This weekend one of my nephews will be auditioning for Julliard’s dance program. The kid just might be talented and skilled, enough to get accepted. Whether or not he wants to go there or elsewhere (and whether or not my brother can afford it for him) are beside the point. I’m proud of him for taking a leap (no dance pun intended) into going after what he wants. I’m not surprised really. He’s been dancing since he was a little kid, and he’s been fortunate to have supportive parents, quality teachers and lots of access to classes and troupes.
It’s made me think of my own foray into performing arts education, over twen……many years ago. I was not so fortunate with pre-college training or experience, and I hadn’t been acting since I was a four years old, and I had little guidance from my high school teachers (or elsewhere) as to how to go about it all. I just tried.
I recall with a shiver an audition I did for a big acting program. I remember my grandfather taking me to it. I don’t think he quite got what I was trying to do, but he was glad I was going to college. I was so nervous in the car, but I couldn’t tell him that. He had to find a way to fill several hours that afternoon, while I spent time in rehearsal halls and hallways that smelled of hard and serious work. He dropped me off, said good luck and he’d be back in three hours to pick me up. I looked around the street, on that sunny Spring day in that gorgeous city neighborhood and imagined myself living there for the next several years, maybe longer, learning how to be an actor and building my career.
I wandered in to the century old building, found my way to the check-in table and signed in. I sat there nervously, waiting. I saw the other kids around me, and wondered at how poised they seemed. We did various acting exercises and interactive games, and I marveled at how clever they all were. I was doing my best to appear confident and to fit in. But really, I had no idea what I was doing.
When it finally came time to perform the two, short monologues we were to have prepared I was very nervous but I gave it my all. I couldn’t possibly reveal now what ridiculously poor choices I had made in those pieces, but I’m grateful I didn’t know that at the time. I had them memorized. I knew what I was saying, even perhaps why, and I knew all the right words to emphasize! (Yikes.) I’m grateful too that the long row of auditors—about five or six, older men and women, with serious looks on their faces, and notes and resumes and papers strewn about on the tables in front of them, with just me in a big empty rehearsal space standing alone, feeling vulnerable and on the edge —I’m grateful they politely listened, and thanked me for my time.
“It didn’t go too bad,” I recall thinking as I walked out, mostly relieved that it was over.
I had decided what I wanted to do a year or two before. I loved the theatre, and enjoyed acting and I wanted to learn everything there was about it. My drive and energy and gumption were all there. The only thing I didn’t have was what I didn’t know was missing —a clue about how any of it really works, or how to audition.
Years later I’d find myself grateful again for those auditors who didn’t accept me in to that program. They had a good and respected school, but I ended up in one of the best programs in the country, learned many valuable things, and developed the skills and basis of who I am today as a theatre artist. I’m proud to have graduated from Illinois State University’s School of Theatre. (I had a high school teacher who inadvertently pointed me in the right direction.) One of the many things I’ve learned is you never stop learning, not when you work in the arts. Each project, each year, is another challenge which shapes us and defines us further.
So this weekend I’m sending out good vibes and positive thoughts to New York, where Joey’s going to do what he does best and give it his all. And no matter how they respond or how the other kids seem or how serious the faces of the auditors or where he ends up for the next four years, I’m confident that years from now he’s going to look back at this weekend and smile from the memory of his gumption.