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My First Time

November 14, 2012

Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great show.

I instinctively knew that in starting to audition for unpaid roles, being the absolute best actor in the room may not be the most important factor. The director and the others involved were all doing it for love of the project, and for the joy of creating — not to get rich. So I knew that at least as important as my actual performance would be showing that I would be a decent person to work with and spend many stressful hours with in the crafting of the play.

A week after my first audition left me without a part but with new confidence in my ability to actually do this crazy acting thing, I audition for a political satire called “The Pundit”. I have worked in political media for 15 years, and spent some of that time as a pundit myself, so I thought it might be fate that this be my first role. The show was to debut at the Capital Fringe Festival two months later, and the writer had written three acclaimed Fringe shows in the past, so I knew it was a show that would get a lot of attention.

The audition itself went very well. I got the humor and nuance of the sides I was given, and I did a decent job of playing each scene in different ways and with different partners. I also hit it off with the director, who, like me, is very interested in politics and policy. That night, in an e-mail to thank him for his time, I said I was very interested in this show because of my background and that I would do anything, even just behind-the-scenes stuff, just to be a part of it. I was selected for the smallest of the six parts — which is exactly what I wanted, since I was just getting started and did not want to overextend myself while trying to figure out what I was doing.

A few weeks later, looking ahead beyond Fringe, I auditioned for another show. The Rude Mechanicals are a long-standing D.C.-area theater company focused mostly on Shakespeare but also on other Elizabethan and classical works. They were putting up “Lysistrata” in late August. I had forgotten which old Greek play “Lysistrata” was, so I Googled it. “Oh, it’s THAT one.”

This time, I auditioned mainly because I liked the people — people I had yet to meet. I had traded a few e-mails with one of the Rudes’ mainstays, and for a reason I cannot recall, I said I did not think I could actually do the show, but that I might audition for their next production. He said I should come give it a try anyway. When I again demurred, he wrote back saying I could just come to the audition anyway and just meet the gang and hang out. “Wow,”  I thought. “If they’re all this positive and welcoming, I’ll make my schedule work for this show.”

The Rudes have a reputation for being very supportive of newcomers — and for rather lewd spins on the classics. I got points for being daring in the audition, playing some rather explicit scenes with a fellow auditioner I’d just met with confidence and humor. (An experienced actor, she told me she was amazed I was new at this, as did the director.) I read for all the male parts, and the director told me I could head home. “I can read for the penis,” I said, half-jokingly.

The original joke the Rudes were bringing to this very old sex comedy was having the, um, male parts of the sexually frustrated Athenians and Spartans played by actual actors in giant dick suits. So I found myself on the floor kneeling between the legs of another actor, playing his mighty sword.

I got a small part in the show, but no one was cast as the penis. A few weeks into rehearsals, I asked who was actually going to get that part. The director said anyone who was free during those scenes could have it. A few of my castmates absolutely did not want that part. I absolutely did.

Why? It looked like a heck of a lot of fun, and it was also an opportunity to show what I could do. The role was entirely physical and mostly improvisational, and over the next few weeks we worked out some really funny bits. (A friend from my improv troupe was recruited to play a second schlong, responding to a tweet from me: “We need someone to play a giant penis. Yes, I am serious.”)

Though it didn’t occur to me when I volunteered for the part, in doing so I went from being on stage for less than 10 minutes with about a dozen lines to being out there for most of the show, in a role that, even if I’d done a horrible job, would have been a showstopper. The jokes were easy to make — a “large part”, a “hard role”, etc. — but it got me a lot of applause and a few very favorable mentions in reviews.

At the start of spring, I had never even had an audition. By the end of August, I had played a terrorist limousine dispatcher in one show, and a giant penis in another. And there was more to come.

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