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audition diary

tuesday, january 27, 2004:

as part of normal web surfing activities, i discover that a local theatre company i have never heard of is holding auditions for into the woods [hereafter referred to as ITW]. they are holding these auditions this very sunday. this is one of three musicals i have always said i would drop anything to do, the other two being jesus christ superstar (which i accomplished in 1999 at burning man) and chess. the theatre company in question is ReAct - the Repertory Actor's Theatre, whose mission is to produce multi-ethnic theatre and then donate the profits to philanthropic causes. ITW will definitely put butts in seats, as they say. i scour their web site, and discover a list of actor alumni that includes my friend R., whom i just performed with in a show. R. did a staged reading at ReAct; she had been considering auditioning herself. she knows the director; he's not exactly helpful, she says. she also knows and likes the choreographer. she says ReAct kind of has a community theatre vibe - often veering toward mediocre, but they certainly have budgets to produce splashy versions of things like a chorus line and make them look professional. she says audition if you want the part.

i want the part. i email the director and ask for a slot that sunday. he signs me up for 7:40pm.

---

wednesday, january 28:

on my lunch break, i walk down to capitol music and purchase the vocal songbook for west side story. the audition notice said prepare an appropriate song of not more than 4 minutes, so i've decided to sing "something's coming." it's a rhythmically intersesting song; it's musical theatre, not rock or soul or pop; the sondheim connection is there (stephen sondheim wrote lyrics for west side story and is the composer & lyricist of ITW); and it shows off my tenor range, although the part i'm auditioning for is what they call a "baritenor," not really a high tenor. still. it's a good song.

when i get home from work, i pull out my broadway cast recording of west side story and sing. i am in the throes of a very bad cold. i sound like shit. i go to see chicago at the paramount with jen tonight. i can't decide if that's inspirational or not. hey look at all the extremely pretty and talented people putting on a very expensive show!

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thursday, january 29:

my cold is so bad that at tonight's rehearsal for dark ride, my entire first scene sounds like i am trying to speak while choking on mounds of gravel and poison.

---

friday, january 30:

still rehearsing to the CD. voice getting a little better. for the past couple days, i have wrestled with a few very specific moments in "something's coming" where, although the note is in my range, i have to use more force to sustain it than i would if i wasn't plagued with this terrible cold. what i want is for the notes to float, but they won't, and i wrestle with how to cut them off... there is no satisfactory solution.

---

saturday, january 31:

voice is recovering well... it won't be at 100% for the audition, but i'm convincingly hitting the crescendos at the 2nd half of the song. my friend R. emailed the director and was told that because she'd worked with him before, she didn't need to worry about general auditions and could just go straight to callbacks. she's got a nice voice. we think how much fun it would be to play the two leads, the Baker and the Baker's Wife, together.

---

sunday, february 1:

i stayed out til 1am the night before partying, and then got up for a 10am call for dark ride technical rehearsal. we're going to be here until 10pm, with a 2 hour dinner break. sleep, rehearse, sleep, rehearse - lots of sitting backstage during first full tech with actors. on my dinner break, i scream home and cram in a rehearsal. it has occurred to me once or twice that i haven't really focused on selling the song, but really, the cold hasn't fully gone away, and hitting the notes is more important.

7pm rolls around and i duck out of dark ride. auditions are held on the 4th floor of the seattle center's centerhouse, where a multitude of music and dance rehearsal rooms exist. i get there early; they happen to have a gap; i get to go right in.

the director, david, is a polite asian man who smiles without seeming to mean it. the accompanist, mercifully, seems to have his shit together and asks intelligent questions about how i want him to play my song. i'm relatively dressed up; i'm nervous, but confident; i step back; he starts playing; i start singing.

well, damn. apparently, whoever was responsible for putting out my west side story songbook took it upon themselves to transpose "something's coming" into a lower, easier key. i guess i would have known this if i'd bothered asking a piano player to look at my music, but you know, you make assumptions in life, and then, usually, you feel really fucking stupid. there are pros and cons to this situation. cons: i don't get to show off my tenor range. pros: i don't have to worry about my cold as much, and i don't botch anything by forcing it too much. song's over. david the director smiles politely but without any noticeable enthusiasm. three minutes after i start, i'm done, and i'm out of there.

i put on my audition sheet that i was auditioning for one role: the Baker. when asked if there are any roles i would not accept, i indicated every other role except the Wolf/Cinderella's Prince. i'm at a point in my life where i am no longer willing to commit 6-12 weeks to a project where i'm joe bit part. it sounds snotty in a way, but it's also a recognition of the fact that i can manufacture a life for myself in the absence of rounding out other people's projects as their spear-carrier and be more happy than i'd be as a bit part. it's not like i do this for money; may as well get some artistic rewards. the last play i did was a great networking experience, but i will never commit that much of my life to so little stage time again.

so nyaah.

