Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Alphabet City VII

I was cruising audition breakdowns online a few weeks ago, and after flipping through some of the usual calls (off-off-Broadway theater listings, student films, and major motion pictures seeking acrobatic left-handed German midgets), I spotted something I'd never seen before:

"Casting six actors all ages and types interested in doing solo work. Alphabet City celebrates the people of the East Village and Lower East Side. After being cast you’ll spend two weeks searching for a subject in the neighborhood whose story you want to tell. You’ll interview that subject and using their words to create and perform a twenty-minute monologue. You’ll have a director but you must work well independently. Rehearsals and writing will be in May with performances running from June 6th-June 25th."

I was intrigued. I added it to the little cart of listings that I'd later submit my headshot and resume to upon checkout.

A couple days later, I got an audition invite from the theater. I put it down in Google Calendar. They wanted us to come in with a monologue and a true story (something I'd never been asked for in an audition before).

A few days later, I finished tutoring one of my students, checked my calendar and realized three things:

One: I'd mixed it up with another audition I only needed a monologue for-- the Alphabet City audition was that night and would start in half an hour.
Two: Not only had I not prepared a story, but I'd missed a critical instruction, it had to be the story of someone I knew, told from their perspective.
Three: The audition location was not twenty minutes away in Times Square as I'd assumed, but over forty minutes away on (surprise) the Lower East Side.

I did some fancy footwork figuring with Google maps to find the fastest route from the upper west side across Manhattan, and hopped a subway route I'd never ridden before in that part of town. Subway rides are excellent places to memorize lines. If they're not packed, they're also good just for thinking. Which is just what I needed. As we whizzed closer and closer to the audition (though not fast enough) I was spinning things through my head to figure out a good story I could tell.

Isn't it weird how hard it is to come up with something so general on the spot? Try it. Right now, think of a true story you could perform as the main character well enough to be cast in a show in New York. Any story, any person you know.

I shuffled through as much as I could. A kid's story would be great, I can do a good little kid impression, but I need a story with a beginning, middle and end, and a strong character. I don't remember any kids telling me something with all that. I thought about my grandpa's stories, his father (or uncle?) and the uranium deposits on his ranch, or grandpa himself coming to serenade his bored doctor's receptionist with his fiddle. But I couldn't pull out the details and wasn't sure I could imitate him well enough. Then there was my brother-in-law and the stories of his dad in Carmel, CA serving them a squirrel soup one night or the time he shot a hole in the ceiling with a shotgun because of some deer in the garden. But for this audition those were too much punchline and I couldn't remember enough substance.

Then I got it. I wasn't sure I could pull it off perfectly, but it occurred to me that though I knew my subject very well, my audience would not, so that instead of trying to be accurate, the main thing I had to do was put on a performance. I finalized my choice just as I exited the subway and started jogging to the theater.

I made it only a little later and there was nobody in the room when I got there. So I started filling out one of a stack of information seats and starting practicing the posture, a couple of gestures, things I could remember.

Soon I was in the room, had finished up my standard Richard Greenberg audition monologue and started into my story:

"My father went to the University of Chicago both for college and medical school. I'm going to tell a story he tells about how he was part of a medical discovery."

I hunched my posture ever so slightly, spread my hands with a slightly exaggerated tremor, and began to talk, slowly, deliberately, and making a point of sometimes emphasizing the last words of my sentences. I told how I (as in my father) had been sleeping in a laboratory as a test subject between performances of a show at the University Theater. At the time I was playing a character who was a drunk, and had a bottle filled with water I had taken swigs from on occasion.

The final night of the show, some of my friends filled the bottle with actual wine. I didn't want to look chicken, so I didn't say a thing. I drank it. I managed to make it through the entire show somehow or another, finished, stumbled home to the sleep lab, got all hooked up, passed out, and set the world's record for non-REM sleep. And that's how it was discovered that alcohol inhibits dreaming.

I (really me this time) was called back a few days later. I was asked to swap stories with an actress who had also been called back, and then present it, capturing her character as much as I could. Hands on hips, gesturing palms upward, elbows in, one foot crossed in front of other like a dancer, telling the story of how she ended up opening a package of two false breasts from her grandmother at work while her (male) boss was standing behind her. Good story. Funnily enough, to tell my story, she used a lot of the physicality I'd deliberately used to tell my dad's story. Who'd of thunk it.

A few days later, two nights ago to be exact, I got an email officially offering me a role in the show.

I'll be looking for my subject over the next week or two, constructing our story, and then rehearsing. The show opens June 6, and runs through the 25th. It will be at the Metropolitan Playhouse, and as soon as I know which days, what times, and how you can get tickets, you will find out right on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. I'm thrilled to have made a contribution.