Sunday, February 19, 2012

You Might be the Perfect Pineapple

We got up this morning at 5:30am as usual. I taught at the college and Andy taught at Tuacahn. Short teaching day. We convened at noon for a faculty meeting before we headed into parent/teacher conference until 6:00pm when the cast and crew started showing up crowding the sign in sheet for their call. We are two shows away from closing How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Tonight we have adjudicators here for the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards. No pressure. Try to stay awake at least.

How to Succeed is the longest dang show.

So by the time we shake the last hand and get the last kids out the door at curtain it will be about 11pm. 30-minute drive home. 18-hour day.

I digress. (pause) Moment of self-pity. (pause) Moment of wishing I was a bank teller. (pause) moment of wishing I was home raising my own children. (pause as I listen to the kids singing "Coffee Break" out on stage. It's so loud it's like they are being adjudicated tonight or something. We have the best kids. Ok. I'm over it. Sad that it takes so little to remind me why I do what I do.

Two shows to go... Presidents Day Holiday on Monday!!!! Thank you Abe and George! WOOT! Tuesday - Auditions for our BIG Spring production. This year we've chosen to do Titanic; The Musical. I just hate auditions. I hate them more than mean people. I would rather be put in a vat of stinky, mean people than have to sit through six hours of auditions for the big high school musical.

Its not that I don't like listening to the kids...that's my problem. I like the kids too much. I want them all to be amazing and I NEED them all to be amazing. But there are only so many parts to hand out. And that's where I get in trouble.

We try to choose shows that can use a lot of kids so they can all be involved in some way. Over the years, I've amassed a books-worth of audition stories...I choose the TOP TEN Worst Auditions/Casting Moments for your entertainment. And in honor of the Titanic auditions this week I say...Break a leg everybody!


10. Wish I Was That Fat
There was a dad that called me once after his daughter didn't get the role she wanted and accused me of being prejudice of fat people. His daughter wasn't fat. She might have been a size 12. I would have killed to be that "fat." This guy was certain that he had a legal case and threatened to take me to court over it. I said, "you might want to meet me first." And they did. And that was the end of that.

9. The Picky Guy
Tall, testosterone-filled men are hard to find in the theatre. There was a guy, voice to die for, perfect for the role I needed him to play, that auditioned for me even though he had been cast in another play at the same time. I didn't know this. He wanted to be able to get to know both directors and the roles, then choose which show he was going to stick to down the road. He was going to try to come to both rehearsals for a while until he made his decision. I didn't know this had actually happened until after he had done the choosing (he stayed with me) and the other director confronted me about it. That was fondly called "the conversation heard round the world."

8. "I'll Take Her Out"
There was a dad that came blustering in convinced that I had overlooked his daughter and he wasn't leaving until she had the lead. The list had already gone up. His daughter was in the show, somewhere. I asked him what I should do with the poor girl that was already cast. He thought for a minute then perked up and said "Put my kid in as the understudy and I'll hire someone to take out the other girl." He laughed so hard I thought his ears would pop off. Me? I wasn't laughing.

7. Oh How Lovely Was The Morning
I was a guest director at a high school that didn't have a drama teacher. They wanted to do a musical and so I came in after school and helped them out. I posted the auditions and kids showed up. I had requested, on the audition notice, that they sing 24 bars of a Broadway song and do a comic monologue. Pretty standard. The first boy in came and stood on the "X."

Boy: Do you want me to sing or do my monologue first?

Jan Whatever you decide.

Boy: Oh, wow... I thought you'd tell me what to do. (pause...eternity passes)

Jan: I promise it doesn't matter to me.

Boy: Dang. Well... okay... (I sense that he's buying time because he doesn't remember either one)

Jan: How about you sing first.

Boy: Oh good. I can do that. (he chooses a key...acapella because he didn't have his music) "Oh how lovely was the morning, radiant beamed the sun above. Bees were humming, sweet birds singing, music streaming though the grove...when within... (from the Mormon Hymnal)

Jan: Thank you. That's enough.

Boy: Monologue now?

Jan: Yes, please.

Boy: I can do that. (He took a deep breath as if I was going to hear To Be or Not To Be...but that would have been awesome. Instead he started speaking the lyrics of the same song that he had sung.) "Oh how lovely was the morning, radiant beamed the sun above. Bees were humming, sweet birds singing, music ....

Jan: Wow. So much effort. Thank you.

Boy: Well, I had a football game last night I done?

Jan: Yes. Yes you are. (I turned out to love this kid in the end.... He is a rock star)

6. I've Prepared a Dance Solo For You
We were in the process of creating a summer show that would gather the best talent from around the state of Utah for a production of Les Miserables at Tuacahn. We listened to hundreds of kids. After a while you get a little loopy. We were just about done, I could practically feel my hotel bed... when a girl came in with the traditional "Polygamist style" hair and dress. I mean no disrespect because one of my best friends in school grew up in a Polygamist family. But I had never seen them at an audition.

And she had tap shoes on.

For Les Miserables. 

We had not posted a dance audition.
She sang "On My Own," and at the end of the song, she said "I would like to do a clogging routine for you now." Which she did.... And it was awesome. Shame there's no clogging in Les Mis. Maybe I should have added it near the end of the first act. "ONE DAY MORE....(shuffle hop ball change shuffle hop ball change) ONE MORE DAY!!! That girl was a true BK and I admired her for that.

