Audition

By M. M. De Voe

The listing sounded good: 42nd Street theater needs actors for several one-acts. All types. Equity Showcase.

I arrived exactly on time, breathless, dripping from the humidity, hair captive in a rubber band, flat and lifeless, white tank top sticking to my back. A trickle of sweat ran down between my breasts and itched, but I didn’t dare scratch. Once at an audition, you are “on.”

The judges had noticed my entrance. Choosing the dourest of the lot, an old frumpy grampa with big, furry ears, I made eye contact. He didn’t smile, but I saw him make mental note of me before he reached down to adjust his package.

Long brown hair and narrow green eyes: I’m usually cast as the villain.

I kicked off my sneaks. Flicked open my leather briefcase like a bad episode of X-Files. Pulled black jazz shoes on over bare feet (too hot for nylons but I’d shaved). Switching shoes looks professional. I’d gotten a pedicure the day before so my toenails would be perfect should someone happen to see them. Celery was the current rage, so they were pale though I prefer juicy colors like blackberry or bruised strawberry. In my heels, I was two inches taller than before. I stood straighter, threw my shoulders back, (ignored the pain from an overzealous “body sculpting” class) and walked with confidence to the front row where I could see the judges.

It’s uncommon to audition in front of other actors, but I took it all in stride.

Handed my new (cost: one month’s rent plus six dull dates with the photographer) headshot and resume to the monitor, a dusty woman in oversized jeans with a headset and glazed eyes.

The proctor, a balding man with a permanent scowl and bushy eyebrows, handed out the sides. My role would be that of a fifty-seven year old receptionist. I was careful not to grimace: I am 28, but onstage I look 21. Long hair always lessens your age from a distance. Learned that from my mother (who was only trying to save my hair from the scissors). Long brown hair and narrow green eyes: I’m usually cast as the villain.

This particular play, “Miss Thing goes to the Mall” was dreadful. I read through the sides, trying not to dwell on the fact that there was no action. I decided to play Miss Thing completely over-the-top. Couldn’t hurt. Not only was overacting fun to do, but this scene was otherwise sleep inducing.

I was eleventh on the list of thirteen. Other actors and actresses walked on stage, some with questions for the panel of playwrights and directors, some with no words at all.

“Number Eleven,” the proctor called. I rose in one motion and strode onto the stage, making an entrance. I made eye contact with the same older judge who again shifted and adjusted.

“Hello! My name is Sara McKenna.”

I smiled with every tooth, winked at my old gloomy Gus. Took my long hair down. Put the rubber band in my pocket. Asked for a chair. Looked meaningfully at Gloomy Gus, It’s gonna be worth it. I stood professionally, waiting for the proctor to bring a chair.

“Oh gaawwd!” I began, the vapid words of the playwright spilling out of my mouth like jawbreakers. My voice filled the hall, woke up the dozing actors in the back. Not too loud. Perfect. I smiled when the speech was done, waiting for instructions.  A young black woman sitting near my Gus stood up.

“Hi Sara. I’m the playwright. Thank you for your interpretation. You are in a subway car, and there are lots of people around you. You are on the verge of, no, you are actually having a nervous breakdown.”

I breathed deeply, keeping my face neutral. My choice had worked.

At an audition you may be paired with someone who can’t read, who stutters, or smells bad…

There is little worse than deciding to play something for laughs and having the playwright tell you how his own mother had died and this was supposed to be her memorial.

I read the speech again. The voice: cartoonish, larger than life. The writer laughed.

Writers can never get enough of their own jokes. She thanked me profusely for my reading. I handed her the script and resumed my seat. The proctor handed me a new scene.

Two characters: Buffy and Clyde.

Why can’t playwrights ever name their characters boring, everyday names? You name a character Clyde, and then expect a realistic performance… Name the character Jim or Mike, I beg of you.

In this scene, Buffy reveals that she has been hiding her pregnancy from Clyde. Nine months pregnant and undisclosed? Absurd.

Still. Not mine to judge.

Outlandish characters are best played as honestly as possible. I thought back to a time when I was cheating on my husband, before the divorce. Remembered finally confronting him. I’d hidden my affair for two months and finally blurted it out during an argument over whose turn it was to do the dishes.

When I got up on stage, the other actor, an Asian teenager with peroxided hair, seemed to appreciate the violence with which I threw the lines.

“I’m pregnant, you idiot! Look at me! Did you think I was just fat?” I was practically spitting at poor Clyde. An actor learns to watch her own performance while speaking. The eye records what the mouth has said. Schools teach you to “Live in the Moment”, that is to react as naturally as possible to the true given circumstances. That’s fine for performance, but at an audition where you may be paired with someone who can’t read, who stutters, or smells bad, and if you have to make love to them, well, being in the moment could lose you the job. At an audition, the more you give your fellow actor, the better.  Forget receiving. Generosity begets generosity.

