Josh and the City: The Peculiarities of Auditionees or Why We Should All Wear Deodorant

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Upon moving to the Big Apple, there was only one arena I was more nervous about navigating than the city itself: the infamous New York audition scene. Auditioning is one thing, but the audition spaces themselves and the people who inhabit them on a daily basis are different matters entirely. Since my previous audition experiences have been limited to educational settings (which, let’s be honest, are not typically anywhere near as intimidating as auditions in the real world) and cattle calls in the Chicagoland area, I had a feeling that New York would be a completely different beast, one that one would take time to figure out. And while I’ve only been here a little over two months, I have already learned quite a bit.

Right off the bat, I will say that I have met many kind people so far at the auditions. Several have been thoughtful enough to show me around the city, sign me up if they get to an audition first, and offer me tips and tricks to help me manage my time effectively when hopping from one audition to another. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the people upon arriving here but I have been pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness and hospitality I have received. It has not only inspired me to pay it forward in the future but has made me feel welcome in the community of artists currently trying to live out their dreams.

But with every “awesome sauce” person (as I describe them) comes, shall we say, someone of a different flavor. I don’t necessarily mean people who are rude or selfish, especially since I try not to judge others based on first impressions, but these saucy folks tend to be in their own personal Glinda-type bubbles at auditions (at least the ones I’ve attended). Sometimes they make me laugh; other times all I can do is shake my head.

Allow me to share some observations I’ve made during my brief time on the audition circuit.

One morning, I was in a crowded room of auditionees, all of whom were stretching or quietly doing vocal warm-ups in the corner so as not to disturb anyone. All of a sudden, a girl in the middle of the room SCREAMED at the top of her lungs. The room instantly fell quiet as everyone turned to see what had happened. The girl looked around bashfully and said, “Sorry. I just wanted to get that out.”

Umm….

Another day, one of my favorite audition monitors was patiently taking headshots and resumes from non-Equity candidates for a huge coming-to-Broadway musical. She led the final group down the hallway and came back saying that she would allow one more person to be added to the group. She shuffled the remaining headshots on the table and called out the name of a girl who, like the rest of us, had been waiting all day to be seen. The girl got in the line and the rest of us packed up our things. Not ten seconds had passed before another girl who had spent the better part of an hour curling her hair began voicing her opinion on how unfair it was that she wasn’t being seen. The remaining auditionees exchanged telepathic glances and departed as the girl threw a temper tantrum in front of the monitor. (I’m fairly certain that this wasn’t the same girl who screamed at the other audition, but one can never be too sure).

One cloudy afternoon, I was lucky enough to be called back to dance for a company doing a series of Golden Age musicals for their summer season. Unfortunately, what I remember most about the audition is how many gentlemen in the call seemed to have forgotten their deodorant that day. Maybe it’s because I’m a clean person by nature, but I always have deodorant with me, especially on days when I might be dancing or exerting lots of energy. I believe, as I always have, that smelling good is a common courtesy to others as much as it is a benefit to my own personal hygiene. In every dance class I’ve ever taken, that was one of the first rules given by the instructor: “Please everyone, please don’t smell when you come in here.” (Their words, not mine). All I’m saying is, I’m glad I have taken this consideration to heart.

The following are some notes I jotted down one particularly busy audition day that morphed into a (sort of) poem:

Brushing teeth, breakfast sandwiches,

piercing warm-ups, sweaty dancers,

a man spilled tea—insert expletive here

severe claustrophobia, very odd smells,

“Hi, I need to transfer a prescription,”

did he just leap down a crowded hallway?

fancy fashions, lots of clapping,

coffee, coffee, foot tap-tapping,

angry faces, cheerful smiles,

was that an earthquake?, lines for miles,

Grier to the Ripley, will I get through this?

I have to pee, let’s freaking do this!

(Clearly I was doing a lot of waiting around that day…)

So far, I have heard numerous actors voice their concerns about not having legitimate warm-up rooms at the various audition centers. A huge rule of auditioning is that an actor should be warmed up and ready to go before even writing his or her name on the sign-up sheet; however, this can be tricky when audition lines sometimes start as early as 3 AM or circle around the block in freezing cold weather. Thus, the questions must be asked: is it best to “semi” warm-up at home at the risk of waking up fellow housemates and/or other tenants? Is it better to do it outside on crowded city streets while walking to the audition center? Or is it acceptable to belt in the holding rooms themselves, where other actors are remaining quiet as a courtesy to everyone else in the room? This issue is not easily remedied, especially since warming up in holding rooms (however quietly) often prompts glares and eye-rolls from fellow auditionees. As such, most actors are forced to find corners of hallways, bathrooms, stairwells, or, if they’re lucky, empty auditions rooms to throw out a few “whoa-ah’s” and do vocal sirens. If they’re really lucky and find a piano, they may get the opportunity to play their starting pitches and practice entire cuts of their audition songs (at least until the company that has rented out the room for the day arrives and intervenes). It does not appear that this issue will be resolved any time soon.

Casting directors have their own unique idiosyncrasies. Most are incredibly charming and love seeing the individual personalities that enter the audition room to offer their best work. Others are on the—hem hem—saucier side and let their actions speak volumes about how they run auditions. One particular morning stands out in my mind when contemplating the spectrum of casting directors. A girl showed up just a few minutes late for a call where actors were being “typed out.” She took off work to attend the audition and literally arrived moments after we had either been selected to stay or asked to leave. The casting director boldly told her—in front of everyone in the room—that she would not even be considered since she was late. As he explained, it wouldn’t be fair to everyone who had gotten there early or on time. He practically yelled at the poor girl, who had no other choice but to turn and face the mass of people now staring at her before gathering her things and leaving.

(I would like to repeat that I’m not judging anyone here or saying that one kind of audition behavior is better than another; I’m simply sharing what I have observed).

Then there’s the matter of what to do while you’re sitting there, hoping and praying that you will be seen so that the day hasn’t been a complete waste. Most people read, listen to their iPods, watch movies on their computers, or stare off into space. Others stretch in the hallways, make friends with the monitors, talk to any friends who may be there auditioning, and, as you read above, transfer prescriptions. There was one day that I had a three-hour wait before non-Equity actors even had a chance of being seen. Instead of sitting around like I usually do, I walked to the nearest movie theater and saw “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” It was a much-needed escape from what otherwise might have been a mentally draining day. In fact, when the film was over and I returned to the audition center, non-Equity actors weren’t being seen due to an abundance of last-minute Equity sign-ups. I was glad I got the chance to enjoy at least part of my audition day, even though I didn’t actually audition. (And for the record, “Oz” is worth seeing just for Michelle Williams! She’s spectacular!)

At the end of the day, all I can do is sigh, shake my head, and chuckle. People will be people, artists will be artists, and all of us will continue auditioning until we finally get the “YES!” we not-so-secretly yearn for. Until then, we will continue warming up in stairwells, shoving as much of our dance gear (and deodorant!) into our bags as possible, and keeping our fingers crossed that fate will smile on us in the months to come.

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