The Run Down


It was dark out when I awoke this morning, suddenly, and for no particular reason. I woke up with Shakespeare on my lips, "...speak again, bright angel, for thou art...." After almost an hour, I gave up on getting back to sleep, and squinted at the clock hard enough to make out some numerals. 5:00. May as well get up. I take it easy, making my breakfast and lunch and showering and shaving, sparing a moment or two to check in at Google Reader, and then I'm out into the chilly air.

I should have dressed warmer. The predawn temperature is just below freezing, and it's been a few days since I've had to deal with that. I turn my back to the wind on the train platform, and when I get outside of the Actors' Equity building I nestle as well as I can manage against a deli's storefront window. Waiting in line takes on a peculiar atmosphere when it's that early in the morning. Everyone has chosen to be there, and there's nowhere to rush to, only the question of whether they'll consider the weather (or not), and let us into the building much before 8:30. Once my hands warm up a little more, I read my book, pausing here and there to run over my monologue in my mind; not just the words, but imagining it as though I were living it under ideal circumstances. I'm in Italy. I'm in Civita di Bagnoregio, under a balcony that's jutting out from a building on the outskirts of town, where the gardens are, isolated. On the balcony is the most beautiful girl I've seen in my entire life. It's warm.

They let us in (mercifully early) and as we initiated march by the building guard we hold out our membership cards. Once past him, I begin to return it to my wallet, then remember that I'll have to show it again once up the stairs and headed into the studios. I keep it in hand and end up walking past a great many actors who were there to sign up for free tax processing, the fifth past the monitor, the fifth in line to sign up for an audition spot, the fifth to sit, and wait some more.

It was my first audition since arriving back in town. My first, to be perfectly frank, in many months. "Shakespeare on the Sound" is doing A Midsummer Night's Dream and, it would seem, casting all roles. I figured it would be a popular call, and I figured right. Hence my early-morning line-waiting. I needed to get a slot of my choice, to make it work with . . . er . . . work. As the hour of nine steadily advances, they finally start signing people up, and I take 12:30. It's possibly the worst slot in terms of the receptivity of the casting director, just before the lunch break, but they don't start until 9:30 and I haven't run this one by my day job, so I can't come in late. More fool me. I take my slot and a brisk walk from 46th and Broadway to 30th and Park, arriving just in time to start the work day.

It's harried at work. It has been -- economy, lay-offs, etc. I'm making it worse. My temper is edged with a diamond crust of anxiety, but I try to be aware of it and not externalize irrationally. Instead, I channel it into things that need doing around the office that are also physical. Sitting at my desk and working is not at this point an option. I move boxes and clean areas and organize files, but I can only hold on to this for so long until something urgent and desk-related comes my way, so I hunker down. My attention is a bucking horse, as much in danger of slamming into a wall as of throwing its rider. I double- and triple-check assumptions as I work, but my work is not slowed, I'm running at such a pace. Most of my coworkers use this energy all the time. I do not know how they do it. I feel like I'm sprinting toward 12:00.

Then I'm out the door. It's my "lunch break," but that's not what has me rushing. It's a couple of avenue blocks to the N/R, and if the trains screw me I have the potential to arrive late for the call for my time slot. The trains cooperate, I walk in just as they're registering the 12:30 group. I hand over my registration card and headshot/resume, the second to do so, and so the second in line to go in. I've fifteen minutes to kill, and I do so by checking the audition notices posted on the giant bulletin wall and meandering through warm-up gestures. It's awkward to warm up at Equity. The place is a throng of people trying to look more casual than they feel, and you disrupt that when you sit on the floor and twist your spine. I try to loosen up in spite of it all, try to be warm and loose and receptive. As I do so, people from the "alternates" list are being lined up in amazing quantities. It seems this casting director is quite a firecracker; she's getting twice the people in each time slot as is expected. Before too long, the 12:30s are lined up outside the door. The first goes in, and I have 1-3 minutes to prepare.

The proctor has told us the casting director wants brief Shakespeare (check), our best piece (check), and no eye contact (this is irritating when it comes to direct-address dialogue, but standard procedure for auditions -- check). I abandon all pretense of being relaxed, and in that mystical, permissive space just outside the studio door I stretch, and twist, and breathe. It's too late to run over the lines again, but I do anyway, speedy, just for the words. I think of myself walking in and charming the pants off of a new person, easy, calm, likable. This is going to be fun, I tell myself. I get to revisit Romeo for a couple of minutes. This is going to be fun. The first auditionee opens the door and walks out, leaving it slightly ajar for me. I know not to engage her too directly. The switch from audition state back to real life is a halting one for most. I walk through and close the door behind me.

And almost immediately, I see that the hours of anticipation were not, in this case, worth it.

This poor casting director. She looked exhausted, disappointed, disengaged -- stick a fork in her, because she is done. I heave a little mental sigh whilst going straight for the first chair I lay eyes on (it has arms, I didn't anticipate that, what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is an audition studio doing with such a fancy chair) and smiling broadly, saying "Hi, I'm Jeff Wills." I get a deflated "Hi Jeff," Pause. "And what will you be doing today?" It sounds slightly accusatory. "A little Romeo," I reply. Getting no particular response, a hand her my own pause, and begin.

It's a tiny room, and I suddenly realize that though I'm speaking perfectly well for our proximity and the context, it won't do for showing her that I have a voice that can support Shakespeare. Plus, I've overcompensated in my not looking at her, so Juliet on her balcony is to the high upper right, and the "audience" is . . . on an adjacent balcony, I suppose? (Great seats; must have cost a fortune [maybe they know someone in the cast].) The casting director must feel positively underground, which is fine by me, because it's rather how she's made me feel so far. But I haven't given up hope. I'm playing with my choices in the monologue, adapting on the fly, making it far sweeter than ever it was in our raucous production. Too sweet? I up the lust ante on "...that I were a glove on that hand..." and check in with myself to make sure I'm taking my time, in spite of instinct informing me that I have not hooked my audience. I'm doing fine, but not making friends and influencing people, and, dang it, not living it, not getting carried away.

Forget it, I think, though not in those exact words, and as I round third base I rock back on my heels and crane up to the heavens, getting louder and stronger as I proclaim, "...for thou art as glorious to this night, being o'er my head, as is a winged messenger of heaven unto the white, up-turned, wondering eyes of mortals that fall back to gaze on him as he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds and SAILS upon the bosom of the air!" I carry it through to the absolute end of the line (thanks, Simon Callow), that top it off with a little take to the balcony that says, I hope, "O . . . was that a little loud?"

"Thank you," I announce to my actual audience, who so far as I can tell hasn't looked up from the table the entire time. "Thank you," she replies. I can not tell if the emphasis is automatic, or if she genuinely appreciated my contribution to her day of endless verse, or if she was in fact thinking, one down three more and some alternates to go thank you merciful God. I move the chair back to where I found it, allowing for just the briefest second to gestate into conversation, or at least a question. Ultimately unhindered by such an obligation, I walk out, displacing the next sucker in. Just now it seems weird to me that I didn't add a "bye," but it didn't at the time. It just didn't seem welcome, somehow.

It's on with hoodie, with pea coat, and my various daily props back to my pants' pockets. I'm out the door and headed to the subway, no time now to walk back to work if I'm to get there before 1:00. I don't feel disappointed, of course. I feel only that familiar sense of relief I always have after surviving another open call. It wasn't a bad one to re-enter on.

The thing now, is to keep going.
 
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