EVERY TIME I visit my grandpa in my hometown of Indianapolis, he asks me “So, have you tried out for any of those big shows in New York?” Flattered as I am that Grandpa likes my singing, I have to remind him that actors have to have “credits” and “equity” and join the actor’s union and have agents and headshots and resumes and be able to dance like the Rockettes if they want to be on Broadway. Besides, singing professionally is a dream I gave up long, long ago.
He just says, “You never know. One of these days.”
“One of these days finally came.” Two weeks ago I had heard that there were “open call” auditions coming up for Broadway’s hottest show: the inverse-Wizard of Oz comedy Wicked. “Open” call means wide open. Anyone and everyone has a shot: actors with or without equity, with or without credits. All you need is 16 bars to sing, a headshot and a resume.
As soon as I heard about the auditions, I started dreaming—could I be the next Glinda or Elphaba? The show takes place in the land of Oz, “before Dorothy dropped in,” as the tagline says. Glinda and her green-skinned college roommate Elphaba ride their broomsticks into an Emerald City revolution in which the girls find out their destinies as the bubble-floating, wand waving pink sprite and the Wicked Witch of the West. The songs are full of high-power vocals, the sets and costumes lavish, the hands jazzy. It’s arguably the most sparkling show on Broadway, and these auditions would determine the casts for the New York and California productions and two national tours.
I knew it was a long shot. I mean, come on, it’s New York, the city of starving artists and people with really good headshots. On the other hand, this is New York. The city of big breaks and ruby slippers for girls from Kansas. I poured myself into the preparations. I incessantly practiced my favorite 16 bars of a song from Les Miserables. The headshot was low-tech: an shot of me from Facebook printed in black and white was all I could manage.
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The resume was the trickiest part. I threw together a page of performance experience, and hoped that the producers would notice that I’d performed a solo of Wicked‘s “Defying Gravity” in choir once. I hoped they wouldn’t notice that I’ve only been cast in one real theater production. My part? A plate. Really. I was once cast as a dancing and singing plate in Beauty and the Beast at a theater in Indianapolis. I was also “lady with cane” in the opening “poor provincial town” number and “woman with frying pan” in the “kill the Beast!” scene. I had three lines: “Mais Oui!” “I need six eggs!” and “Is he dangerous?” I wore three different wigs. For some reason, I thought spelling out all this detail out on a resume would do me more harm than good, so I wrote “cast member” and “24 performances” next to the name of the show and made room on the page for my college Shakespeare course and four years of clogging experience.
The auditions took place last Saturday, and only a short walk from my apartment. I got there at about 7:50 a.m., and was already 156th in line. At about 9 a.m., the line started to move forward, ten at a time, into the lobby of the audition studio.
As about 500 more Wicked hopefuls lined up behind me, I sensed that, despite the hint of competition, there was at least outward comeraderie between this starving artist crowd. I got talking to the people behind me in line, Elijah, Julia, and Kristen. They had led completely arts-centered lives thus far; all three had studied theater, music, or dance in college. They thought I was crazy to be a politics, philosophy, and economics major. “Sounds like an endless nightmare,” they said. I thought, “At least I’m not starving.” Even though they’d name-drop the most obscure musicals to make themselves sound really theater-savvy, they’d tell me in the next breath that I was brave to sing from Les Mis.
Several women wore fluffy-skirted dresses, attempting to look like Glinda. Kristen and I discussed the importance of using your appearance to set yourself apart from the rest. Kristen said, “I’ll be ‘the girl with the purple shoes.’ You’re ‘the girl with the blue tights.'” Yes. I knew it was smart to wear those tights. We both agreed that the fluffy dresses and fake golden curls were a little overboard. A blonde ahead of us who was trying to be “the girl with the two Maltese puppies,” but failing miserably at getting anyone to take her seriously with those yippy pseudo-Totos.
At last, I got to go inside the studio. I had expected that with so many applicants, they would do what they call “typing out,” which is when a first line of producers looks at your resume and your physical appearance, and turns you away if you’re not the right “type” for the show or if your only legit theater experience is playing first soprano dinnerware. But they didn’t. Instead, they ushered me to a line of people waiting to sing for a casting director. As my turn approached, I expected my nerves to rise in my throat and choke me, but they didn’t. I prayed and thought, “Heck, this is finally a chance to sing as loud as I want without bothering any neighbors.” The process was rather anticlimactic: I stepped inside this little room and sang my 16 bars acappella for two guys who looked like tall munchkins, now that I think about it. They flipped through my resume, said “thank you!” and I left.
When I stepped out the door, the first thing I thought of was saying, “Actually, yes, Grandpa!” on Thanksgiving. New York City is truly the yellow brick road to opportunities like this that make long forgotten dreams seem a little more likely. And Grandpa’s right, you never know.
Penelope Gelwicks is a student at The King’s College in New York City.
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