---

monday, february 2:

nothing happens. i overheard when i was leaving my audition that we wound find out "monday or tuesday" about callbacks. didn't find out today, that's for damn sure.

---

tuesday, february 3:

R. emails me. she has apparently received an email notice that callbacks are to be held this coming sunday, so keep her schedule open. my heart sinks. i received no such callback notice. she suggests that perhaps what this means is that all of the ReAct alumni who got bumped straight to callbacks are just being given the heads up about callbacks, that a proper, formal callback announcement might still be to come. it's possible.

it's also possible that i just didn't make the cut. this shit happens all the time, whatever, you know, it's life. i spend the day in a black mood. it occurs to me more forcefully that although i hit the notes for "something's coming" with relative ease, i had spent so much time worrying about overcoming my cold that i never spent any time whatsoever working on presentation. on acting the song. i really just went in, belted it, and left, without feeling any of the sense of wonder and potential that tony feels in that song. i was a robot at that audition, not an actor. i may as well have been at a karaoke bar.

---

wednesday, feb 4:

in my inbox when i arrive at work, sent out at 7:30am that morning, is an invitation to callbacks, to be held this coming sunday. what an emotional roller coaster. i hadn't actually dared allow myself to believe this was going to happen, especially after recognizing before the first audition that i was doing that horrible thing called "getting my hopes up," which, you know, usually my advice is, don't.

callbacks will consist of cold singing from the score. coe points out that it's hardly cold singing when you've been singing along with the recording for umpteen years. i start rehearsing all the possible songs i might be asked to sing that very night, with jen chiming in on the duets. one of the Baker's big songs is my least favorite song in the show, a piece called "it takes two," the eptiome of cheesy, sentimental duets. because i have always disliked it... uh... i don't actually know how it goes very well.

well, shit.

---

thursday, february 5:

final dress rehearsal for dark ride tonight. come home, sing through all the Baker parts, and all the Wolf/Cinderella's Prince parts. "it takes two" is more challenging than i would like. it's not vocally challenging; all the notes are in my range, although just listening to the recording i can tell it is more complex than i can easily tease out. rather, it's an acting challenge; how do you bring life to a song that you as a person feel is so cheesy and silly? i don't really get anywhere near the crux of that issue. with sondheim, you won't get a chance to act if the notes leave you behind, and with sondheim, the notes often leave you behind, so.

---

friday, february 6:

dark ride opens. you people SHOULD ALL COME SEE IT.

---

saturday, february 7:

get lots of time alone during the day to rehearse. some backstory: the character of the Baker is cursed as a result of his Father's poor choice in alienating a local Witch. his Father disappears, and it isn't until late in Act Two that the Baker and his Father are reunited, after the Baker has spent years believing his Father is dead. this story has a keen kind of resonance to me. when i was 21 or 22, i learned that the man i grew up believing was my father - an alcoholic who abused my mother emotionally and had been long gone from our lives - wasn't actually my biological father at all. i met my bio-dad as a result of a rapid and surprising turn of events, and we wound up spending a weekend in an airport bar in chicago, attempting to bridge an insanely unfortunate chasm. to this day, when i sing the Baker's big 2nd half number, "no more," with its line about "no more curses you can't undo/left by fathers you never knew," i am moved, often to the point of tears.

---

sunday, february 8:

callbacks. i arrive at 3:30 as scheduled. R. informs me they are at least an hour and a half behind, by some measure. we'd been told to dress comfortably, but don't believe that shit, especially when they also tell you the choreographer won't be there. i'm dressed tight and, as it turns out, my trip hop acappella group had rehearsal this morning from 10am to noon, so i am thoroughly and properly warmed up and ready to go. i check in; i'm given three "sides," which are basically just vocal parts for songs. two are for the Baker: "it takes two" (grimace) and "no more." one is for cinderella's prince: "agony." R. and i commiserate over what an inefficient audition process this is; the usual insecure griping of actors on hold.

finally they call in candidates for Baker and Baker's Wife, who duet on "it takes two." the process is, jim the music director (a badass pianist and vocal coach who hadn't been at the first round of auditions) teaches us our parts as a group, then we all come back in in pairs and sing the duet. jim mentions that this is his favorite song in the musical. R. had asked david the director if she could sing with me, and he graciously complies by assigning us to sing together. theoretically this will make us feel more at ease, and will give us an opportunity to demonstrate chemistry.

