Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Single A to Triple A

In baseball, players move frequently from one level of the game to the next. Top prospects dance quickly up the ladder of minor league franchises to the majors, while middling players and flameouts can spend careers only a couple of rungs up that ladder.

This week, I decided I wanted to try and take a step or two up that ladder. I traveled to New York City to audition for the world premiere of the stage musical of Newsies.

Now, some background: I have been infatuated with Newsies since I was about 12. My third year in the summer theater camp I attended was supposed to be my last (I was going to outgrow the program). So I was virtually guaranteed a major role. I had been disappointed and confused at the selection of a show I knew nothing of. And after watching it, I liked the premise but was wary of the lengthy kiss scene at the end (hey, I was 12!).

Long story short, I fell in love with the show as we worked on it, in particular the music. Santa Fe killed (and still kills) me, and Seize the Day and Once and For All just stuck in my head for hours on end.

Years pass. I act some more, fall out of acting for a little while, then leap into a deep end of acting in the world of community theater. Some cohorts tell me I've got a nice voice, and over time my confidence in my dancing grows from a 0 to a 5 or a 6 on a scale of 10.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I discover that the world premiere of Newsies was having an open, non-equity call in New York the first week in May. I waffled for a while about going, but when every single person I mentioned it to encouraged me to do it, I sucked it up and went.

Much like minor league ballplayers, I made my pilgrimage by bus. And also much like minor league ballplayers, I stayed in a low-rent accommodation. A youth hostel, to be exact. My experience there could probably fill another blog entry, but suffice it to say the comedians hired by a youth hostel aren't very funny, the roommates like long nights, and the cacophony of language made sleep difficult.

The morning of the audition dawned early-ish (before 8 a.m.), and I staggered through my morning routine before triple-checking which subway I was getting onto and which stop I was getting off at. I made it to the audition studio with only one or two panicked moments of "I'm going the wrong way!", 15-20 minutes after they started accepting sign-ins.

In that time, one hundred and eighty-eight people had signed in.

Well, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I signed in and found a seat in the back corner. The tension (and the sexuality) were palpable. You could smell it. After some time just sitting and collecting my thoughts, we were told of the process. There would be several groups of about 30, each of which would go in, learn the dance, and then be judged on that. No singing was mentioned.

Damn. That was my ace-in-the-hole. I thought I'd found a perfect song, one that was basically Santa Fe, but for an animated movie.

My call wasn't for several hours, so I killed some time at Dunkin Donuts (which had an "internet cafe" but no outlets - seriously?). On returning a couple hours before my call, I discovered the studio was nearly deserted.

Apparently in the hour and change that I was away, a few groups had gone in and completed their audition, while the rest of us weren't around yet.

The room would fill back up again fairly quickly as 1:30 approached, and the folks in charge of the holding room told us the group system was being abandoned and we would go into the audition in groups of 30 based on whoever was around. So I ended up in a group two hours earlier than I should've.

We were herded into a second holding room where everybody dropped their stuff and got into whatever attire they were going to wear for the dance. The anxiety was growing, as the friendly conversations among auditionees tapered off and we all focused on the task at hand.

Moving to the actual audition studio, we lined up Chorus Line-style and learned the dance combination in sequences of 8 beats. By the second set of 8 beats, it was clear to me that this was going to be an exercise in futility for me. I could probably get the steps down over time, but it wasn't going to come together for me in 15 minutes. One count of 8 featured four separate 360-degree turns and a jump.

I mean, I knew Newsies was a dance show, and that this whole little excursion was a pipedream at best, but I had hoped I'd luck into an audition I could handle.

Naturally, I was in the very first group to dance for the choreographer and Paper Mill Playhouse artistic director. In my group was some little kid (auditioning for Les, I assume) and one other guy. I don't think any of us really brought it, but I didn't fall down.

The problem for me with dance is that I'm six feet tall and all arms and legs. Even if I know what I'm doing and commit to it, if I don't have a dead-on musicality and fluidity, I'm going to look like an idiot. Case in point:

Yeah, I'm the one with the giant swinging arms. I suspect I looked worse in New York, where I didn't know the steps and I had giant swinging arms.

Anyway, following the audition, we were herded back into the second holding room for a few minutes, after which one of the producers came in and listed 8 or 10 names (mine, obviously, was not among them) to stick around. Everybody else was free to go.

It was a shame, I had put a lot of thought into what song I was going to use for my audition, and I was never going to have a snowball's chance at using it. And considering I'm "a singer who moves well" on good days, Newsies was probably not the show for me anyway.

The benefit to me was that I gained a sliver of confidence in my dance, believe it or not. Bad as I'm sure I was, I estimate I danced better than 35-40% of the people there. And considering I have nil formal training, I figure that's not all that bad, really. So if nothing else, I know I can handle pretty much anything short of what they gave me in New York.

So no, I'm not going to be making a paid-acting debut with Newsies. Would I audition for something else? Sure, if it were a singing show.