Folks, Halloween is upon us. Today, instead of telling ghost stories, let us gather around the campfire and share some spooky tales of auditions gone wrong. Not “Tales From the Crypt”, but rather “Tales from Some Random Rehearsal Studio in Midtown Manhattan”. Your spine will tingle, you will feel chills, and hopefully you will learn from my mistakes. So take a deep breath, steady yourself, and let’s plunge into some haunted, spooky, goosebumps-inducing audition horror stories.
Once, while auditioning for Zazu in The Lion King, I decided it was important to look as quirky as possible. So I borrowed my roommate’s suspenders. Suspenders = quirky, right? What could possibly go wrong? I entered the audition room, cocky and confident in my unique, idiosyncratic fashion choice. Who cares that I had never worn them before? Halfway through my song, one of the suspenders snapped and whipped up, hitting me in the forehead. My mind reeled, simultaneous with the pain and the desire to somehow incorporate the wardrobe malfunction into the song. But Zazu is a bird, and birds don’t wear suspenders. I wildly kept singing while I attempted to justify the mistake in my head…while also trying to reattach the suspenders…while also trying to subtly see if my forehead was bleeding…while also wondering if I would now, Harry Potter style, have a permanent scar on my forehead.
The lesson: It’s fine to dress to impress, but maybe test drive your outfit first. And quirky has its limits.
Another time, I was reading sides for a new comedy. At one point in the scene, my character received some intense news and the stage direction said that they “respond dramatically”. Outside the audition room, I planned the perfect bit for that moment. I knew the audition room had a curtain along one wall; when I received the news, I would “respond dramatically” by staggering to the wall and vomiting behind the curtain. I knew the auditors would love the bold, comedic choice, would thrill to the creative use of the space, and marvel at the way I made them see the scene in a new way. I entered the audition room and, when the time came, I did my vomit bit. Silence … more silence … I looked out from behind the curtain, expecting the reader to continue with their next line. Then I glanced down at my sides and realized I had fired too early, doing my vomit bit a page in advance of the “respond dramatically” moment. So from the auditors’ point of view, this insane actor had randomly, in the middle of a line and with no provocation whatsoever, ducked behind a curtain and loudly pretended to throw up. Even worse, since I had preemptively used my bit in the wrong place, when the intense news moment finally did arrive on the next page, I had nothing left to do having already shown my cards. Needless to say, the auditors were confused and a little frightened. No callback. Just pity.
The lesson: Be careful with your bits. And don’t fire them off early.
Next up is the time I was reading sides for another new play. It was a very small audition room and the reader was seated very close to me. As we performed the scene the reader kept looking up from his script but, rather than making eye contact with me, his eyes kept focusing on my chest. An odd choice, I thought. It kept happening. After every line he said, he would look up at my chest. As I continued the scene, my brain attempted to also figure out what was going on: was there schmutz on my shift? Was he flirting with me, checking out my non-existent pecs? Was he just too lazy to look up and make actual eye contact? My mind started to spiral out of control. I became more and more angry at this chest-obsessed reader: Dude, would it kill you just to look at me? What’s your problem? How dare you sabotage my audition with your torso-staring? Then, right before we finished the scene, it dawned on me. The character that the reader was reading was supposed to be blind. So he was actually giving me an honest, fully authentic performance. He was not flirting, or lazy, or sabotaging me. I was the crazy one.
The lesson: Trust the people in the room; give them the benefit of the doubt. Nine times out of ten, they’re trying to help you.
Next up we have a little horror story I like to call “Curious George and the Case of the Extreme Phlegm.” I was auditioning for the Man in the Yellow Hat in Curious George. I was very, very sick. Like can’t-produce-any-sound sick. And yet I was required to sing a song. After the dance portion of the audition, I kindly asked the Casting Director if it would be possible for me to sing on any other day. She said no; this was the only day they were seeing people. Great. I went out into the hall and surreptitiously tried to figure out how to make a note, any note, come out of my throat. No such luck. As my time slot got closer and closer, I stopped physically trying and started spiritually trying. Maybe if I just believed in the note, it would appear. Maybe if I just trusted in the spirit of music, then music would spontaneously and gloriously emerge from me when the time was right. I prayed for a mini audition miracle. My name was called. I entered the room. The accompanist began the song. I opened my mouth. I felt my attempted first note hit a wall of phlegm. I pushed. I can’t attest to the scientific accuracy of this, but the sensation I felt in my throat was that the sound found a hole in the wall of phlegm and then, while I held the note, the hole closed up and the note wobbled and warbled. This would happen every time I attempted to sustain a note: I would hit a pitch, and then as the phlegm closed in the pitch would rise and fall, spiral around, and then dissolve into nothing. The effect was akin to listening to a small animal die. I finished the song and looked at the auditors: their expression can only be described as what a pet owner looks like when their cat spits out a dead bird on their stoop: “Why have you regurgitated this at me?” I smiled, politely croaked a “thank you”, and RAN AWAY.
The Lesson: A student once asked the great Stella Adler, “What should actors do when they get sick?”, to which Stella replied, “Actors. Don’t. Get. Sick.”
So what’s the takeaway from all this horror? Perhaps the true goblins and demons aren’t in the haunted attic, but within ourselves. As much as I would like to blame my bad audition experiences on other people, the fault is often with me. Whether it’s being too cocky, too pre-planned, too paranoid, or too ill, there are many self-created traps to avoid when entering the audition room. But hopefully these Midnight Tales of Audition Horror can give you all ideas on what not to do, and therefore help direct you towards better and brighter audition tomorrows. Happy auditioning and Happy Halloween!