we don't. the fact is, no one here is comfortable enough with the score to tear their eyes off their pages long enough to make eye contact with their song partner, let alone attempt to demonstrate emotion. sondheim is notoriously difficult, and it doesn't help matters that, as i will discover many times that day, the performers on the recording sang variations against what we're given as the score. i had tried to find an ITW vocal scorebook but none were to be had. so... damn. wish i'd gotten better than a C+ in sight singing back in college - and wish i'd actually kept doing it enough to not forget most all of it.

we sing adequately. R.'s voice might not be up for the highest reaches of the Baker's Wife. i can hit the Baker's stuff just fine, but i don't have any spark.

later i'm called in to sing one of the two Princes. the song is easy and fun, a goofy character song with a lot of wit and a good range. then i get called in to sing the Wolf. to my chagrin, however, i learn that the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince - played by one actor ordinarily - are going to be split into two roles for this production. sucky - this means if they offer me Wolf, i will have to add it to the list of parts i will decline. great song, but only one out of two dozen - fuck that. i might still take Cinderella's Prince, who has three songs left, but if they offer me Rapunzel's Prince, who only has two songs - fuck that. yes, friends, it's the cold hard calculus of calling a director's bluff. what's worse; the actors on the CD don't always match the score. doh!

finally, many hours later, i get a chance to sing part of the Baker's big emotional closer, "no more." i nail it straight to the wall.

---

monday, february 9:

i'm called back for another round, tonight at 7pm. there are, apparently, at least 12 of us still in some kind of contention for the Baker. for context: the cattle call produced over 100 auditioners, which got narrowed to around 45 for callbacks, against 22 or 23 roles. to my chagrin, there are a few new faces tonight, including one asian man, slightly older than me, who turns out to have a beautiful voice.

for additional context: the audition notices had said this was to be a multi-cultural, non-traditional staging of ITW. i learn by chatting with other auditioners - all of whom are friendly and warm, not catty in the slightest - that david the director had initially intended to try to cast each of the major storylines in the show as different ethnic groups. i come to the perhaps premature conclusion that he couldn't have gotten the ethnic spread he would have needed to do that. still, when an asian actor appears out of nowhere at round 2 of callbacks for a show advertised as multi-cultural and then he sings better than you, you realize the jig is quite possibly up. this is the kind of situation that makes college theatre students scream with indignation, but they will end up getting a life on the issue soon enough; people who think physical type isn't important to staging theatre are clearly just ugly. that's a joke.

one other thing i learn by chatting with the auditioners is that there's this whole separate musical theatre scene, independent of the seattle-based fringe theatre scene in which i am mostly enmeshed, that exists in bellevue, and redmond, and tukwila, and tacoma, and all of these semi-finalists seem to kind of know each other, and they do shows like annie get your gun and guys and dolls and forever plaid and man, you know, these are shows that almost none of you would like, but the musical theatre part of me, which gets exercised so rarely, kind of wants in on. it's one thing to keep up a string of savagely reviewed fringe theatre and call it all "experimental" and try to get away with it; it's another to sing really beloved songs to the people who love them and really manage to pull it off. then again, a lot of those musicals FUCKING SUCK.

"no more," the intense ballad, is first. they do something weird, though, in the interest of time. "no more" is a ballad between the Baker and his Father. however, instead of pairing us up into couples, they ask each male to sing both a verse of the Father, and then a verse of the Baker.

well, shit. i've spent YEARS singing this musical, but because i've so closely identified with the Baker, i've NEVER sung along with his Father. oh sure, i generally know the role. but the Father in this song happens to have some very challenging intervals that i do not manage to do any justice. you really need to rehearse that shit, or else just be a wizard, which, you know, if this were rock and not musical theatre, maybe, but. i get to stand outside and hear about 5 guys go before me. they're making what i perceive to be one mistake: they're singing both parts identically. i decide that, since i can't do those intervals justice, i may as well focus my energy on acting. i go in and do a tentative, nervous, very quiet Father, hitting the high notes but not very prettily; then i make the sudden transition into the Baker and become a powerhouse, singing and acting fusing into just the right kind of sad, desperate resignation that the moment calls for. well, "just the right kind" for my taste anyway. david the director is his usually bland self, but jim the music director makes eye contact, smiles, says "great!", i believe him, and i'm out of there.

hours pass. the women go through their tunes. i get cut from the additional round of Prince auditions, which is guess is fine. i get paired with a great little blonde who managed to do the best job of Little Red Riding Hood, but who could actually do a good Baker's Wife as well. we rehearse in the hall, her name is Melissa, we get to know each other just a tad, get comfortable together, quickly establish a rapport. we have a love of chess in common; this bridges the gap in short order. the Princes audition; more Wolves audition; Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame) auditions and two of the three guys sound lovely, including the asian gent i had considered my main Baker competition.

