A week ago, I sat on "the other side" of the audition table for the first time. As a performer, I have long been frustrated by auditions. I have often felt that I was passed over for someone who I felt was less optimal for a role or a position. A couple of those rejections have really hurt my self-esteem, and I've held onto them for years. And it's really hard not to be upset or discouraged by the constant stream of rejections in this business. And, yes, I do know the mental trick of saying "I was a hammer and they needed a screwdriver", but it's hard to understand exactly what that means when you know you sang your best in the audition, but you've always been on the performing side of the table.
Last Sunday I sat on the production side of that table. (A disclaimer: I do not get final say on who gets cast for the workshop of Imogen. In fact, I get little to no say in the casting for this show, which is completely fine by me. I do not have any producing or directing experience in my life and I fully expect that those who do have that experience will make better informed decisions than I would.) It was very interesting to me to be on that side of the table and see the faces (so many of whom are dear friends and wonderful colleagues) who came into that room and performed beautifully. As a composer, it was a great compliment to know so many people I love and respect were interested in my project. But knowing that the cast of a show has to fit together as an ensemble both dramatically and vocally...I can actually, finally see how the best audition doesn't always land the best role.
And it's heartbreaking. I wrote this show for almost 90% treble voices and this workshop is being done by a small storefront company (there were ~80 applicants for 11 roles), and I know there will still be lots of amazing performers left out of this production. I can only imagine what it's like for larger production companies where there are maybe 200 or more applicants and auditionees for a single role. It's not even a matter of screwdriver vs hammer at that point, it's more like we're all phillips head screwdrivers, but some of us have longer handles or smaller diameters...and they need just the right one in just the right size (vocal size, not dress size) to fit with the rest of the cast.
I know I'm not the first person to come to this realization. And I'm certainly not the first person to write about it. And I know I'm not the best writer in the world. And I can see how this realization might frustrate or discourage some performers. Auditions cost money, energy, and time. But as a singer, it has encouraged me to keep auditioning, if only for projects I really care about. For me, this realization makes the inevitable rejections in this business sting a little less. And beyond all that, it has given me a greater appreciation for the people on the other side of that audition table and the difficult job they have.
(Photo: Elizabeth McQuern)