Jewish Journal

Have Character Shoes, Will Travel…Only So Far

by Mihal Levy

July 13, 2010 | 12:00 pm

I bought myself a new pair of shoes.  Character shoes.  It had been a while since I owned a pair, and I had an audition for a musical.  (Not Glee.)  It had also been years since I auditioned for anything, so I did not know what to expect, especially for something of this caliber.
The call was for 2:00 pm, and anybody who knows theatre auditions knows that “on time” means “late” and “early” means “on time,” so I figured I would be “on time” and get there forty five minutes early or so (just not to look too desperate).  When I got there, however, I realized that looking desperate may have worked to my advantage and that pitching a tent the night before may not have been a bad idea either.
After driving around the block outside the studio for what seemed like hours, I found a spot - only it was trash day in the neighborhood, apparently, and two huge recycling bins were blocking a great parking spot (only six blocks away).  So, I did what any late auditioner in character shoes would do.  I got out of my car and moved the bins out of the way.  Only now the bins were blocking someone’s driveway.  (I’m sure they would understand.)  I grabbed my things and ran to the audition after realizing that people were making their way to the studio (easier said than done in my shoes).
I got in and shoved my way through the crowd, signed in and got my call number: #335.  How was that even possible?  I was forty five minutes early.  It was going to be a long day.
The room was filled with dancers that could sing, singers that could dance, actors that could sing, and well…me.  I wasn’t sure where exactly I fit in, but there I was, amidst what I later learned were over eight hundered girls (and guys) auditioning for the female lead.  I looked around to judge my competition, as did every other girl in the room.  My odds were getting worse by the minute because even the guy sitting next to me in black leggings, jazz shoes and a cropped bright pink tee was prettier than me.  (He later gave me make-up pointers and I took notes.)
I started contemplating my decision to have breathed and lived this audition for the past week and subjecting my son to my audition backing tracks in the car and at home. (Note to my son - I promise you can hear your music in the car from now on and don’t have to sing along to my audition backing tracks with me.  No more musical theatre in the car…for now.  Daddy will be happy, too.) 
Just when panic set in, I watched a girl who was clearly over six feet tall (mostly all legs) in short shorts and character shoes (the only thing we had in common; her shoes) stand on one foot and lift her other leg vertically to touch her nose and meditate for what seemed like an hour.  (I can see how this position was meditative and relaxing…ok, no I couldn’t, but maybe that was why I wasn’t calm.)  Just then I heard my name being called by one of the crew.  What?  Why me?  My heart started racing…there were 334 girls before me.  What could they possible want from me?  If he wanted me to stretch like Miss Long Legs…I was clearly out of the running…since I was a good foot or shorter than her to begin with.  He asked to see my music.  He was randomly selecting individuals to start the weeding out process before we actually got to audition before the Wiz, a.k.a. the casting director himself.  I handed him my music.  He approved of the sixteen bars I had chosen and asked me to sing right then and there a cappella.  I thought he chose me because I had the look of fear in my eyes and couldn’t stop staring at my competition.  I was in trouble.
I began singing, but could barely hear myself over the loud thumping of my heart.  I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t centered, I didn’t have my moment.  He hadn’t even collected my headshot first.  I stopped singing and all I heard was “thank you very much,” which is not at all a good sign when you are auditioning.  Then he asked for my headshot and I thought he was going to tear it up.  He said, “great,” pointed and told me to sit along the wall with the rest of the auditioners that were “moving on.”  Moving on?  Oh, moving on in the audtion.  It took a while, but I realized it was a good thing.  I took my place on the dance floor next to Long Legs.  A few moments later a group of us were taken into another room.  (Like cattle, I followed everyone else.  And for some reason a vision of Auschwitz came to me.  I didn’t know what awaited in THAT room.)  We were introduced to a choreographer who quickly ran over a routine and in groups of ten we kick ball changed, grapevined and pirouetted across the floor.  I, however missed the latter.  Apparently they weren’t looking for a pirouetter because I made it through that round.
Then we were returned to the holding area.  It was a sight out of the movie Fame (the original, not the newly released version), where the students were stretching, dancing and doing vocal warmups.  I decided to look busy, too, and grabbed my iPhone and Googled, “character shoes and blisters.”  One dance number and my left foot was blistered, now I would be limping for the rest of the audition, which I am sure could only increase my chances of making it.  I was thankful that I had made it through the first round.  (And shocked, honestly.)
Apparently there were girls who did not, and I only knew that from the sobbing on their way out the door.  I knew I wouldn’t sob on my way out.  I wasn’t expecting to get the role, so I would probably sob in amazement if I actually did.
Then auditioners were taken in groups of ten (what is it with groups of ten?) to line up for the audition.  Finally, three hours later, my name was called.  My group was taken to the hall outside “the room” where we would be auditioning for the headmaster, the “make it or break it” man, the Simon Cowell of musical theatre (I know, bad analogy) and two others who looked over our headshots and resumes as he listened and glared at us in the center of this tiny room.  Things were moving along and I felt calmer for some strange reason, since it was almost my turn.
I started contemplating the whole process again.  Thinking about things I don’t usually think about.  Was my hair still in place?  Had the beads of sweat rolled down my face and formed puddles on my neck?  Were my armpits soaked with sweat?  Was I tall enough?  Good enough?  I don’t know what I expected.  An answer?  A sign?  But all of a sudden, as if on cue, I got my answer.
