BWW Blog: Back to School - When You're Ready to Give Up, Stay
I got a relatively late start into acting: other than a few shows during elementary school, I didn't start acting until my senior year of high school. When I went into that audition room, I was up against people who had been acting for all of high school; even a few who had been acting their whole lives.
I made some of the best friends I ever had in that room, but a part of me was painfully aware that I was the underdog. I didn't have the experience. I'd never taken a drama class. I was going off instinct, half-baked memories from childhood, my naturally booming voice, and my ability to follow instructions.
That served me well for the fall play, a straight show where I managed to snag a role in the ensemble. Coming off that show, I went into winter break on an absolute high. I was excited for auditions for the musical. I spent most of Christmas preparing my audition song-It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure I either went with 'You're the Top' or 'Sunrise, Sunset'.
Despite the dilation of time that seems to occur whenever you're looking forward to something, eventually, the first day of auditions came around. Cold read-no problem. Vocal audition-a bit bumpy. Then there was the dance audition.
I had never been in the dance classroom before that day. I was greeted with an order to take my shoes off, and to take a place on the floor in front of the full wall of mirrors. With my long hair, scraggly beard, and surrounded by underclassmen, I resembled nothing so much as Rubeus Hagrid dressed out in gym clothes.
Thanks to that mirror, I got a full view of myself as we were taught the routine, a full view of just how idiotic I looked. Between my weight and my bad foot, I didn't dance so much as I flailed around. It was like a bad SNL sketch of somebody trying to audition for a show. I was surprised there wasn't a laugh track. When we broke to begin auditioning people, I bolted out of the room, nearly in tears.
I hadn't seen anybody laughing at me, but that didn't mean they weren't. I'd just embarrassed myself in a room full of people that I desperately wanted to be friends with. There was no way that I was going to get cast in the show. There was no way that I was going to embarrass myself by doing that audition. I went home, broken.
To this day, I still don't know why I went back on the second day of auditions. There were no pep talks; I didn't have Debbie Allen telling me that "out of limits comes creativity." There was just me, my profound desire to do this show, and the utterly certain knowledge that I was going to make a fool out of myself if I went through with it.
Nobody would have cared if I didn't go back. I wouldn't be in the show, and that would be that. This brief experiment of my life in the theatre would have come to an end. I'd go back to my senior project and the school paper; life would go on.
But I went back. The next day after school, I dressed out in the gym, and went back to the dance room. I stayed as they taught the dance routine again, doing my best to follow along.
I wish I could say that I was full of confidence. I wish I could say that I was full of certainty. I wish I could say that I wasn't embarrassed by what I saw in the mirror. I'd be lying if I said that. The only way I can explain staying in that room is that I knew I wanted to be in that show; if they were going to tell me "no", it wouldn't be because I didn't try.
I don't know where that determination came from. I am not a confident person. I've spent most of my life hating myself for my size, hating myself for being too different. When the going gets tough, I tend to fold.
But I stayed in that room. I stayed for the audition. I followed the routine as best I could. I tried not to flail in the way of the three other people auditioning with me. I nodded at our dance teacher's tight-lipped smile. Walking out of that room, I was afraid my knees would give out.
A few days later, I was cast as Captain George Brackett in California High School's production of South Pacific. (The good captain does not dance. Glory be.)
I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't gone through with that audition. The friendships I wouldn't have made; the shows I wouldn't have gone on to audition for and act in.
If you find yourself in that position, stay. Play it out. See it through to the bitter end. I'm not saying that it will work out for you. I'm not saying that it won't be difficult and potentially embarrassing.
Let your love for the stage conquer your fear; let it conquer your shame; let it conquer your doubts.
Photo: Zach J. Payne and Anthony Sanchez in California High School's production of South Pacific, Spring 2009. Photo by the author.
Guest Blogger Zach J. Payne is a writer for New Musical Theatre. Check out his latest article: 5 YA Books that Deserve the Be More Chill Treatment.