Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicago or Bust: Part 2

You can read Chicago or Bust: Part 1 here.

My friends were already at the theater when I arrived. At each exit on the highway, I had felt my hands wanting to turn the wheel, pull off, turn around, go home. I sang my song to drown out the monster whispering in my ear: Turn around. I've done it before and I'll do it again. You will fail tonight. You will fucking fail and I will win. 

I just sang the stupid song again and told myself all I needed to do was get through it. I didn't need to get a part. Just getting through it would be enough. Just showing up. That's what I told myself.

At the same time, I believed every word the monster told me .... but I didn't turn around. I didn't take the easy exits that would lead to home and safety. I drove to the theater, pulled into the lot, parked, sat for a while. Finally I turned off my van and walked in.

My friends were waiting. They'd already filled out their paperwork, turned in their résumés. I don't have a résumé, but I filled out the paperwork: name, age, experience, part desired. My hand didn't shake. I was too tense to shake. My friends waited. They knew I was ready to flee. They tried to reassure me.

I handed the clipboard in and joked with the friend who was running the sign-in table -- something about Girl Scouts. I've learned not to let it show, the panic.

Finally we went into the audition room. I felt like the Cowardly Lion being escorted by the scarecrow and the tinman into the hall of the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Only I didn't feel as brave as the lion.

I've been in that room many times. I've even auditioned in that room several times and had fun doing it. I felt like I'd never been there before.

We sat in the second row; my friends flanked me. A sweet young man from the Doubt workshop turned around, excited to see me again. He said, "I  can't wait to see you audition. You're going to be so great!"

I said, "No! Please, no, I'm not going to be great. I've never done this. I'm just going to try to get through it tonight." Usually flattery feels so good.

He looked shocked and then he laughed, like he thought I was teasing. He said, "But you're so good, so experienced. You've done this a lot. You have to have done this a lot ....."

I think he said more. He was excited, complimentary. All I could hear was the monster laughing and rubbing his hands in glee. It just got better! Someone with high expectations! You're going to fail in front of people who expect you to rock this shit. This is even better than making you fail in front of  haters. God I love my job!

The room was set up with rows of chairs near the entrance, a table perpendicular where the director and choreographer sat, and the accompanist at a piano across from us. A big space was left in the  middle of the room for the auditioners to face the  table.

I looked around and saw a few other people I knew, said hi. Acted like everybody else, I think.

And then the auditions started. I'd never even been to an audition like this one before, so I made sure to watch what the experienced people did up there.

The first guy was a guy I was in Wit with. A terribly talented young man who gave a great audition. And then another singer auditioned ... and another. I realized my song wasn't enough, wasn't right. I should have chosen something that would show acting too. More pressure.

I whispered that I should probably leave now. I said I was way out of my league. My friends said to stay. They said I would be fine. I wanted them to agree, to say I should leave. I wasn't fine. I really did think I was out of my league. That wasn't the monster talking. It was true.

By the time the fifth person auditioned, I had turned around a dozen times, making sure the doorway was clear  in case I decided to walk out. I reminded myself I could just leave. It wouldn't matter to anybody except me, and then I wouldn't fail. Again.

And yet I stayed and watched and clapped and smiled, because I may suck at musical auditions, but I really can act like I'm not having a big, ugly panic attack. It seemed to me that almost everybody who auditioned was really good. A couple of people were obviously weak, but they seemed to know what they were doing in spite of their vocal weaknesses.

Finally the director called my name. I forced myself out of my chair .... forced myself to walk to the center of the room. I said my name even though the director knows me and is even a Facebook friend, because that's what everybody else had done. I said I'd be singing "Cry Me a River." The monster had me by the throat, but I asked the accompanist for a B and told her I'd sing a capella.

I opened my mouth and the words started to come out, but not like I'd practiced. Maybe it was the monster laughing so loudly in my ears, but I couldn't hear myself even though I knew I was singing. Weak. Very weak. I pumped it up, tried to take control, tried to level my breath ... looked at the director and tried to perform the song like I had in front of the mirror at home.

In a fairy tale Ursula would give me back my voice and I would sing like a red-headed mermaid or some shit like that. The director would leap to his feet and say, "Auditions for Mama are over! I've found my mama!" In real life, the monster doesn't have to let go. It can fuck you up and there's no happy ending.

I want to say I beat the monster back and took control, but that would be a lie. I want to write this as something funny that happened last week that I can laugh off now, but I can't. Sorry. I have to be honest.

