My most recent post here was about a big audition where I didn’t know what I was doing. Well, twenty-some years later [aka just last week] I had another one where it may have seemed I didn’t know what I was doing. Only because it was a bit risky, and completely untested, and it was one of the most fascinating, challenging and interesting auditions I may have ever had.
I’m a huge fan of Sandbox Theatre and have mentioned them here before—they do original works that are company created, and typically in a very avant garde or expressionistic manner. When I first spotted their audition notice I was immediately excited at the opportunity (though I didn’t know any of these details.) I’ve loved their work in the past and think it would be terrific to get involved with them in some way, so I quickly signed up.
When I was able to snag a time slot and got the details I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the general audition for their Fall show they provided a few lines of text and asked people to create a one- to three-minute piece inspired by and using that bit of script. That’s it. There were no rules although there was encouragement to make it physical and to include anything that shows off your skills (duh. it’s an audition) so that could mean, singing, dancing, juggling balls of fire, whatever.
I thought this was the craziest thing to ask of someone at an audition (!) but then quickly realized that, of course, it made perfect sense for this company and the way they work, and I was pumped and inspired to put something together. I’ve written stuff before, I’ve adapted materials before, I’ve done original pieces as an actor and director, and I knew I could handle this challenge!
And then my mind went blank.
For two weeks I couldn’t get started, I couldn’t find inspiration from the bit of text they sent. I don’t sing well enough to call myself a singer, and I’m no acrobat and I can juggle three tennis balls well enough to say I can juggle but don’t make me move or throw in a fourth or light them on fire or the act is done. What can I do? What can I do to stand out and be interesting?!
I thought for a bit that I wasn’t going to be able to do this.
Then I realized that even though I don’t do those other things, what I can do and have done, is tell a story. And I have the skills to shape a story and craft one from new and other-used materials. Great! And I quit thinking about trying to be interesting.
So….what’s the story?
I couldn’t find the story…until one day, one line of the piece caught my eye:
“I…opened the window and started throwing out those things most important in life”
I realized I once knew a man who had done just that. He had thrown away everything, walked away from his life and his family and his loved ones with hardly a blink, and only years later realized what he had done. I sat down and started writing. I just needed to get words down on paper and trust that the flow of thoughts would come, things would take shape and I knew that no matter what I wrote I’d probably change it in a later draft anyway. I knew the story I wanted to tell, it was just a case of finding how to tell it.
Over the course of about a week I wrote about ten or twelve drafts of this scene, each one clarifying the story a bit more. The more I worked it, the clearer it became to me and the more I could see this piece not only being a viable audition piece for this company, but also a part of something larger. Perhaps it could be the starting point for a project I’ve been trying to find a way to write for a few years now. Perhaps.
Then came the sudden realization that I actually had to perform this and I had no idea whether it was crap or brilliant. I suspected it lay somewhere in between, but who knows? I was the only who had read it, wrote it or thought about it at all. Finally, with little time left I ran it passed a friend to give it the smell test.
It smelled fresh.
Still, the moment of the audition itself was nerve wracking. To do an original piece, that I wrote myself, that had never really, fully been done out loud and full out before, and had been given no outside direction (other than a few performance tips during the smell testing) made me feel, to say the least, a bit unsure of myself.
There I was again. Standing in an empty rehearsal hall, feeling naked and vulnerable, in front of a row of strangers (although considerably younger this time) behind tables covered in notes and papers and I tried to think back to that big audition I wrote about last week, and I tried to think of my previous accomplishments that made me feel confident I could create an original piece, and I tried to imagine the bigger stakes audition my nephew was having a thousand miles away at the same time and how I wouldn’t want for him to question his confidence, and I took a deep breath and I forgot all of it and just owned my original, never-before-seen, work-in-progress, short one-man show.
I simply began the story.
And it kind of rocked.
What an exhilarating, and memorable, audition.