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A Gap You Can’t See.

January 1, 2013

The day after my father’s funeral, I learned a monologue.  This was not a reaction to the event, not done as something to take my mind away from the grief I was just starting to grasp at–am still only just grasping at.  This was a professional requirement: the week after this major life event, I was scheduled to be seen at my first audition after just over a four month gap.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you may remember back in October I was going through a crisis of faith.  After finding out my father was diagnosed with a terminal disease earlier this year, I spent the summer working for a Shakespeare festival, spending my spare time wondering what was the point of anything.  When I returned to New York, the pondering became overwhelming when exacerbated bysuddenly being unemployed again.  I went into shock.  I could not audition.

I made up and found so many excuses.  I was moving.  I needed to lose the weight I gained over the summer that I could no longer hide under skirts or have suctioned into corsets.  My headshots were way too old, and I needed new ones desperately.  I didn’t have any new material worth taking into the room.  And my most favorite old-chestnut-crutch: All the good jobs were only for Equity members, so why bother?

I spent the better part of October and early November talking myself off the proverbial ledge, and slowly working through my excuses one by one.  I found an apartment relatively quickly, spending only one month couch hopping.  I lost the extra weight pretty easily once I started walking around New York again and opted to not drink a whole pitcher of beer every other night.  I got new headshots that look great and look like me.  I found a perfect audition song for my voice part.  And I was slowly coming to terms again with being non-union, especially since that status allowed me to get an audition appointment with a fairly affluent Off-Broadway company in December for one of their spring productions.  I don’t think I was perfect for the part, but it was a chance to be seen by the company’s artistic director, someone who I’d like to have know my work.  And of course, it was an opportunity to audition again, and in a scheduled appointment: no getting up at 5AM to wait outside in line, only to be turned away at 9:25AM with a “No thanks, maybe next time.”  Circumstances seem a lot more optimistic when you know you are going to be seen.

And then my dad got sick.  It was very sudden, and very unexpected–especially since we had been told again and again over the preceding months by doctors, nurses, specialists, that he was doing well, that he had three to five years left at least.  I won’t go into any kind of play-by-play here of the days leading up to his passing, but it goes without saying that those estimates were wrong.  So much of this industry and so much of life can be explained with the simple admission: “Nothing ever goes according to plan.”  After three weeks of hospitalization my father died, years ahead of schedule.  He was always in a hurry.

And still there was the audition to worry about.  It loomed in the distance.  I had spent the month previous to the appointment either at my parents’ home in order to visit my father in the hospital, or in the city waiting for a phone call asking me to return again.  Needless to say, I was under prepared.  And now that what I had been waiting for had happened–now that my father was gone and I was released from commuting or holding my attention hostage, focusing only on death–now that I was free to concern myself with only business, it suddenly occurred to me how inappropriate the event felt.  How could I audition a week after giving my father’s eulogy?  Was that how you were supposed to grieve?  Was that appropriate?

Well, it certainly wasn’t inappropriate.  At least, it didn’t appear to me.  And the more I thought about it, I had two choices: Go on the audition and make best of it–since it was my first audition back after so long, I was not expecting a miracle, I just needed to stretch the muscle again; or I could cancel the audition, make it harder to get an appointment with that company again in the future, miss out on the opportunity to be seen, and sit alone in an apartment with cats and cry.  Given these options, there only seemed to be one thing to do: suck it up and go to the audition.

So the day after my father’s funeral I ran a bath, taped my monologue to the tile walls, and didn’t get out till I had memorized it. (I can only learn monologues in bathtubs.) I ran it several times over the next few days, trying to carve out time away from my family to focus on the task at hand.  When I got back to the city, away from any immediate reminders of my father, caught up in its unmerciful pace, it was easier to just get on with prepping as I normally would: booking a rehearsal studio, working with a friend briefly on the text, pulling out the thoughts.  But just as this old, established practice was taking place, so too emerged the nerves which had paralyzed and put me out to pasture months before.  Suddenly the prospect of walking into a room and reciting roughly twenty lines of Shakespeare–something I could do at any moment before, even in my sleep, and had been paid to do months before–was too much.  I began losing sleep from the anxiety, thinking about how horrible I was going to be, and how horrible it was to know that.

