive anything later than 10 minutes early." And that makes sense to me. Half the battle in putting a show together is being able to depend on your people. I figured I was out right there. But when I entered the room (spotting Jessica, and one other woman who seemed like a giant to me) the director just looked up and smiled and told me to take a seat.

I won't drag this out as much as I could. The highlights involved being asked if I could yo-yo (doubt it) and--in the absence of said yo-yos--if I could mime yo-yo (doubt that, too.) We were given a page of lyrics (no sheet music, no accompaniment) and told we'd be singing it back to her. The song was about a man with a greasy Afro and a little tiny penis. The rhythm was jazz-like, with varying beats, hard to follow. I told myself sternly this was not the time for modesty and belted it out...when I could remember it. Then we were invited to get on our feet and learn the choreography. By now it became clear that I was being asked to remember the steps to a dance I'd watched only two or three times while singing a song--on key, on beat--that I'd heard only two or three times. This seemed so deliciously impossible that instead of being seized with paralyzing nerves I found myself giggling delightedly, loosey-goosey and relaxed. What else could possibly be thrown at me?

An actress entered the room and the director told her to watch us. Even that didn't bother me. Then the director excused us but suddenly remembered we hadn't read. Nor could she find a script for us to read from. She said she'd tell us the lines and we could just remember them. Why not? I figured. Next we can recite the Declaration of Independence from memory, too. She seemed to like my reading, and we sang one more song, to the tune of the Dr. Pepper jingle, but about pedicures and shopping. She seemed to like that, too. Then she went to boot us out again but suddenly called "WAIT!" She lunged for a bag and held it open. I peered in to find it stuffed with Tootsie Rolls and lollipops. "Take one!" The other two glanced in like the bag was full of vomit. But I was thrilled. "My daughter will be so excited!" I trilled, and helped myself to Tootsie Pop. The door was shutting on my bum while I shouted "Yay! We got treats!" It seemed like a fitting conclusion for the one of the hardest things I've ever been through. You get a prize when you do good at the dentist, too.

Jessica thought she liked me, but I wasn't sure after all that. When I got home, though, there was an e-mail from the director saying she'd like to see me again on Thursday. Wow. I think I just got my first-ever callback for a singing part. That is pretty cool.

Of course, I wasn't free on Thursday. I had rehearsal for Twelfth Night, because we were adding to the show we just finished and then performing it again for a cool-sounding event called "Ten Plays in Ten Hours" sponsored by the San Diego Shakespeare Society. I told the director this. She said No problem, how about Saturday? Well, that was the day of the show, so no. I tried to be positive, cheerily reminding her that this was our last show and I was totally available after that. I'll simmer on this and get back to you, she said.

Five days later, she has. I have something called an "audition/rehearsal" on Thursday and am listed as "tentative cast member" on her schedule. I haven't seen the script and have no idea what my part is.

Friday night David and I went to LA to see yet more Shakespeare. We try to go every year to see The Troubadours, commedia/circus/actor/dancers who set Shakespeare to popular music. Some of our favorites have included Fleetwood Macbeth and The Artist Formerly Known As The Prince of Denmark. This one was A Withers Tale--A Winters Tale with the music of Bill Withers. From the moment that the Troubies stopped the first scene to sing their version of "You're So Vain" to late members of the audience, I could not stop smiling. This was actually a pretty serious show for them--the dramatic songs like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me" lend themselves to that tone. But it was all kinds of awesome.

We stayed over Saturday night, and cruised back to town just in time for David to take Jarrah on a school camp-out (more on that anon) and me to get into costume for Twelfth Night. I was crabby when I arrived--it was hot, crowded and the parking at Horton Plaza is like a carnival ride--but by the time we were performing to a grinning audience in the twilight and pretty much killing it even though we'd never even SEEN the performance space before, I was having a blast. Chatting up the artistic directors of the San Diego Shakespeare Society afterward (who were extremely kind about our performance), and learning there may be an opportunity to do educational performances in schools for them, was the frosting on a sweet day.

As for what's next, who knows? I hope I get it (how many people does she need?)


The Wades said...

"I won't drag this out as much as I could."

"Have you ever been told you're too old, fat or ugly for traditional plays? Then this group is for you! We will cast from within and show the world that you don't have to be beautiful to act." Hee hee. What a friend.

"I told myself sternly this was not the time for modesty and belted it out.."

Pure awesomeness! I love you, Sam. Way to be!

Anonymous said...

Plus the song about the greasy afro and tiny penis!

Wonderful entry. Can't wait to hear more about the Starbucks/Dr. Pepper/Tiny Penis musical. :)


Logical Libby said...

I still have nightmares about the audition process. I think it shows incredible grace and bravery for you to do what you are doing.

You are now in my pantheon of heroes.

Jen said...

What they said! I have my fingers crossed for you. xo

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Way to go for it!

Mary said...

Wow! I will be crossing my fingers for you! I always said that you have a great voice!

Very excited for you....!



Anonymous said...

Yay for going for it! You had me cracking up with the song about the afro (sounds just charming) as well as the email from your "Friend"... Couldn't you send her one back -- "Have you ever been told that you have no tact or empathy? Tired of putting your foot in your mouth? Then this etiquette course is for you! In only one easy session, learn how NOT to insult your friends and colleagues with your helpful hints about their looks, romantic choices and job prospects..." ;) Liz