R. has not been invited to tonight's audition. only 3 women are going to sing the Baker's Wife tonight, the role R. really wants; they are all women who hadn't had a chance to sing it at sunday's audition. in my judgment, they are all at least as competent as R., if not more so. it's really hard to try to read anything into this kind of situation. for all we know, R. is already cast; but likely, she isn't, and won't be. when i sang with her, she just didn't quite have the confidence that many of these women have. sad, but at this point, i am of course out for myself.

Melissa and i retreat to an outer hallway to try to rehearse "it takes two," the music director's favorite song in the show, and my least favorite. i'm steadily realizing that i can't out-sing that asian guy (although i can out-sing all the other candidates); my only hope is acting. we rehearse as a group, men and women. jim the music director says he really wants to see chemistry. wants to see us work off each other. wants to see specific choices as actors. these two characters are ON A QUEST, and they're in love, and it's a big moment. so, you know, don't fuck it up, etc.

i'm assigned to sing 5th out of 6 couples. i sit outside and listen to the other candidates, observing what they do. that's been part of the real pleasure of this weekend - hearing this music interpreted over and over again by so many people. that's why i'm here - i'm not doing this for money. sure, once a few years ago i flew to los angeles on a whim and auditioned for the touring production of rent, a musical i'd never even heard at that point, and made it to callbacks before getting whacked when i couldn't negotiate the sky high tenor part - but i did that knowing i wouldn't get cast, and just wanting some audition experience. here, if i get cut from ITW auditions, it'll mean more, because i care more, because i love this musical, these songs, this role.

one after another, i observe the couples ahead of me. the guys are wooden. emotion-less. their attempts at feeling the Baker's joy are forced. directly before me, the asian guy that i fear sings a perfect and totally colorless rendition. oh sure, i'm biased - but really, yes that guy has the notes, but he ain't got much else. Melissa and i head in. we smile; we start; she goes first, realizing the lyrics; i go second, botching the lyrics early on in my attempt to get my eyes off the page and on Melissa. i recover with an even more genuine smile. they already know i can sing, so who gives a shit if i blow the words now; that's not what they're looking for at this point. i truly feel there's a spark between us, that kind of genuine desperation when two actors both realize they're completely on the verge of being cut. you just know when it works. and even knowing that, you're still probably going to get cut. but hey, better to go out with a really strong finish.

heading out of the audition, Melissa and i spontaneously hug. we're both grateful we got a partner who knew the stakes. i have no idea if i'll see any of those people again. they never actually did an acting audition with just the book, but i guess with a show like this, you can "teach" someone to act (sort of), but you damn well won't teach them to properly grok a sondheim score in 6-8 weeks. in the hallway there's a poster for the upcoming UW dept. of drama season... i'm reminded of how much i've learned since college, and how much else i'm not really ever going to learn at this point in my ever calcifying career. dark ride got a good review in the P-I, breaking my string of appearing in poorly or savagely reviewed local productions, but that doesn't mean i feel anything less than queasy about waiting to hear about ITW. as of this writing, i have no idea when i'll find out anything about the casting. i walked out of there earlier tonight as uncertain as i was when i walked into that first audition.

---

Subject: Join us INTO THE WOODS?
From: "David"
Date: Thu, February 12, 2004 5:08 am
To: scotto

Dear Scott,

On behalf of Jim, Scot and myself, I'm hoping you would accept the role of THE MYSTERIOUS MAN, in our production of INTO THE WOODS. I know it is not necessarily your first choice, but please let me know if you accept or
decline.

Hope to be able to work with you on this amazing ensemble show.

Best,
David

---

Subject: Re: Join us INTO THE WOODS?
From: "Scotto"
Date: Thu, February 12, 2004 10:58 am
To: "David"

David,

Thank you very much for the offer. However, I'm afraid I must respectfully decline the role and leave the opportunity for someone else. Thanks also for a lovely audition experience - it was great fun to sing and hear those songs so many times.

If you ever decide to stage Chess, I'm sure you'll see me again at
auditions.

Sincerely,
Scott



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