When I graduated college, and started out in the city, I experienced no fear when it came to singing in auditions. In those first few years, I was called back for Spring Awakening several times, both the Broadway original run and the tour. I booked a children’s theater national tour and several local children’s theater shows playing singing ingenues. I was called back consistently for Disney cruises and the parks. I started taking voice lessons with an incredibly talented voice teacher and I had the mindset that I could book a musical in the right role at the right place and time.
I was attending as many musical auditions as I could. I felt solid after most auditions, confident, sure that I had done my best and even if I didn’t book it, I was getting better and putting my face out into the world.
A few circumstances have led me to this moment where I am not sure how much more my heart can take.
A lot of cities have these workshops where you pay to meet casting directors and agents. On my birthday one year, I went to one of these workshops with an agent who had cast projects I was good for and was seeking new blood. I sang “Journey to the Past” from Anastastia, which I had been working on with my voice teacher and feeling great about. I thought it was a good a time as any to break it out and give it a test run. I walked in and introduced the song and handed my book to the accompanist. I tapped on the piano, like you do, giving him the tempo as he said he wasn’t familiar with the song. He started playing too fast. I shot him a look, trying to get him to follow me. He wasn’t looking at me, just at the page, and kept going as if he didn’t hear I was not in the same time as he was. I attempted to keep up but my breath got all out of whack and I couldn’t hit the notes. I went right up into my head, having almost an out of body experience, hearing my voice come out all wrong and sounding like I did when I was 10, singing this song in my mirror in my bedroom. The last note came up and I went for it, failing hard.
When the song had ended, I just stood there, feeling this man staring at me. He looked at my headshot and resume again and said, “Well, you’re cute but that wasn’t. I’m not sure musical theater is for you.” That was his feedback. He thanked me and numbly, I took my book from the accompanist, who smiled at me like he didn’t even see me, and I walked out into the holding area. My friends were gathering at a bar for my birthday and I was heading down after the workshop. My friend Stef had texted me, asking how it went. I texted back saying it was probably the worst experience I’ve had and held back my tears.
I gathered my things and walked straight to the elevator, maintaining my cool until I could get to the street. Isn’t that odd, New Yorkers? I felt more comfortable crying on the street than I did in a hallway of my peers who have probably gone through similar experiences. I had never felt so small and insignificant and I had auditioned for huge casting directors and Broadway shows. I knew I couldn’t let it get to me. Would I have wanted to work with him even if he had liked me if this was how he treated a performer who CLEARLY was having issues with the tempo of the song? Probably not. But I let his words sink it and take root.
I didn’t audition for musical theater for a long time after that. I shifted focus to film and television. I let the dream of being a part of the musical community go and stopped pretending I was one of them. I kept up with voice lessons because they gave me so much joy. Of course everyone in my life, including my voice teacher, encouraged me to let it go and I tried. I thought I did without realizing I hadn’t.
I considered myself smart to move away from musical auditions. Instead, I think it was I became afraid to try again. I felt violated. It takes a lot to audition, let alone sing at an audition. Musicals are magical because singing brings a certain vulnerability to a person, a performance. There’s just something about it that opens you up and lets people in and when you hear words like that agent said to me, it breaks something inside and closes the door it opened. I carry a lot of insecurity with singing because it is something I long to do so desperately.
I went to a local audition a few months ago now. It was a general audition, asking for two contrasting monologues and a song a cappella. I wasn’t going to sing but then last minute, I thought what the hell. It was a cappella. I could sing whatever I wanted. So I did. I sang “Santa Fe” from Newsies and I sang it in my range and I fucking killed it. I felt that I killed it and the reaction of the team of directors said I killed it. They asked me to sing a part of a song from the show they were doing and I complied, picking it up quickly (I knew the song) and again, sounding solid. I received a callback. I was ecstatic.
The agent’s words still whispered in the back of my head but my heart was doing jumping jacks.
I walked in to the callback and was one of the oldest people there. That was surprise number one. They all knew each other which always throws me off. It can be difficult not to feel left out when everyone is catching up and you’re just trying to focus on the task at hand. It is why I started wearing headphones in holding rooms.
