OK, So I still harbor the desire to make my living as an actor, and my Equity card is burning a hole in my pocket.  Actually, it’s just a dull-thudding reminder that I haven’t made any of my career goals – yet.  However, it would be nice if I could manage to go to an audition where I didn’t meet up with some of the world’s most interesting, if unprepared, casting directors.  I’ve been to many auditions in my life, and as a teenager, I was “typed out” of more auditions than I care to remember.  (To be “typed out” is to not make it through the door of the audition.  Some miserable sod walks down the line of hopefuls at a cattle call, looks, and simply says, “No.”  Some are nicer; they’ll add an “I’m sorry,” but the inevitable “No” will be forthcoming.)

Ravishingly Dapper Headshot of Michael Tomas Otten

Just so that you have a point of reference, this is one of the headshots I use most often.  I honestly do look like this, and you must keep this in mind as I relate the following anecdotes about the fun world of theatrical auditions.

I think I must first explain that an audition can take place absolutely anywhere.  I have been in ballrooms, on stages, in a kitchen, in an empty office that echoed worse than the Grand Canyon, and, among others, a room so small, the three of us were touching knees.  Often, there is a table or two with an assortment of people who generally do everything except watch the audition.  These can be assistants, designers, boyfriends, etc.  It is extremely annoying when the entire row of people are all on their phones, texting furiously while one is pouring his or her heart out.  In any event, I think you get the picture.  Here are just a few of the interchanges that have taken place after I have not gotten the job:

1. Casting Director (CD): “Who called you for this audition?” (Definitely not a good sign.)

Me (Knowing full well that I have not gotten this job): “Well, since I sent my picture and resume to your office, and I received a telephone call from your office to come here today, I am assuming that you called me in for this audition.”

CD: “Why would I call you in for an audition for this show?”

Me: “Because you wanted to hire me is the only reason that springs to my mind.”

CD: “No, I don’t think it was that.”

Me: “Oh.  Well, do you want me to read anyway?”

CD: “No, I don’t think so,” Then, turning to the young man on his left, “What show are we casting today?”

Me: “Well then, I hope you find whatever you’re not looking for.” (Exuent)

2.  CD (Digging through a pile of photos scattered across the table in no particular order): “Who are you?”

Me:  “My stage name is Michael Tomas Otten.  You just missed me on your left.”

CD:  “OK, thank you… Ah – Um, You look like your headshot.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You look like your headshot.”

Me (Looking at the others seated at the table to see if this is a joke or an ice-breaker or something): “I thought that was the purpose of headshots – to be “looked-like” and all.”

CD:  “Well, you’re a character actor aren’t you?”

Me:  “I do and have played ‘characters,’ but I have also done leads.”

CD:  “…But everyone knows that the headshots of character actors are always fifteen years out of date.  This looks recent.”

Me (Knowing once again that this audition is going nowhere): “Oh, I’m sorry.  I must have been absent that day in character actor school when they told us that our headshots should always be fifteen years out of date.  I should have gotten the notes from a classmate.”  (At this point the CD just looked at me, and the director turned and left the room by a side door.  I could hear him laughing in the hallway.  The CD just looked at me, so I left.)

3. (a personal favorite!) CD: “Thank you for coming in today.  This is a brand new play, and we’re very pleased to be mounting it.  What role are you reading for?”

Me:  “I’m sure I don’t know.   I was told to prepare a monologue as you didn’t have a character breakdown yet.  You said you would supply script pages if needed.”

CD:  “Well, I can’t give you a script if I don’t know what the part is.”

Me:  “…But I don’t know what the characters are, so I wouldn’t know what to ask for.”

CD:  “Well, we’re writing characters in and out of the show all of the time, so you need to tell us.”

Me (After standing quietly for a few seconds):  “I just think I’ll go outside and try this again later.  Thank you.”  (I was always told to be polite, even to those who are obviously deranged.)

4. CD:  “Wow, thank you.  You gave a phenomenal reading; the best we’ve had today, but I’m sorry; you aren’t what we’re looking for.”

Me:  “I know I shouldn’t ask this, but I would like to know for future reference.  What is it about me that ‘is not right’?  Am I too fat, too short, too tall, or is it the mustache or hair color?  I only ask so that I can better prepare.”

CD:  “No, that’s an excellent question.  You don’t need to change anything.  If we were looking for someone like you, you’d be fine.  However, you just don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Ah, I look like – me.”

CD:  “Yes, but you’re not somebody else.”

Me (OK, by this time, I was totally confused, and I’m afraid that I said the first thing that came into my mind.):  “Who’s on first?’  (…And with that, I gathered what dignity I had left, performed a rather graceful turn, and sauntered out of the room.)

5. (One last one –  a vocal audition when I was through singing) CD:  “Wow!  Thank you.  That was wonderful.  That’s the way that song should be sung!  That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Me (…feeling as though I have it this time – he really seemed to mean it.):  “Thank you.”

