Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Audition

After years of drama classes, high school skits and generally just being a big film/theatre/TV guy, I considered myself something of a budding actor.  Notice that there’s nothing in there about being able to sing or dance, yet despite that and in flagrant disregard for Meat Loaf’s advice, I decided that one out of three wasn’t bad, so I ended up auditioning for my high school’s production of “Blood Brothers” in grade 12.

My school put on a big musical every two years, and since we were known as one of the more dramatically-accomplished (or, in layman’s terms, “artsy-fartsy”) schools in the city, there were no half-assed operations.  These were big productions that required months of rehearsals, requiring the actual process for the 1998-99 show to actually begin the auditioning process during the 1997-98 school year.  So here was little* grade-11 Mark, with three years of drama under his belt, confidently strutting into the auditorium for my big try-out.

* = yet already prematurely balding.  Sigh.

Well, technically, the first part of the big moment happened a few days earlier.  The audition was split into two parts: singing/monologue and then a separate dancing session to go over a few basic moves and just to weed out the completely-uncoordinated of the bunch.  Uh, *raises hand.*

While the singing and acting portion was held after school, the dancing auditions were actually scheduled during lunch breaks, so various groups of us filed onto the stage during our assigned times.  I’d been told that these dancing auditions were very basic and not at all a big deal; the director was hardly expecting Broadway-caliber steps from a bunch of high schoolers, and “Blood Brothers” didn’t have many (or really any, as I recall) numbers that required elaborate choreography.  So I figured this would be more or less a breeze, as I strolled onto the stage…

…wearing just my normal school clothes.  You see, I thought this was going to be such a total snap that I wouldn’t even need to change.  Uh, not exactly.  So on this stage, you had a bunch of kids in shorts and t-shirts, a few girls in full leotards, and then one prematurely-balding clod trying to dance in jeans, a turtleneck and a Maple Leafs jersey.  My outfit was so poorly-thought out that I remember it to this day.  I mean, a TURTLENECK.  Not even a t-shirt to help alleviate the inevitable flop sweat.

And yeah, there was plenty of that.  Between my layers of clothing, the hot stage lights, moving around for 30 minutes and the overall feeling of not knowing what the hell I was doing, I was sweating buckets by the end of the audition.  On the bright side, I hadn’t broken either of my own ankles, nor had I clumsily fallen and knocked three other kids into the orchestra pit or anything, but still, Gene Kelly was rolling in his grave.  (Not a full 360 degrees, but probably a solid 270.)  Even better, I had a class immediately after the audition, and the class was literally as far away from the auditorium as possible — if our school was a clock, the auditorium was at seven o’clock and my next class was at one o’clock, and up a floor to boot.  So I had to hustle just to make it in time, and then sat there sweating like a hog until at least halfway through the class.  God help the poor souls sitting around me that day.

But ANYWAY, I didn’t figure this dance audition had sunk my chances of making the show.  Like I said, the dancing was not a major component of the show, and the singing & monologue portion was my time to shine.  Acting-wise, I was….in hindsight, only okay, though at the time, I thought I was pretty hot shit.  I could memorize lines, I could more or less adapt any part to the mannerisms of various pro wrestlers and/or Monty Python characters, and my voice was at least loud enough to project, even if enunciation wasn’t my bag.  I’ll never forget having a front-row seat to a Stratford production of King Lear and seeing just how much spittle Christopher Plummer and company projected while delivering their lines.  If I’d been sitting closer to center-stage, I would’ve needed to wear a plastic blanket like I was seeing the Evil Dead musical.

And as for singing, well, my deep (for an eleventh-grader) voice had been compared to that of a young Johnny Cash or Eddie Vedder.  I was the one making the comparison, but still.  After all, I was the son of a Sweet Adeline, surely vocalization was in my blood.  Yes, that’s how that works.

So I show up with around 10-12 other kids the night of the audition, and the way it worked was, you had to sing a couple of minutes’ worth of your song and then deliver a memorized monologue of roughly 3-4 minutes in length.  When my name was called, I walked onto the stage with no shortage of overconfidence, only halting to notice that the previous auditionee had an accompanist.

