Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Florida Studio Theatre Production of William Finn's 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee

Yesterday, I attended my third audition in New York City. This time, I was contesting for a spot in the Florida Studio Theatre's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, or as it is affectionately called in the industry, "Spelling Bee." The show tells the story of several gifted, albeit quirky youngsters gunning to be the top speller. The kids come from a variety of backgrounds, and the show chronicles the experiences that have led them to this year's Bee. There is a fat kid, a Black kid, an Asian girl who practices the baton, another Asian fellow, and a young prodigy with two dads instead of one. Needless to say, this is a "character musical," and I was very excited for these auditions. After shaking off the weekend brunching and boozing, I made the trek from towny Astoria to the heart of Manhattan, where the auditions were being held, arriving around 11 a.m. Now, I am still getting used to New York streets and travel, but finding a Penthouse studio is made all the more difficult when the ad in Backstage has listed the wrong address for the studios. After consulting a gang of police officers (were these high security auditions?), a hotel concierge, and two doormen, I made my way to the correct address (just down the street from Carrie Fisher's new one woman show Wishful Drinking which I really want to see) and Shetler Studios. Arriving at the studios, I found a mob of people, more than I had seen at either of the other auditions I had yet been to. Apparently, the Equity auditions were being held in the morning (when the director still doesn't hate his life), followed by the Non-Equity auditions. Now, there are a few important differences between the two classifications of auditions. Equity, or union auditions, have an official monitor, exact appointment times (well, kind of), performers usually get to perform one longer selection or a couple selections, and they are supplied with such helpful information such as who is in the room, who is the accompanist, contract details, etc. By the time I had gotten there, all of the afternoon Non-Equity audition slots had been filled and a lengthy, unofficial, alternate list had been assembled on various pieces of scratch paper. I was number 102. After waiting around for a while, a friend of mine showed up, and we decided to make the very practical decision to go to lunch. (We found a tasty little empanada place I had spied during my previous job hunting). And thank God we did. After another friend ours arrived, we heard through the grape vine that the auditors had decided to begin typing to cut down on the number of applicants. The "typing" process refers to the thoughtful process where everyone auditioning that day gets in a line in the crowded hallway and the director or producer walks down the hall, pointing, either saying "Yes" or "No." It kind of reminds me of when all the livestock are lined up by the judge during a 4-H competition. All involved are indefinitely bound for the chopping block. So, we raced over to Shetler studios and awaited our immediate fate. By now, there were even more police officers surrounding the area, and even some barricades. What could be going on? After waiting a bit longer (it was about 2pm by now), we lined up for the typing ceremony. Two of the three of us made it in, one didn't. Somehow, I did! It was one of the first times that my lack of height has helped me in an audition scenario. Then, the real wait began. We sat and sat and sat. I pounded the water and frequented the bathroom. I read my play, I checked my phone, I warmed up, I cooled down, I tried to make nice, I tried to disappear. The monitor cooed, the monitor entertained, the monitor favored those he knew and those that (supposedly) had to be at work by 4. We also received word about the continuing security around the building. Apparently, President Obama was in town to appear on the David Letterman show (on the same block). Thank goodness he, too, wasn't auditioning for the spelling Bee. However, his presence did make it for several actors to return to the studios for their auditions, as waves would stream in from time to time, post frisking and interrogation. Who knew musical theatre could be such a pressing matter of national security? Finally, around 6pm, we were called to audition for the FL Studio Theatre production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I think my audition went alright, the man laughed and wrote something on my sheet, Lord knows what, and then it was over, boom. I don't think I am being called back. My poor friend Aly, who knew the show better than anyone else in the room, had a somewhat disappointing audition that consisted mostly of the accompanist and her struggling to find a common tempo. Appropriately she sang a number from the show, "Woe Is Me." Tails wagging, we both scurried out of the building (luckily the Obama brigade had left) for some post-audition margaritas at Blockheads, and then our individual journeys home, me to the east to Queens, her to the north, to 1--th Street. Days focused on less than 60 seconds of performing tend to be both tiring and frustrating. This is the business of acting.

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