CD: “Now, if we could just get some other actor to sing it the same way.”

Me:  “…but you just said that I did it extremely well.”

CD:  “Yes, you did, but I wouldn’t hire you.  You don’t have enough credits.”

Me (suddenly feeling like a pinball machine with not enough quarters in it):  “…but if I did it well, why not take a chance with me if it was exactly what you were looking for?”  (Actually, I wanted to ask how many credits I needed, but…)

CD:  “No, it’s too risky.  I’d rather have someone I know who won’t be as good than take a chance on someone I don’t know who may or may not be phenomenal.”  (Looking back, I can applaud his candor, but I still want to throw a chair at him.  He cast a known “friend” in the role.  He was terrible and got the worst reviews I’ve seen in quite a while.  I was too upset to gloat.)

The moral of all of this is: “Leave the ego at the door.”   I have been to many good auditions where I did well, but I knew I was wrong for the role.  They don’t hurt that bad.  It’s the auditions where I know I’m right for the role, and I see someone who is not nearly as good as me get it that hurt.    Just once, I want to look like “someone” or be known or have the correct headshot.  Ah, well…

This is a short posting today. It’s been a while since I have been able to write. Summer school has taken its toll, and I was very happy to find a recording that made the last week bearable.

I have long been a fan of Readers Theatre – I mean true Readers Theatre, not poetry slam or rhapsodic utterances that get lost in an imposed rhythmic pattern alien to the pieces. Readers Theatre, or Oral Interpretation, has its roots in the Dithyramb of ancient Greece – this was the festival to Dionysus, the demigod who was born of Zeus’ thigh, twice. It’s one of those fun stories worth reading. The Romans took Dionysus and turned him into Bacchus, and you know the stories about him, but that is enough of that.

Modern Readers Theatre seemed to originate in the 1940’s, somewhere around 1945. Some credit a Chicago theatre troupe who wanted to do Shakespeare but did not have the cast or money for costumes and sets. Others suggest that it was with the group that called itself Readers Theatre. Inc. who presented a production of Oedipus Rex in New York City. This is immaterial for this posting too, but it makes for good fodder to liven up dull cocktail party conversation. Really, look up the Dithyramb – those Greeks knew how to party!

Readers Theatre is basically taking text that was or was not initially meant for performance and performing it. It embodies all of the various forms of theatre and gives the actors involved the challenge of performing different characters in often split-second shifts. One performer can also portray a variety of characters using off-stage focus and different focal points. It really is a great deal of fun, but first and foremost, there is a respect for the material being performed. It is acted; characters are defined; it is not merely spoken to a strident rhythm in the same manner of the rhapsodes of ancient Greece who traveled the ancient world with their various tales which were augmented by anyone with a few drachmas to spend.

What does any of this have to do with a modern day CD? Not much really, excepting that it’s a wonderful Readers Theatre production of a text written by novelist E.B. White. The piece in question is The Trumpet of the Swan, and it’s wonderful. Marsha Norman of Night Mother fame has voiced this material for a stellar cast that includes John Lithgow, James Naughton, Kathy Bates, Jesse Tyler Fergusen, Mandy Moore, and Martin Short, and the results are simply charming.

The story centers on Louie, a Trumpeter Swan who is born without a voice. Through a series of events, he is befriended by a young boy who teaches him to write on a chalkboard that is hung around his neck, and eventually, his father steals a trumpet from a nearby music store, so Louie gets his “voice.” I don’t know why this story has affected me as it has. It is gentle, positive, and reassuring in some way, and the performances are just wonderful.

Even though Lithgow is excellent as both the boy involved in helping Louie and the narrator (the boy’s older self), I find James Naughton’s commitment to the role of the father to be the most endearing. The scene in which he steals the trumpet along with the voicing of his self-recriminations for a lack of morality still make me laugh on the fifth hearing.

It’s a wonderful example of what Readers Theatre should be. This was a text that was written to be read, but Norman’s care in scripting it leaves the listener with a sense of joy that is sadly missing in today’s world.

This is all beautifully scored by Jason Robert Brown with some wonderful trumpet work by Christopher Michael Venditti. Peter and the Wolf has long been a favorite of children, but that obnoxious brat and the stupid duck are no match for the lessons being taught in this piece that contains the moral of “Be true to your dream, and you can overcome any obstacle.” I defy anyone not to smile when they listen to this recording.

This took me back to my years in college and the many performances of Readers Theatre I was in under the direction of my dear friend Dr. Annette Mazzaferri whom I miss very much. This is so beautifully simple and effective that it reminded me of how unnecessary it is to have million dollar sets and over-the-top costumes. They are not needed as long as the source material is superb, the adaptation intelligent and moving, and the performances sublime. This is a CD that will be played many times in my home. I need the reinforcement that good can happen; I teach English composition.