 It was bad. I was pitchy, weak, unsupported by a single, solid breath. I have no idea what my body was doing. I probably looked like a terrified 10-year-old who's been forced to sing in front of the parents at the school Christmas program.

The director was taking notes while I sang. I was pretty sure he was writing "Never let this woman audition for me again. This is painful. Oh my poor ears. Please make her shut the fuck up." I would never talk to another person the way I talk to myself.

The only positive thing that happened was that I got through it. I sang the fucking song to the end. It was the wrong song for that audition, and I sucked, but I got through it.

This time it wasn't enough to get through it. I walked back to my seat in a bitter fog of shame. I wanted to walk straight out the door, but I'd gotten that far and I'm not a bad sport. I sat down and just tried to breath. I didn't want to look at anybody and see the disappointment I was feeling reflected on their faces, the expectations shattered. So I clapped and smiled for the other brave people who auditioned like it didn't matter.

Finally it was over and we took a short break. I talked and laughed with friends who were there either to audition or just to watch. Ran to the bathroom. Tried to act like I hadn't just stepped on my weenie in front of 30 people.

And then came the dancing. Did I say I was out of my league? I was so out of my fucking league! Fortunately I wasn't the only one.

The choreographer did just what I expected. She taught us a dance and then expected us to perform it up to speed with music from the play. A reasonable expectation.

She was good. She broke it down by beats of 4, then 8. Then she put it together with the previous 8 beats until we had a short routine. A fun, Fosse-like routine that I wish I could do just for fun.

We went over and over it. I could only sort of do the steps even at slow speed. My brain knew what I should be doing; my body didn't respond though. It was like I was telling my feet to cross over, heel out, sink down .... I was watching Annette do it in front of me ..... and yet my feet took seconds to respond so I was thinking about the next step before my feet had done the last one .... and I kept running into my friend who was on my left because she really was dancing.

I apologized to her a couple of days later. She blew it off. I insisted. I said if that had been anybody but me, we both would have been complaining over a game of pool about what a fucking clumsy ass bitch I was and wondering why the fuck I thought I belonged at those auditions in the first place .... It's true.

I felt like the donkey in donkey basketball.

In all, the dance probably took 20 seconds at full speed. It was the hardest workout I've done in years. It was like riding 30 miles on my bike in the space of 20 minutes.

I can dance, but I'm not a dancer. Yes, I've danced on stage, but this was some kind of Fosse shit -- that shit that looks so easy until you try to do it? It was that kind of dancing.

I had every opportunity to learn that dance. She taught it to us in the big group as we collided and laughed and sweated and grunted. She broke the big group into 2 groups and taught it to us again while the other half rested. Then she called us up in groups of 5, went over it a couple more times, and then sat to watch us do it alone for her.

Did I say this shit was exhausting? People decades younger than me were holding their knees and crying. OK, maybe not crying. But they wanted to; I could tell. They'd already sweat their tears out.

Annette danced with every group, every time, except the 5 or 6 times she sat to watch.  She worked harder than any of us and I'm not sure she was even sweating. I'd chalk it up to youth, but I think she's about my age.

Anyway, I got through the dance audition and felt pretty proud satisfied that I learned as much of it as I did, in spite of looking like a donkey. It was hard. Anybody who watched from the sidelines and judged should have gotten their asses out there and tried it. (Get it? Donkeys? Asses? Nevermind.)

Some of the younger girls really did get it, and by the time they auditioned in their small groups, they looked so graceful and confident doing that bitch of a dance, I wanted to cheer for them. 

Am I starting to sound lighthearted about the audition? The dancing helped take my mind off the earlier disaster for a while. Learning the choreography was grueling and took total concentration. The hard workout burned off some of the adrenaline. I felt like an idiot, but I wasn't alone out there stomping and stumbling through the routine.

Finally it was over. I wanted to go home and crawl into bed wrapped in my failure. I didn't. I went with my friends across the street to a smoky little dive that has a couple of pool tables. We drank and played pool, laughed and got a little rowdy for a couple of hours.

Written on a bar napkin that night.

Finally I went home to face the monster's ridicule. Yeah. It was almost as bad as the fucking audition.

Nobody bullies me like I do -- though some try.

The next morning a friend who is one of the most -- maybe the most -- respected directors in community theater here texted to ask how the audition went. I wanted to tell him I kicked ass, but all I said was that I got through it. The next day he texted to see if I'd been called back. I said I didn't expect to and no, I wasn't called back. He said at least it was a good experience. I said I was trying to believe that. I was so glad he hadn't seen it.