When I yelled at my Clyde, he instantly became the most despicable, clueless, groveling worm the stage had ever seen. I was able to relent. The bored eyes auditioning us had warmed. We were asked to stay for more scripts. Clyde introduced himself as David and we congratulated each other on a job well done.

Another girl did the receptionist monologue and I stopped studying my scene to look up. She’d stolen three of my bits and added to them. Her voice was tinny, however, and her gestures more stilted than mine. I mentally thanked my mother for the eight years of ballet, which had given me the yen to be on stage and the poise to walk across it without tripping.

This new scene looked difficult. The writing was good, which couldn’t be said for anything else I’d heard that day. Daughter and father. He was sixty and had decided to run a marathon. She was trying to discourage him without mentioning his recent heart attack. She was engaged to be married the following summer. The girl’s climax line was chilling: “Daddy, a ghost can’t walk me down the aisle.” I said it over and over, emphasizing different words.

I thought of fear, of loss. I thought of my own father who was equally stubborn. He didn’t want me to act. He wanted a lawyer.

“You’re so smart,” he’d said, “why throw that away?”

I replayed that argument, with me hysterical and crying and I suddenly knew that I should have stayed calm. The mature thing to do was to be calm.

The actor playing my father in the scene was a white-haired skeleton. My own father is fat, with a white tan line on the side of his temples where his wire glasses block the sun. He has a golfer’s tan, and his lips are gray and cracked because “lip stuff is for girls.” I search the bony old guy for a recognizable detail.

The eyelids.

This actor’s eyelids have the same puffiness as my father’s and droop over his eyes just like Dad’s. I have never called my father ‘Daddy’ in my life, but as I say the lines looking at this skinny man’s eyelids, suddenly I am saying them for real. My voice becomes smaller and I cave in self-confidence. I’m only a child; I’ve no right to lecture this man. I’m shocked and afraid of the speech pouring out of my mouth.

The left eyelid twitches and Dad says, “You just worry about planning your wedding, little girl. Let me worry about myself and whether I can or cannot do this.” The bass voice is scornful. I’m hurt by its tone. I didn’t deserve this. All I care about is the life of the person in front of me.

“Daddy,” I’ve never called him Daddy before. My voice breaks and I almost start to cry but I don’t. I can’t. “A ghost can’t walk me down the aisle. I want you alive to give me away.” My voice is tiny but I can see its effect on Dad. He trembles.

A week later I see he got the part. In my empty apartment, I wait for the phone to ring.

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About M. M. De Voe

M. M. De Voe once ran away with a group of jugglers. She has also hitchhiked across Germany, been in a John Waters movie, forgotten her bag in a pub in the Australian outback, accepted coffee from a homeless man, and danced for Pope John Paul II. Her MFA is from Columbia, where she won a Writing Division Fellowship and studied under Michael Cunningham, Joyce Johnson, Helen Schulman, Stephen Koch, Nicholas Delbanco, and Michael Scammel.

Her short fiction has been widely published and has won multiple mentions and awards: Wordstock Short Fiction competition, The Raymond Carver Short Fiction Competition, PRISM: international Short Fiction Competition, Phoebe's Short Story Contest, nowCulture.com's Annual Poetry Contest, H. E. Francis Short Story Competition, Fish Publishing's Short Story Prize, The Bellwether Prize, The Dana Awards, and first prize nationally in the Lyric's Annual Poetry Contest. She is a three-time Pushcart nominee, as well as Best of the ‘Net and Best of the Web for her stories. She also won the Regina Russo Outstanding Recent Graduate Award in June 1999, and has been listed in Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who in the World since 2004. She won two Editor's Choice Awards for short fiction published in 2007. "Dulce Domum," is available in the anthology Best of TFL Editor's Picks: 2002-2006.  She is also included in the literary erotica anthology Stirring up a Storm (alongside Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood). Her novel-in-progress won the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Fellowship in 2006 for historical novels with gay-positive characters.

During the day, she runs Pen Parentis, which provides resources to authors who have kids. She recently won a Manhattan Community Arts Fund Grant to help support the organization. You can read more about M. M. and purchase her work at her website.

One Comment

  1. Basil Papademos
    Posted February 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Funny that the same writer did the Virgin 244 story. Well, everyone tries different things.
    While I found Virgin somewhat labored, this is a story with depth and humor and humanity. The voice is honest, a real human being, real emotions, reflections on the situation, entirely believable and moving. A lot of critics dismiss the first person, present tense as being passe or self-indulgent. I’ve found that it is often the most revealing voice.
    If MM De Voe does more of this type of writing, I would most definitely look forward to reading it.

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