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Opinion: The Joy (and Agony) of Performing

Trying something new can be therapeutic. Sometimes.

The media often bombards us with data on the biggest stressors in the lives of 21st-century Americans. Some of the usual culprits include divorce, job insecurity, money woes, ill health, loss of a loved one, carpenter bees and Miley Cyrus. My own personal list would include centipedes and getting mown down by a BMW whilst traversing Main Street in search of chocolate. Job interviews are also very scary and stress-inducing, but I think it’s safe to say auditioning for a musical, which is a kind of job interview, is not something the majority of Mo’towners are stressing about at this very moment. And for once, neither am I.

When I was living in Chicago, auditioning for shows was part of my daily grind. If there wasn’t a play to audition for, you were “making the rounds:" trudging from talent agency to talent agency with your book, trying to spark a little interest, trying to squeeze an audition out of a rock-faced agent whose goal was to weed out the weak and get bookings for the strong.

In addition to auditioning for plays, actors could also find the occasional gig working the trade shows at the cavernous McCormick Place for a week at a time. I worked the shoe show many times, standing around in painful size 6 high heels while smiling at shoe men who inevitably leered and offered tasteless invites to dinner or their laps. The food expos were more fun, because in addition to eating well for a week, one could learn all kinds of life skills like strawberry hulling or the proper way to greet canned goods after sampling too much free Chardonnay.

I can honestly say, in all the years I was actively seeking work as an actor, I never felt fully prepared for any audition I went on. Oh, I had my monologues down and could sing and hoof it through the song and dance portion, but I was always scared to death. Knee-shakingly insecure. After all, walking into a darkened theatre and standing alone on stage is NOT a calming experience. Also, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done your monologue into the bathroom mirror, because everything changes when you’re up there alone, so hungry for the part that you’d eat your tap shoes, their tap shoes and the stage curtain just to get the job.

As many of you reading this have experienced, once your offspring hit high school, you are a has-been, an afterthought, good for a ride, a hot meal or a ten-spot, but no longer the center of their world. This is where I found myself five or six years ago. I had been relegated to walk-on parts and cameos after years of being the star. I hated it. So, when my youngest son suggested I try out for  summer production of High School Musical, I was intrigued.  Did I still have the elusive "it?"  Had I ever had "it?"

Rett had been cast in other shows with Mark Morgan’s gang, , so why had I never been compelled to audition before? Why now? Simple. Ms. Darbus, the drama teacher in High School Musical, was a great role for a rusty thespian: no singing, no dancing, just over-the-top emoting. Alas, I would still have to audition. I would still have to walk onto that lonely stage and impress. Could I do it after almost 20 years? Would the fear still debilitate me?

Why on earth would anyone willingly go through such a fear-inducing, painful ordeal? Why would any sane person walk onto an empty stage and beg to be judged so nakedly?

Again, simple: Because getting the part feels like chocolate, your first crush, a lottery win and unconditional love, all rolled into one intoxicating package. But wait! There’s more! Once you’re cast, you become part of an instant family, as you rehearse together for weeks, bumble through dance steps and try to learn vocal parts, everyone together in the same boat. The big payoff, the reason we put ourselves through the anguish of auditioning, is the joy of performing.

Does the euphoria of getting the part make up for the agony of the audition? And is there something to be said for throwing yourself OUT of your comfort zone every once in a while? I can answer a resounding “yes” to both questions. Yes, when you get cast, the fear and insecurity evaporates and in its place is the realization that despite the sweaty palms and shaky knees, you did it! As for throwing oneself out of one’s comfort zone, trying something new is like a cosmic pinch, a jolt to one’s norm, a wake-up call.

I didn’t audition for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, MoorArt’s summer production, this past weekend. Too much going on in Masonville. Instead, I chose to help. I wanted to observe, and also to ask the director, Marc Dalio, how it felt to be on both sides, since he not only directs but also performs.

When I asked him if he still gets scared before an audition, his answer surprised me. He thought for a moment, then explained that although he is nervous before an audition, he had conquered his “fear” by accepting that auditions are part of his job of being an actor. I asked how being an actor helped when he was the director, the observer in the audience.

“I am always rooting for the actors to be the best that they can be,” he said.

How simple. In retrospect, I wish I had conquered my nerves and tried out. Instead, as I left the , I realized I would have to find some other way to blast out of my comfort zone this summer.

Skydiving anyone?

Carla McIlmail May 07, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Auditions are just difficult. You are putting it on the line and hoping the director likes you! It is wonderful when you get the part and hurts when you do not. I have auditioned for many parts...got some...not others. Now that I am directing middle schoolers, I try to remember how much it hurts when thy do not get that dream part. The most heart warming thing I recently witnessed was when a set of twins auditioned for the same part. When I picked one twin, she asked if she could give the part to her sister because she wanted it more...beautiful stuff!
Mark Morgan May 14, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Marsia, Thanks for the shout out for the Moorestown Theater Company! I certainly understand the 'anguish of auditioning' and the 'joy of performing'. Any time you want to join us, we would love to have you! Thanks and keep up the funny columns! Mark Morgan, Leader Moorestown Theater Company 'Gang'

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