Parenting from the Wings: You've Got 30 Seconds
It takes approximately 30 seconds to sing 16 bars of music. This is typically the requested audition cut of a song. If performers are lucky, they get 32, which allows them all of a minute to prove themselves.
Can you imagine having a job interview in any other field that gives you 60 seconds at best to prove why you are right for the position? An employment process that doesn't allow for correction of something misstated or explanation of past success, time to convey the small details that make the difference between decent candidates and the best one for the job?
Yes, I know, in theater, there are callbacks-sometimes many, many callbacks-to learn more and separate the talented from the truly employable. But isn't there some kind of in-between? Could casting agents really not spare a few minutes per performer in certain situations to give them a shot to make a more accurate impression? Just enough conversation to learn, hey, can she take direction and relate to other people? Is there not some way to use an extra minute and a half to get a read on whether or not this is someone who would support fellow cast members or say nasty things behind their back creating drama off-stage?
When you think about it, auditioning requires a completely different skillset than performing on stage. It requires the clichéd ice in the veins. Even those who are comfortable on stage don't have an advantage here. There is no energy from an audience. There is not even a few seconds to get comfortable in the room. For singing auditions, you have no one to work with.
And song choice? It's a musical minefield. Find that song that shows off your range and personality and also is close enough to the show so that the people listening can imagine you in the cast but not something from the show itself. That's difficult enough. But it's also all subjective and everyone brings their opinions in with them. What if the people in the room are just tired of that song or worse have always hated it? What if it reminds them of a show they auditioned for but didn't get or a bad night out? It happens. Like having the same name as someone's evil ex-girlfriend, there's no way to shake the baggage that you didn't even bring.
All of this is difficult but just part of the process for adults, who still struggle to process it. But imagine being a kid. It is one of the many reasons that at least five times a day I wonder why we let our daughter do this. She works really hard to prepare, gets 30 seconds to prove herself then never hears from them again. And I don't just repeatedly ponder squashing her dreams because I'm tired of having to answer, "Did we hear anything?" But that's definitely one of the reasons.
(The others, in no particular order, include but are not limited to the unavoidable focus on looks and other superficial qualities, the lack of job security down the road, the inevitable "career" exaggeration of children and their parents, the constant comparing to other kid performers, and tween and teen attempts at productions like Chicago. But I digress...)
The truth is 99.99 percent of the time, she's not going to hear anything after an audition. Not a "Thanks but no thanks." Performers and parents don't get a helpful little heads up like "Hey, that's not the best song for your voice or age" or "Your kid really doesn't have it, maybe get a math tutor." It is just radio silence. Go in, sing for 30 seconds, get told it was great, go home, wait days/weeks/months then see an Instagram post announcing the cast.
Cry, eat some brownies, drink some water and do it again. The resilience that this particular rinse-and-repeat requires is beyond me.
It is true, these are life lessons. There is no career in which talent and hard work alone are enough. And like youth sports, there are many x-factors that go into the decision making. It's good to learn this early, good to know how to prepare, take responsibility, show up then handle disappointment, rejection and people who don't quite measure up to what we'd hope. It makes the victories that much sweeter right? The nice people that much more appreciated?
Kids don't really have that view, of course. They are too busy staring at that greener grass under the other kid's feet. I get it. And I have perspective. These are not the truly tough challenges some kids face day-to-day. We are lucky enough to have the opportunity to make these choices. We choose this. But why? How many life lessons does one kid really need? Isn't suffering through middle school enough?
Maybe the day will come when she decides she doesn't want to do this anymore. In the meantime, I have a wealth of inspirational Broadway lyrics to try to stop the tears, and we just take it 16 bars at a time.