Surprise number two was that this was a group callback. I have had very few group auditions or callbacks in my professional experience but, when I have, it is for a purpose such as testing out improv skills or ensemble compatibility. When I say group, I mean 30-40 people, not two actors reading scenes together as a typical callback goes. Not criticizing how they run callbacks but group callbacks are not my jam.
We were going to learn 42 bars (this is a lot of bars) from the opening number for a role that was female and not right for many of us in the room and sing it, one by one, in front of each other. I felt the fear rise. I’ve been performing in front of audiences of hundreds since I was 9 and yet I was paralyzed to sing this fast paced, out of my range song in front of local teens and a few older actors. Then I realized I had pulled number 3 out of a hat and was going to be one of the first to go.
Surprise number 3 was that no one had pulled number 2 so I went second.
Long story short, I had prepped to be auditioning for two roles that were not this role I was about to sing. I stood up and came in late (I hadn’t realized I was going next and was learning the words when the director said what the count was leading in thinking I’d listen to person #2) but the pianist was kind and I managed to get through the song. I had forgotten my one dance call rule: act the shit out of it. I didn’t act this at all. I basically went through the same audition with the agent where I left my body and watched as I failed hard, struggling to sound decent when really I should have played this character that I knew EXACTLY how to play and performed the shit out of it. Everyone else did.
After everyone went, the team went to determine who was going to stay to read. I let my disappointment wash over me. I had expected to learn a few bars of a song for the character I thought I was called back for (they never actually told me) and read a few scenes. I held out a glimmer of hope I would get to read so that I could redeem myself.
I was cut in the first round. When this would happen in New York, I never thought much of it. Here, I felt devastated. The audition was about 45 minutes away. I cried most of the drive home.
This was what is now laced in my bones as I prepared for yet another musical audition for a role I believe I would be fantastic for and would give a kidney to play. I had my sides and a short selection from the character’s big song. I memorized both. I prepped the shit out of the song, singing it every day and warming up for 30 minutes before the audition.
I read with another wonderful actor the scene provided and it was such a joy to read with an actor and not one of casting team. There’s just a better connection to create. The director seemed to enjoy our scene. The whole room felt engaged which was encouraging.
When it was time for the song, the music started and I felt it flow through me. I love this song and the piano sounded beautiful and it just all clicked. I acted the shit out of it, hit every note, kept the pace, and finished strong. I received applause and a “Wow!” from one of the team at the table. I could have controlled my breath a little better but that was nerves clamming me up. The director complimented us both, being the first two to read for these roles, and saying we had a wonderful spark and it was so great to see such preparation.
I haven’t received word of a callback and they are in a few days.
This is what an actor is, right? Just trying and trying and never giving up. Right? I’m not sure any more. I worked and prepped and in my heart of hearts, I know I didn’t get it. There are many factors that may be the reason: I don’t look the part enough, I am truly aging out of it. Maybe there were many girls after me that were better. Maybe they have other Equity actors they want to use and I was the one they cut.
Maybe I am forever scarred by that agent and the auditions that have followed. Maybe it shows and I don’t realize it.
It’s strange how precious that dream still is to me. Maybe because musicals and Disney animated films were my first loves. I know I’m not perfect for musical theater. I snuck into the building. I didn’t go to a school to study it. I lucked out with my decent ability to sing and booked roles that were right for me and my skills and it was more excitement than confidence that grew. I was so excited that I was getting to stand on stage and sing, I never questioned auditioning for musicals. I just loved it. It was something I loved to do and people were letting me do it. That agent took that from me. Well, I let him take it from me. I thought I had finally been caught sneaking into the building and he was kicking me out.
It was easier in a bigger pool knowing I couldn’t compete with those who were trained by the best and have voices that are a gift from the gods. In a smaller pond, I thought maybe I’d stand more of a fighting chance. Another moment of naïveté on my part it seems.
Will I audition again for musical theater? I honestly don’t know. It is a dream that is so deeply ingrained in me, it hurts when it falters. It is like a root being cut. I never grew that thick skin needed for it. Maybe I’ll try again someday.
On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?
-Dear Evan Hansen