Ok, so, this was a setback.  Since I play piano myself, I’d just assumed I could handle both playing and singing at the same time, like a modern-day Billy Joel.  It only occurred to me at the moment that, yeah, having an accompanist would’ve made things a lot easier.  The directors didn’t give a damn if I could play like Beethoven himself as long as I couldn’t sing, and clearly my singing could be affected by my note-reading at the same time.  I was a passable singer and a decent pianist, but doing both at once is a skill unto itself.

Which, of course, I realized when I straight-up fumbled turning to the next page of sheet music.  My sausage fingers turned two pages at once, so I had to stop the song altogether, turn to the right page and continue on.  It took maybe five seconds, yet felt like about an hour of dead time in that auditorium.  The song, incidentally, was “Music Of The Night” from Phantom Of the Opera, since just to compound things, I’d chosen a song that was tough to just stop and start at will.

But STILL.  As any actor would tell you, staying positive is a key to the audition process.  As long as the giant cartoon hook hadn’t dragged me off-stage yet, I was still alive.  Singing, feh.  Dancing, meh.  The ACTING [/Lovitz] was where I’d really bring the goods.  It was time for the monologue.

Now, at this point I should specify that there weren’t many rules applied to this audition for the monologue portion.  For the song, you could only pick a choice from certain Broadway shows since they were testing if you could sing in a “big musical” style rather than seeing if you could, say, sing a Gregorian chant.  The monologue, though, was pretty open in terms of choices.  Hindsight being 20-20, you could say I should’ve chosen a monologue from an actual stage show, or from some classic dramatic work, or basically anything appropriate.

Instead, I chose Dave Foley’s “positive attitude towards menstruation” monologue from Kids In The Hall.

Now, ok, let me try to explain this.  I probably shouldn’t have needed 20-20 hindsight to see that this wasn’t a great idea.  At the time, I was really into the KITH, watching the reruns on the Comedy Network every day and faithfully taking note of certain routines.  In fact, my looking up Foley’s exact words on a Kids In The Hall website might’ve been the first time I’d ever used the internet as that kind of a pop culture resource.  It’s a good thing I already knew of a KITH with a searchable database for reference, otherwise I would’ve done an Altavista search for “Kids + menstruation” and probably been traumatized for life.

In fairness to the wonderful Dave Foley, it’s a good and funny monologue.  My delivery of it was actually pretty solid.  The only issue was, coming off a heels of a lacklustre song and a mediocre dance, I needed a home run monologue, and what I got was a ground rule double that bounced over the wall and into questionable territory. 

The two directors watching the audition in the seats were a) my school’s rather religious music teacher and b) the outgoing, if persnickety, drama teacher.  I didn’t hear a peep from the music teacher, unless “mortified” is a sound.  The drama teacher laughed, yet I’ve heard enough laughter in my time to be able to identify the different types.  It wasn’t “oh man, this kid is killing it!” laughter, it was “oh man, why did this kid think telling period jokes for four minutes was a good idea?”  It was a classic reaction of five-points for chutzpah, minus 100 points for judgement.

It also didn’t occur to me under afterwards that I was auditioning with a monologue about menstruation for a show called Blood Brothers.  I pictured the two directors afterwards just sitting there in bafflement asking each other “what does Mark think this show is about?”

So, long story short, I didn’t get a part.  (I’ll pause for a moment while you recover from your shock.)  It was a bummer.  I wasn’t expecting a starring role or anything, both due to my lack of headlining talent and more practical matters; the two leads in Blood Brothers are supposed to be twins, and there weren’t many other balding, 5’10” 16-year-olds up for parts.  Still, even a bit role in the chorus was all I was hoping for, just to be part of the show, part of the fun, and to meet girls, which would not have been the last entry if I was ranking those reasons in order. 

And who knows, perhaps being in a school show would’ve transformed me from a lower-level drama kid into a full-fledged Drama Kid who started wearing fedoras to school and dropping references to Albee plays.  Maybe I could’ve awakened some theatrical beast inside me and Blood Brothers would’ve been my big break, leading to a career on stage and screen.  I could’ve won a Gemini Award, dammit!  I could’ve been a supporting character on a CBC sitcom that would’ve run for eight years despite never been watched by a viewer under the age of 50 years old.  Oh, to dream, to dream.

This is why I don’t have a positive attitude towards auditions.

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