I just had a whirlwind week of auditions. Not only as an actor, but as a director.
My home page right now is equal parts in front and behind the curtain. I get to direct an upcoming Retro Comedy Night for Milwaukee Comedy. I can't tell you what we will be performing, but I can tell you that some of Milwaukee's best Black Actors are involved.
I got into this business for the performing. I love it. I love singing, dancing, acting, improvising, playing music, slamming poetry, and being looked at while wearing cool clothes. I have dabbled in all aspects of theatre. But I am starting to really get into directing. I love conceptualizing, picking the cast, and having a brand new interpretation of something that has been done before. I am excited to go...all in...and present the finished product of a show, and to trust my muses/talents/actors to present the best version of my vision. I am so excited and scared to be artistically responsible for All In Productions' Little Shop of Horrors.
I am booked pretty solidly through July. My schedule is especially tight through June. I'm not complaining at all. In fact, I am very excited to throw myself fully into The Scene. As mentioned before, I get to direct for Milwaukee Comedy. I am in a short musical adaptation of an X-Files episode. I am directing Little Shop of Horrors. I am performing in Uprooted Theatre's last production ever, and then I finish it off with performing with Optimist Theatre in A Midsummer's Night Dream. But to get to this point where I am right now, I had to deal with auditions.
I have been a performer for almost 20 years. To this day, I still shake and sweat before virtually every audition. I really wish that I could just get into a show and prove that I can do it (and do it damn well) by opening night. That'd be my ideal world. I get caught up in my head because I know that my greatest strength is not my singing. I get incredibly nervous for musical auditions. But I *know* that I can perform at a high level. A perfect example would be Bare: A Pop Opera. I was scared, nervous, and felt incredibly under talented around the likes of Kathryn H, James C, Doug C, Laura M, Steve P, and the rest of the amazing cast. However towards the end I felt like I was able to rise to the level of the aforementioned performers. I am not trying to toot my own horn, but it's important to know your strengths and weaknesses. I was able to turn my weakness into strength by just rehearsing, practicing, and making it my own.
Now let me preach to you about the importance of a comfortable atmosphere during an audition. I went to The Diversity Generals hosted by Uprooted awhile ago. There were about 15 companies there from around Milwaukee and Chicago. "Hey! It's Mara McGhee! Welcome!" was my greeting. I immediately felt at ease. The atmosphere was such that you knew that they wanted you to do well. I did my audition. I felt great. And I got work from it. I decided that from now on when I am sitting behind the table, I want to make sure all of my auditioners feel welcome and that they are encouraged to do the best that they can do.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to have two different auditions for two different yet prestigious theatre companies. The first one I had never auditioned for. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I walked up to the desk and was greeted with a smile. I got there early enough to run through my materials (2 contrasting monologues and song in 6 minutes) a few times and do a little calming/breathing exercise. I walked into the room and was greeted with smiles and introductions. “Hi! Welcome to Theatre Company! I’m Mr. S, this is Mr. A, and that’s Ms. M.” Mr. A gets up to shake my hand as I quickly talk him through my music. It was a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Immediately I felt calm and confident. I introduce myself and my materials. I did my pieces. I sang my song. “Thank you for your time!” I chirp as I step to leave. “Wait wait wait, hold on,” Mr. S stops me. “You’re a delight! Tell me a bit more about yourself. Where are you from?” We then have a nice little chat about my artistic history and plans for the future. I left feeling overwhelmingly confident about my audition.
Later on that day, I went to my second audition. I was greeted by the friendly smile and banter at the desk. As I was talking with the runner, the choreographer of the show stepped out of the bathroom and gave me a Shrek face. The runner called her out on it: “What was that? What’s that face for?” “I didn’t give a face. I didn’t mean to…” she stammered. Okaaaay…..I go over my pieces a few times (2 songs, a monologue, and dialogue that were all provided.) I am ushered into the audition room and see several people sitting behind the desk. “Hello everyone!” I smile. Crickets. “Hello, [piano player].” She smiles. The AD of the company, slouched down in his chair with a disgruntled neutral look on his face, says to me “I think you know everyone here.” I smile. “I don’t. Well, I briefly met [choreographer] out in the hall a few minutes ago.” AD runs through introductions. “Hi everyone! I’m Mara McGhee and…” “So…” the AD interrupts, “we’re gonna have you sing first.” Ok. Not exactly how I prepared. Like I said before, I know my singing isn’t necessarily my strongest, so I usually sing last in an audition so that they can at least be moderately impressed with my acting. I smile. I sing through the first song. It’s not my best. I’ve been sick. It’s at the top of my range which hasn’t fully come back yet. But I do it anyway. I sing the second song. Same situation. “Thank you. That’s it.” The AD says. I don’t even get to do the monologue.
I am not blaming everything on the audition process. I could have done better. I could have not let the dark and brooding feeling of the room defeat me. I could have breathed better. I could have told them I was sick. I could have asked for the song to be in a different key. But I didn’t. And part of it was because I didn’t feel like any of those would have been welcoming options.
I will remember yesterday for a long time. I want my auditioners to do well. I want everyone to feel as though they are doing their best. Because it just really sucks rocks when you walk out feeling like you don’t deserve to be there.
Being behind the table for the purposes of casting your show is very different. I’ve been behind the table. The very first time was in college where everyone in the pool of auditioners was to be cast. It was just a matter of getting the one you wanted. I have also been behind the table while not having to cast a show. I’ve been there as support and as an advisor, but in the end the decision wasn’t mine. I loved being there for Milwaukee Generals, where I just picked the ones I liked for future reference. But this time people came to me to share their talent, and I had to pick. I had to choose among my beautiful and talented friends. I had to say no to some ridiculously awesome people. That was the hardest part. When I had to call my friend to tell him I was going to cast the other person, I almost cried. I think I took it harder than he did. I still feel bad, but I also know I made the right decision for my vision of the show.
Robby was so wonderful in helping me make my decision. He told me of his experience with casting The Last 5 Years, and how he had to do what was best for him and his process. I just wish I could cast it twice.
I love my cast. And I am so excited for what we are going to do. I have a dynamic team. I have an amazing cast. I have great support. I have a budget! Now I have to deliver and give the people our unexpected version of this production.
This, indeed, is the work.