I felt queasy and dizzy.  I thought I was going to faint.  I started to get concerned, because I actually felt calmer at this point.  I made it through the first round.  It wasn’t at all what I expected.  I thought the heavens would open up, the ground would move under my feet.  Then it did.  The ground shook (as if on cue) and one of the girls shouted out, “Oh my God, earthquake!”  (What could be more L.A.; earthquakes and auditions.  Earthquakes while auditioning?)
Thankfully it wasn’t me, but the actual shaking of the ground and not my knees that made me queasy.  The speakers above us shook, the windows rattled and I thought at that moment and asked myself  “What is REALLY important?”  It wasn’t if I was tall enough, looked good enough, sang well enough or all of that, for that matter.  Did all this really matter?
Then the audition room door flew open and out came the casting director screaming at the top of his lungs that he had had enough.  I guess the earthquake had gotten to him as well, only in a different way.  He suggested the remaining auditions be cut and that the rest of us should just go home.  That left about fifty or more girls in the hallway alone.  The girls were furious.  I was numb…after just having had my epiphany. 
The screaming girls had influenced the casting director’s decision and he agreed to see ten more of us (I was number three), only if we cut our sixteen bars down to eight.  He even joked that he had to make it home in time to watch So You Think You Can Dance.  (Only I think he was serious.  Furiously serious!)  The long legged girl now in front of me, number two, said, “we are doomed.”  And she wasn’t joking. 
Girl number one was taken in and literally two seconds after she entered the door flew open and she came running out bawling.  Apparently, the songs were played as you entered the room and you had to sing on the move quickly.  I thought she was exaggerating until it was almost my turn and I could hear girl number two belt out and hold only one note from her song.  I hadn’t heard anything that beautiful in a long time (that of course wasn’t auto-tuned on the radio) and then the door flew open; she was sent out quicker than she came in.
It was my turn, and my nervous, queasy, uneasy feeling came back to me now.  Only this time there was no earthquake.  I even looked up at the speakers to make sure they weren’t swaying.  Nope, just me. 
The door opened.  They called me in.  Everything happened in literally less than ten seconds.  But it seemed as if it were all happening in slow motion.  I looked around, all I could see in front of me was an upright piano with a very large old accompanist behind it who was playing something as I walked in.  I walked over to hand him my music to him and forced a smile.  I was quickly nudged by the assistant to move quicker.  (But I already felt like I was jogging.)  The accompanist grabbed my sheet music and said with piercing eyes, “I already played your song, you missed it.”  Then the real me came through loud and clear and the musical theatre Mama went out the door.  “How could you play my song without knowing what it was?”  I handed him the music and asked him to please play my eight bars from where I had clearly marked “start” for him.  Before I could finish my sentence he began playing loudly and quickly, rushing through the song, and to add to it started at the wrong verse.  He added his own twist - a few extra bars for the introduction, and played it faster than I could even get the lyrics out.  I hadn’t even had time to make it past the piano to be in the casting director’s view, but managed to make my way there by the end of my seven bars - he didn’t play the last one, but then I hit my final note, held it out and proudly smiled as my beads of sweat now must have looked more like streaming rivers at this point.  I knew I hadn’t made it, I wasn’t given the chance.  (And I am not just saying that because I am a sore loser.)  The casting director smiled and said those words I heard earlier, but this time they meant something else: “Thank you very much.”  I thanked him in return, knowing that he had chosen his lead somewhere between #1 and 50 most likely, and wanted to kick myself for not having arrived earlier and being given a fair chance like the three hundred or so other girls before me.  I hadn’t even had time to introduce myself or the song, or make it to the center of the room for that matter.
I kept smiling; it seemed my smile was plastered to my face at this point.  I walked over to the accompanist and bit my lip trying to hold back what I wanted to say to him, but I couldn’t.  He angrily handed me my music with his piercing eyes and I stared him right in the eyes, only this time my smile faded.  “Next time you should play a ballad as a ballad.”  I told him.  I know that wasn’t right of me; luckily, they were already pushing in the next two girls at that point and he was already starting the intro to their song before I could collect my things, so he didn’t hear me.  (In his defense, I am sure he was miserable playing over three hundred show tunes in a row without a break, so I am glad he didn’t hear me, and hopefully he wouldn’t remember me next time…if our paths should ever cross again.)
I gathered my things outside of the room and began limping back to the car (note to self - bring a change of shoes next time). I couldn’t help but think of my day and the perfect timing of the earthquake.  I truly believe that everything is meant to be (and I am not just saying that, because I didn’t get a call back). 
Then I saw the casting director come out of the room to answer his cell phone.  (He was, in fact, clearly done for the day.)  I smiled at him and nodded again.  Suddenly, he put down his phone and complimented me on my singing.  Really? He probably just felt sorry for me at this point.  Then he mentioned a Tokyo run of the musical auditioning in two days.  “You should come out and audition for that one,” he said.  Now he clearly was trying to make me feel better.
But, who knows?  Maybe I will.  I may make it in Tokyo.  David Hasslehoff did, didn’t he?

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Mihal Levy used to collect degrees as a hobby.  After receiving her B.S. and M.S. degrees, she worked as a psychotherapist and research scientist before continuing her hobby of...

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