As far as I was concerned the monster won. Again. Maybe not such a resounding defeat as when I was 14, but I didn't even do well enough to call it a draw.

Sometimes when I face this phobia down, I feel successful, invigorated, ready to go back for more; I know I've landed a heavy blow. Other times, even getting through is still a failure. I know next time it will be just as bad. Sometimes -- like the Chicago audition -- success is as imperceptible to me as it is to others.

So why do it? Why go through it? I don't fucking know. I'm not Liza and I'm not Barbra and I'm not Meryl. It doesn't take much for me to get in over my head -- which I do regularly. And it's not like I'm saving lives. I'm not repairing cleft palates, or rescuing children from burning buildings, or designing the next Google.

Nothing in the world would change if I took a permanent seat in the audience.

I can't explain it. I just keep battering away at that fucking phobia.

The reason I didn't write this last week right after the audition is simply because I was depressed. I couldn't sleep; I was teary. I kept replaying the audition over and over and over, and feeling the same shame and humiliation. I gave up. Oh, I was pitiful, I was.

If you had asked me last week, I would have said I was done with theater. I would have said I'd never audition again -- not even a cold reading, which I love. And I would have meant it. I'm sick of being a fucking failure.

I ask the question again: Why do I that to myself? Why set myself up to fail again ... and again. I don't have to put myself in a position to be a loser. Plenty of people didn't have the nerve to stand up there and audition that night. People came just to watch. I don't have to be one of the few who gets up there and takes the risk. Why would I, when I know I'm just going to humiliate myself? I'm not a masochist. Why would I do that?

I don't like being in the phobia funk and I wanted out of it. I went over to Elvira's and played with Coraline. Baby smiles heal like nothing else. I went out with various friends, although I didn't take the mic at karaoke. Chicken Grrl and I booked a couple of paying gigs over the weekend. I kissed a cowboy. Plays end, but life goes on.

This week I went to a rehearsal for a reading and discussion of The Laramie Project a group of us are doing Friday. Yeah, I know. I said no more theater for me .... but I'd already made a commitment. I mean .... I couldn't let down my friends, right?

And I started thinking about what went wrong at that audition. What I didn't know going in that led to my failure. What I could have done different, better. Not that I'd ever do it again, of course. I'm finished with theater .... well, maybe not all theater. Maybe just musical theater. But what if I'd sung a different song ....chosen a lower key .... asked someone with more experience to coach me .....

Damn it.

to be continued .... 


  1. So...I read this on the train this morning on the way to work, and you almost had me crying. On the train. In front of the dude selling perfume out of the bullet holder over his shoulder.

    Two things. 1) Thank you for being so heartbreakingly honest. And 2) I admire you for being so brave, in many different ways.

    I wish I had more I could say right now, but I don't. But I am sending you love. <3

  2. When I read your posts, I know exactly where you're coming from and of course you feel that way. When a subject comes up in person, I don't understand where you're coming from, don't get the importance of the topic, don't understand what it means to you. Not sure whether that says more about the quality of your writing, my character flaws, or what it means to be human.

    I wish I had spoken more about the audition in person - except that you didn't want to talk about it. I guess I wish I had refrained from talking about it more mindfully.

    I'm sorry your reaction to your experience was so painful. I hope you have a good grasp on the irrational elements of your response - sounds like you do in general, but I hope you have an accurate picture of where reality ends and where your illogical feelings and thoughts begin. We can't help having them, but it does help to know where the line is.

    1. Ha! Wouldn't that have made me the life of the party? To describe what I described here? Sometimes it's less embarrassing to write than to talk.

      In the case of a phobia, apparently that line between logic and an illogical reaction is blurred. Sometimes I just have to trust my friends and hope they're telling me the truth.

  3. Strangely enough this all sounds very normal to me. I am sure that you have your own very deep reasons for pushing yourself so hard but I learned long ago that some parts just aren't for me. Is that a failing on my part? I don't think so because I can nail some things that others can't even comprehend. I play to my strengths and excercise my weaknesses but have no need to torture myself. I say just give yourself a break, nobody expects you to be perfect.

    On a side note: I've noticed that some people give you this cool tits symbol <3 to make you feel better, I love it!

    1. Ah, but I expect perfection! After that, world dominance!

      As for why I push myself, it's because once I get past the phobia, I usually love doing the thing I'm terrified of. In the case of this audition, once I got past that, I would have loved the rehearsals, learning the dances, the music. And the performances.

      And doing it makes me better at it.

      People know how much I love boobs! Even sideways boobs. ;-)