My parents have largely supported my career choice from the beginning.  We had a couple snafus, particularly after I emerged from grad school when the typical questioning occurred: “So, are you going to be able to teach with that degree?”  “What are you going to do without health insurance?”  “How much longer are you going to do this for?”  Neither of my parents were what you could call artistic, and I think that severely hindered their ability to understand why I would choose this lifestyle, one that guarantees a fair amount of built-in suffering.  No parent who cares about their child’s well-being wants to see that child suffer.  So the arguments, the points of contention they would present me with, were simply ploys on their part to steer me toward a life they not only understood, but one they expected would be easier on me.  They were just trying to be good parents.

Over the last few years, however, the tables had turned.  If I was bemoaning having to take time off work to go to a class or audition, my mother would become severe and simply say, “You’re going.”  For his part, my father would call to check in a couple days after an audition if he somehow knew about it (I rarely discuss auditions) to see how it went.  I would usually send his incoming calls straight to my voice mail, knowing why he was calling, and not wanting to talk.  He would always end the message asking me to call back, but not to worry if I couldn’t, “No big deal.”  I’m sad to say that more often than not I took him up on the offer and didn’t call.

Now I was alone–with a father gone, and a mother trying to comprehend being made a widow at fifty-seven–with only my mind to keep me company (and it was not proving to be good company).  Out of another preparatory habit (and slight desperation), I began scanning over columns of “Auditioning Tips.”  I was looking for an answer: what was going to make me know my audition would be great, instead of the tragic act it was certainly destined to unravel into.  However, as I reviewed the continually repetitive tricks of the trade, I felt like I had already incorporated all the advice somewhere: know your piece, make strong choices, make eye contact when you walk in, blahblahblah.  All of this was useful for the actual performance of the piece, but didn’t make me feel any better.  Rather, it just gave me more to obsess over ruining.

And then I re-discovered a packet of advice and quotes given to me at a different kind of audition workshop I had taken part of in early November.  Led by actor, singer, and Backstage contributor Michael Kostroff (you’ve seen him in something at some point, trust me), this workshop focused solely on the mental state of the actor leading up to and immediately after the audition.  Aptly titled “Audition Psych 101,” Kostroff takes special care to look at an aspect rarely addressed but ultimately influential to the outcome of an audition: how an actor deals with how they feel about auditioning.

Among the many points that Kostroff discussed during the workshop was the idea of scale.  He advised that if you were feeling nervous about an audition, to take a moment and think about how large that event really was.  When down the street someone may be giving birth at a hospital, or begging for food, or even dying, your audition comparatively seems pretty manageable.  All you have to do is walk into a room, show your work, do the best you can, and leave.  That’s it.  It’s actually a very simple action.

This sense of perspective, especially given what I had experienced over the last month and especially in the week before, helped me relax about my audition.  I wouldn’t say it quelled the nerves completely, but it made them manageable  and I could acknowledge them objectively without becoming crippled by them.  When I got to the studio, I signed in and waited patiently.  They were running ahead (miracle of miracles) and I was going to be seen before some other people in my slot had even arrived.  I waited patiently: I was as ready as I’d ever be.  I listened quietly while the girl two slots in front of me recited the piece I was going to do, but that did little to phase me.  Over time I have accepted the fact that there are only four female classical monologues, which are used in rotation, so it was hardly surprising to hear someone else saying the words I would speak in two minutes time.  “And anyway,” I thought, “I like my choices better.”

When I walked into the room I smiled, introduced myself, recited my speech, then was asked to sing 16 bars, got a thank you, said thank you back, and walked out.  As I took the elevator down, I was filled with awe.  I could hardly believe it: It had been so easy.  Why had I been freaking out?  That was nothing at all!  I was particularly struck with the thought: “I can’t believe I didn’t die.”  And then I considered that phrase and what had just happened to my father, and it seemed so disproportional to what had been asked of me to do.  How could I have been filled with so much terror over something that simply could not hurt me in that way?

I got to the street laughing and smiling at my folly, relieved that it was over and had gone well–well enough to be let go of once I left the room–and went off looking for some ice cream.  I felt I had earned it.  I also felt, most of all, that my father would have been proud that I had stuck to my guns, pulled myself together, and pushed forward.  I wish he  could have been around for me to call him afterwards, to tell him how it went.  But I think, maybe, he knows.

For more information about Audition Psych 101, or to sign up, please go to the website here: www.auditionpsych101.com

SignatureLea

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2013 5:59 pm

    Beautiful story..I think you really have nailed the right attitude…. and the audition! Big hug to you and I hope to see you soon.

  2. January 2, 2013 8:32 am

    I’m really proud of you — for your awesome attitude and picking yourself back up. Hug hug hug.

  3. California Triple-Threat permalink
    January 14, 2013 7:04 pm

    Glad to see you back on the blog! Wonderful post.

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