5. Gauging the Crazy
A Midsummer Night's Dream. I posted the audition and requested a Shakespearean monologue. A girl showed up to audition with her mom and dad. The two minutes I have with their child is priceless to me. I want to always make sure its positive and they go away feeling like they succeeded. Having their hypercritical parents in the audition isn't one of them. Nevertheless, they insisted on being present for their daughters audition because she had "a social phobia and could not perform without her mom in the room." Sometimes, gauging the crazy, I pick my battles. I didn't feel like picking this one. So I allowed them to stand at the back. The tension was incredible. It's just a skit, I say in my mind. The daughter began and about half way through, she forgot her lines. Mom pitched in with the lines, then repeated the monologue with her daughter to the end. Outloud. On the way out of the room...I kid you not...Mom passed out and hit her head on a desk making her ear bleed everywhere and scaring the pee out of me. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. I just started doing a combination of both and I couldn't control myself. We got her up and her husband walked her outside and I just sat there heaving, trying to control my blood pressure. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. 

4. You Can't Get a Role With a Gun
People often show up in costume even though you warn them not to. I guess they think you need the visual picture of them in the role they want. I always get a kick out of it. However, once a woman showed up dressed in a gunny sack and carrying a real rifle. She had ratted her hair out as big as a Project Runway model and stuck a bunch of feathers in it. The feather were falling out as she came into the room. She was moulting. We were producing Annie Get Your Gun as a community theatre show. She sang "You Can't get a Man With a Gun" and then cocked the rifle at the end. Everyone at the staff table gasp and stood up. But she reassured us "I won't shoot it off!" Oh that's good. Thanks.

3. You Don't Know Anything About Kids
Number three is mentioned in the last blog. To recap: "My daughter is devastated that you overlooked her. I understand you live at home with your mother. It's no wonder you don't know anything about kids."

2. Amazing Principal!
Whenever there is a musical where the leading role is a woman, there are problems that stretch themselves out over time and really take their toll on me. Let me be's the reason I don't direct Annie Get your Gun or Hello Dolly anymore. It was one of these type shows (vague on purpose) that after the cast list was posted, a girl locked herself in her room with a knife. I got a call from the mother who placed the blame squarely on me. "If she takes her life, you will have to live with that forever." I was praying, begging for inspiration from above as to what to say to put this fire out. Mom wanted me to double cast the show after the fact. WHY do they always think that is the answer? How do you explain that to the rest of the cast? Do they want to explain to the rest of the parents why the rehearsal schedule suddenly doubled in length?

An answer came to me. I told her to call the principal and whatever he told me to do, I would do. On Monday (I always post cast lists on Friday two minutes before the bell and then I get the heck outta there. Gives them the weekend to cool off.) the Principal came to my room to thank me for his weekend fire. I thanked him and he laughed. But this girl was in school on Monday and happy with her supporting role. That's a P.R.I.N.C.I.P.A.L.

1. Always Re-Read It Before You Post It!
And the number one WORST cast list moment was all my fault. I typed up the list. I prayed about the list. This is something I do EVERY time. I realize that plays change kids lives and I do not take that lightly. I've seen it for 20 years. I am giving those kids a memory that he/she will base their self-esteem on for years to come. (Or not.) So I pray that everyone will accept this decision and I ask God to give me peace about it. Sometimes he does, and sometimes I get a very dark feeling about my choices. That's when I revisit the list and move the roles around until the feeling goes away. As I was moving kids around on this particular list, I had mistakenly listed one girl twice and bumped the entire chorus down ONE name without noticing it. I was racing against the bell.... so I flew across the hall to post the list and get back into my room before the masses attacked me. I shoved the push pin in the cork and ran.

By Monday, there were no less than a dozen parents sitting outside my room waiting for me to arrive. That was the day I considered becoming a delivery boy for 1-800-FLOWERS.

Here's the truth....

The truth of the matter is this... Auditions are the very last thing that count toward casting in an educational setting. Many things affect a cast list. We tell the kids "you might be the perfect pineapple, but this time, the role requires a carrot." The script requires a certain "type" and that is very hard for kids to wrap their minds around. No matter how hard we fight to put the talented, funny, little butterball girl in as Juliet, she's a perfect Nurse. But she really wants to play Juliet (and her mom usually thinks she should play Juliet too). Trust the bigger picture. (That's my story BTW)

We also tell kids: "You are always auditioning" which means that we are watching you 24/7 and we are taking notes. The kids that get cast in our plays get good grades, come to school, they're nice to people and make our life easier....why wouldn't we cast them? We spend our lives doing these skits, we don't need to cast people that we know will add to the drama. There's always enough drama.

We also say: "It's just a skit people. There will be hundreds of skits down the road." But that doesn't always work with kids. When I was in 2nd grade I STILL remember the play we did. I was 8 years old. It was called "Farmer Brown and the Magic Coyote." It was about a dying farmer that needed help planting his garden and this Coyote gathered his fairies in to plant his vegetable garden for him and it saved his life. I think it was actually a play about the food groups, ironically.

I wanted to be a fairy so badly.

The day our teacher read the cast list to us I remember walking home through Wines Park crying so hard. I had been given the role of "CARROT." I had to wear two pieces of orange posterboard tied at the shoulders with yarn and a green pipe cleaner headband. It still sorta defines me.

The moral of the story parallels life. Whether you are the lead or the Third Carrot from the Left, do not let your status on the cast list, define you. Be the best Third Carrot from the Left you can be and remember that someone is taking careful notes to see what you have done with the opportunity, no matter how small.

Always remember the kid that sees his name on the list for the first time. Rejoice for him! Today, he's the perfect pineapple. Next time, it will probably be you.