Wednesday, September 19, 2012

#3. The Book of Mormon

I took a night off from checking my email after coming back from Brown Box's Romeo & Juliet tour. Being in Maryland with only a dumb phone, I had already taken over a week off from that particular responsibility and figured another 14 hours wouldn't hurt.

Lying amongst the ticket offers for ethnic dance troupes and online-only CVS gift cards, there was an email with the subject header The Book of Mormon, sent from a Gmail account, asking me to audition for the Broadway, Chicago, and national tour productions of the Tony-winning musical.

"Pfft, yeah, sure," I thought, "A casting company using a Gmail account? How droll."

For the hell of it, I said I was available the very next day. Twenty minutes later, I received a reply with every detail about the audition, and a link to a Dropbox folder with audio, sheet music, and sides. I was asked to prepare Man Up and scenes #3 and #4.

I couldn't goddamn believe this was happening again.

When I was first offered, unsolicited, an audition for a musical, I said it was the most unexpected thing that happened to me as an actor.

I definitely did not expect it to happen twice. And I did not expect the second time to be for the national tour of fucking The Book of Mormon.

When I was asked in for Bat Boy, I chalked it up to a clerical error. This time, though, the casting director specifically mentioned my New England Actor profile as the reason he wanted to see me.

I figured they just wanted some bug-eyed white dude to play a Mormon at the beginning, since there is no mention of musical theatre training on my profile, nor are there musical credits.

Even still, I was asked to read for one of the leading roles, Elder Arnold Cunningham.

I knew nothing about Book of Mormon except for Matt Stone and Trey Parker's involvement, so I went to Wikipedia and YouTube to read the story and learn the production history and hear the songs.

Every once in a while, a side of my brain would say, "These notes are too high to actually be physically sung, let alone well," with the other side of my brain saying, "Yeah, I know."

There was something almost like confidence beneath all of my anxieties. The odds of my being cast were infinitesimal, even moreso than the average audition. Whatever the percentage there was to begin with, another couple of zeroes was slipped in before that number when you factored in my complete lack of training, lack of familiarity with the show, lack of time to prepare, and the sheer amount of competition for a national tour.

But I said Yes to the audition already. Whatever that number was, I could either sink into despair and multiply it by zero, or I could do as well as I could given my time and resources and multiply it by 1.0000000000001.

I loaded Man Up and its accompaniment onto my iPod and strolled out into the night. I wasn't a musical theatre performer, but I'd treat this audition like I treated the others. I just needed some alone time.

But it's hard to be alone in a city when you have to find out whether or not you could hit the high notes. I actually marked the music where I thought I should drop the octave. Amazingly, I found out that I didn't HAVE to drop the octave, and that I COULD - very briefly - hit that high G. All of the dudes laughing outside of the auto repair place I walked by found out, too.

After I got through the song without dropping the octave, my diaphragm felt strained, so I called it quits for the night. Doing a lot of reading about voice over, I've been more sensitive to the support of my breath and the health of my vocal cords, and I didn't wanna hurt nothing.

The next day, I had a tour that ended with just enough time for me to get to the audition at the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio. I had no time to sing it for anyone, or to hit these high notes again before the audition.

I left work in such a hurry that I forgot my slick-yet-charming Ralph Lauren shirt. All I had was my undershirt: the T-shirt that I got when I graduated from Emerson College, with Emerson College's logo upon the breast.

So now I was gonna be the douchebag hearing his alma mater. With a little teriyaki stain on the collar. But then I thought, Hey, maybe the casting director is an Emerson alumnus!

When I got to the studio lobby, it was so quiet I could hear my heart beat. Maybe it's just my prejudice, but I imagined the room outside of a musical theatre audition to be much livelier. Five other people, slickly dressed and examining their music, sat, not saying anything. Through some persistent corner-out-of-eye-looking, I saw that nobody else had the same music as me. It seemed like no one else was called in for the same part that I was.

When I had to sign in, there was a little box under the words ROLE DESIRED. I was called in for Elder Cunningham, but I would never imagine actually being cast in that role. Someone else had written "Elder McKinley", one of the other Mormons. I wrote that down, too.

For the next 20 minutes, I sat, leafed through my music and my sides, and watched people come and go. A sharp, handsome gentleman was running the floor, calling names, saying Hello, taking headshots. I wondered how many people would be in the audition room.

As I waited, I could hear some of the other auditions, and I got nervous again, sometimes reminding myself to Just keep breathing, it's the one thing you'll always have control of.

Finally, the man came out for me and I handed him my headshot. I saw someone else take their tea in with them, so I took my water bottle filled with licorice root tea along. I dropped it just outside of the audition room, bent down, and picked it up again.

The only other person in the room was behind the piano - so this guy I was seeing this whole time WAS the casting director. As he closed the door behind me, he introduced me to the accompanist.

I walked over to shake his hand, uninvited. No, fool, what are you doing! Don't shake anyone's hand in the audition room unless they offer first! This is an AMATEUR'S MISTAKE!

The director suggested that we start off with the song, Man Up. Seeing my face and my name, this guy seemed to know who I was and knew what he wanted to see me for, unlike the director in my Bat Boy audition. Heartened, I began enthusiastically.

And inexplicably started a full octave higher than was written, cracking in the process. "Sorry, I had a... tour today," I said, apparently assuming all of the subtext of that sentence would be immediately understood.

When I resumed again, I gesticulated wildly, which I believed was signalling that I understood the irony of the material and the sincerity of the character. Halfway through, I had no idea if that was the right thing to do. I realized that I didn't know if they wanted me to sing so they could know that I could sing, or if they assumed I could and they just wanted to see if I could act, or if I shouldn't act so that I could just focus on singing real good. Nobody taught me this.

I was amazed they let me sing all 47 bars without stopping me. When the director suggested we go to side #3, I jumped at it.

In my mind, what was so funny about the sides is how much they reminded me of South Park's writing. It was mostly my character being naive and childishly overjoyed about the future.

I showed over-the-top, unfocused excitement, jumping and punching the air, swaying my weight from foot to foot. I was playing a caricature as opposed to a character. The director let me do it again, but before he did, he told me to plant myself, because my moving around was distracting.

I never truly trusted myself. Every mistake I made was amateurish, lessons that I thought I had learned from every single other audition I had written about.

But somehow, because I counted myself so out of my element, because I felt so guilty trying for something I didn't think I deserved, I forgot even the most basic tenets of auditioning.

Before I left, though, someone else who had come in asked me where the bathroom was. I told him to go down the hallway and take a right.

If nothing else, I was able to give a least one person something they wanted to hear.

7 headshots remain.

Bonus: When I looked up Elder Cunningham, I found this guy. Your problems are over.

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