Sunday, January 29, 2012

Epic Bullshit #008 - Auditions (The Text)

So next Monday I'm making my return to the stage after an 8 year hiatus. And while I'm just performing one song in a friend's cabaret, I will be acting. You may be asking 'Why now?' And the answer is simple. They asked me to. I didn't have to audition for it.

You see one of the main reasons I didn't follow acting as a career is that I hate auditioning with a passion. When I was first out of school and moved to New York, and trying to make it as an actor, I still have this crystal clear memory of going to an audition for the national tour of Sunday in The Park with George. There in the waiting room there was a this guy who'd grown a full beard like George Seurat. It was not a fake. He didn't just put it on for the audition. And I don't know what he thought he was going to do for Act II, but it didn’t matter. I was just so daunted. Because I knew I didn't have anywhere near that commitment. I just wanted to get on stage and exude.

When I saw this freak waiting to be seen along side me, my body actually rebelled. I ran to this tiny New York airplane style bathroom and threw up in the toilet. It was mostly dry heaving, because I’d learned by then not to eat the morning I had an audition. But I knew right then I couldn't hack it as an actor.

Ironically, by the time of that audition, I'd actually already been cast in my first off-off-Broadway show - an original musical, written so poorly (I'm talking to you Shetl Tales: The Jewsical!) that I decided after it closed I should spend my time writing musicals myself instead of being subjected to a demeaning audition process only to have the reward be to perform in dreck so awful I didn't even invite my best friends to see my professional New York acting debut...

And of course,  one great benefit of writing your own material is that you never have to audition again.

Of course my trauma around auditions goes much further back than 1993. Perhaps 10 years earlier, when in 8th grade I was selected to be part of a special “musically talented” homeroom. (Remember back when we had homerooms? Those were the days)

I didn't have to audition for that honor either. The music teacher had watched me - all of us - through 7th grade. He'd heard us sing, seen our attitudes in rehearsals and decided there would be synergy by bringing us together. And this guy had pull.

You see, his purpose in life was to direct the school musical every year. And this wasn't some pathetic Gleek/Nerd kind of endeavor where jocks slammed slushies in our faces and called us gay. The school musical was the highlight of the year for the entire school. Even though I went to a very diverse, rough and tumble public school, and we had so little arts funding they cut our orchestra the year before I arrived, we still had an auditorium and we still had a piano and we had the most inspiring teacher I've encountered in my life. Don Rickenback. And when kids saw how great the musicals he put up were, everyone wanted to be involved. So out of a school of 600 kids, he'd have 200 in the show and another 20 teachers on stage just for good fun. We took it so seriously we even made our own albums like a real original cast recording and then pressed them on vinyl LPs. So while other schools revolved around their football or baseball teams, Cloonan Middle School was nothing if not about the annual school musical. 

7th graders of course, never get good parts, but 8th graders. We raked them in. And I was in the special musical homeroom, so my success was nearly guaranteed. My 8th grade year we were doing Guys & Dolls. What a great show. I was thrilled we weren't doing Oklahoma or The Music Man - those creaky old war horses. Guys & Dolls was tough and touching and fun. The music had swing and the roles weren't hokey. We weren't playing midwestern bumpkins. We were gonna be playing grownups. Gangsters and Hustlers. And singing about romance and love.

Now I knew I wouldn't be playing the lead - Sky Masterson. Brian Lange owned that part. He was 6'2" at 13 years old with a chiseled jaw like Brad Pitt and an inescapable, ineffable magnetism that made him seem like a God. But there were lots of other great parts. And there were lots of great songs to go around. So there was no way  I was going to get stuck in the chorus like I was the year before.

You know the funny thing is I don't remember my audition. Not at all.  That wasn't what scarred me. What I remember is the day they announced the cast. And when I say announced, I mean literally announced. They didn't post the list anywhere, instead, it was an annual tradition to read the cast list out loud - over the intercom - to the entire school at the end of the day.

On that fateful afternoon in the beginning of February, 1983 everyone in my homeroom was abuzz that day. We were all so hopeful. So confident. So excited. And just before Don announced what busses had arrived to take us home like he did at the end of every day, he read off the list. Within moments, my homeroom was like a lottery where everyone won something. First Brian (no surprise there), then Lyssa Dansky as Adalaide, and then Jeff Tuttle as Nathan Detroit, Marc Harris as Nicely Nicely, and Chucky Bond got Big Jule.

But then…as I kept listening for my name over the shrieking excitement of everyone around me, I heard Don's silky baritone switch gears and say:

"Bus 33. Your bus is at the platform. Bus 33."

I've never been so crushed in my entire life. And suddenly in a moment, I understood how Supervillans get created. Because my only thought was. “I'm going to prove him wrong. If it takes me the rest of my life, I'm going to learn how to sing, how to act, how to write, compose, direct and dance better than any of these idiots he chose over me. And then I'll show him. And he'll know.”


  1. How to respond to being a great inspiration and murderer of hope at the same time? How do I apologize for crushing you? How do I explain that I was well aware of your interest, your diligence, your passion for music bubbling inside you, that I felt it to be in its early stages, and find now with no surprise how it has grown and sustains you? How joyful for me that you have risen to grow further than I, to reach the world in a bigger way, to have "shown me so I'll know!" How sorry am I for not always getting it all right, but hopeful you will forgive my many of them. But you have risen above the crushingness and conquered, David, perhaps through my poor casting, but no, to your credit, your drive and talent! And you have validated much for me; that what I wanted to do through my teaching has come to pass, at least once: to inspire others to find music such an amazing life-force and joy as to go on to create and share and rejoice.

    ~Don Rickenback

    So now that the years have passed, David, help ME learn: what role in "Guys and Dolls" should I have cast you in?

  2. Hey Don,

    So lovely to hear your voice. I shouldn't be surprised you found this.

    You should have no concerns at all. It's good to get crushed a few times. It forces us to rebuild more powerfully than we would ever have been otherwise. I wouldn't have wanted things to be any different. I never would have been so driven if I hadn't failed earlier.

    As Truman Capote said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

    And frankly, I wasn't that good back then. And you cast the show spot on. Everything was as it should be.

    Not to mention I was also heightening the drama for effect for the sake of a story. How else to re-capture that pre-pubescent angst.

    PS. If it makes you feel any better my mom read it and freaked out, emailed me and asked forgiveness for not being a better mother and sending me to high school Juilliard or something. :-)

    Email me off this site at I'd love to be back in touch with you.