5 Things I Learned Auditioning For A Broadway Musical
Shortly after I graduated college, I noticed that Newsies was hosting auditions for its national tour that upcoming fall. Since I already had a 650-miles-off-Broadway semi-professional theater credit, I figured it was time to go run with the big dogs of the acting world. For those unfamiliar with the plot of Newsies, it's about a bunch of professional male ballerinas in the 1890s who collectively find themselves orphaned and have to take up paper routes.
Based on a movie starring early-1990s Batman and Doogie Howser's best friend.
Considering I'm 5'4" tall and when I shave my face I look like the type of 13-year-old whom college football coaches are already offering scholarships to, the two roles I was born to play as an adult are Anonymous Newsie #4 and whatever they've got available if the Keebler Elves ever get a gritty live-action reboot.
So I threw my jaunty flat cap into the ring. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Nobody Wanted To Train Me
While I'm a pretty good actor, and my singing voice has been described by my Uber passengers as "Not bad, but could you quiet down? I have a headache," the big problem is that I dance about as well as a Border Collie that needs to take a dump. I figured that gymnastics would be a good backdoor to use to my advantage. The Newsies cast has a couple of designated backflippers during some of the more motion-intensive numbers. I reasoned that I could fake the dancing better than the Derek Houghs I'd be competing against could fake the part where you have to jump upside-down and not land on your face.
Your unfairly attractive face.
To have any kind of edge, I was going to need to learn some tumbling. As it turned out, it was surprisingly difficult to find a gymnastics facility that would accept a 22-year-old male who can still fit into youth-size shirts. I walked into three separate gyms, told the receptionist that I'd like to register for gymnastics classes, and every single one asked me the same question: "How old is your daughter?" Considering how my love life is going, my daughter is about negative 12, so this was admittedly a little disheartening.
But I finally found a gym that worked with me, and I was right! The gymnastics part was a lot easier than I would've expected. I was going to nail this audition. Here's a video of me attempting a backflip for the first time:
As long as the Newsies were tumbling into piles of inexplicably soft garbage, I was going to be fine.
No Pain, No Gain, Loser
Gravity is something you don't fully appreciate until it's pounding the crap out of you with your own body, and gymnastics might as well be Latin for "facial reconstructive surgery" as far as I'm concerned.
I didn't start right off with the backflip -- I had to work my way up to that. Believe it or not, front tucks are actually harder than back tucks, but they start you off with the former, possibly in an attempt to weed out the weak ones quicker. The "nice" thing about a back tuck is that if you miss, you'll probably just land on your back and get the wind knocked out of you, like I brilliantly managed to do one time on the hard border of an otherwise springy trampoline. With front tucks, on the other hand, you are more likely to land on your face if you don't put enough (or put too much) momentum into the process, as I did probably hundreds of times.
But you look really cool right before it happens.
After around a month of floundering in an "adults" gymnastics class with one other girl who was about to head back to college, I was placed in a class with a bunch of competition-level high school girls. This was more damaging to my physical well-being than I could have possibly imagined. The girls were absolute sweethearts, and I came to appreciate them as the hyper-athletic sisters I would never want to be forced to tattle on. The problem was that anytime they were feeling a little down over not landing a stunt, I'd still be looking at them in awe for getting as far as they did -- a look and sentiment that could apparently come across as patronizing. This would lead to a "You try it, asshole" aimed in my direction, and I would have to step up. I was suffering for my art, and also the approval of high school sophomores.
Their second-favorite sport is judgment.
However, one day it went too far. Coming out of a front handspring (which are, again, inexplicably harder than the backwards ones), I proceeded to land on the tops of my feet instead of the bottoms, snapping something where my foot connects to my leg. Since my "potential healthcare fund" had been squandered on a membership to this gym, I just picked up a couple of ankle braces for about $12 at Walgreens, skimped on groceries for a couple days, and muscled forward with my training for this audition.
I Thought Statistics Were On My Side
There were auditions for this show in New York City, Nashville, Houston, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Armed with an actual acting resume, real vocal talent, five months of gymnastics classes, and three whole weeks of instruction in tap dancing courtesy of some YouTube videos and a girl who works down the street, I drove to Detroit.
Concrete jungle where fewer dreams are made of. There are some things you can't do.
The way I was looking at it, I had a really good shot at this. How many warm-blooded males are out there who can sing and tumble at the same time, still look like they should be losing baby teeth, and wouldn't have to drop out of school to do this show?
The answer was 52 in Detroit alone, and I've got no idea how many people were at the other audition sites (my parents apparently hammered home the "stay in school" message harder than the many stage moms who brought their kids to this audition.) I was expecting about a dozen other guys, tops, and suddenly I was face-to-face with a dance studio stuffed to the rafters with guys whose calf muscles make mine look like chicken nuggets.
Just how long were these newspaper routes supposed to be?
Most of these guys had showed up in proper dance shoes and leotards. Meanwhile, I was in a pair of soccer shorts and my old Nikes. Despite that, what blew me away was that so many of us looked almost exactly the same, right down to the "Teenage Martin Shkreli" haircut.
We were interchangeable in other ways as well. As the director handed out registration forms to everyone, I started talking to a few of the other guys stretching around me, and we collectively realized ...
We Were All Screwed From the Beginning
If it seems like I'm making a mockery of the number of hours these guys put into their craft, it's because at the time I was terrified, but I couldn't let them know that. Dancers can smell fear, even if they can't smell how rank their jazz shoes are. I'd relied on online clips and a handful of people who didn't think I was totally crazy (or people willing to take money from a crazy man), to cobble together about a decade's worth of gymnastics and dance skill into about six months, and it was going to look rough.
Like, "shop teacher chaperoning your prom" rough.
But nobody in that room was prepared for what was about to happen. The casting director handed us all a pretty standard registration form, and at the bottom was a "Director's Notes" section we were instructed not to write in. It contained a 5x5 grid full of the names of various gymnastics techniques.
As we were reading this over, I heard a kid next to me say, "What the hell is a Valdez?" and I came to a strange realization. Everyone in this room was as screwed as I was. Because complicated techniques like the Valdez were listed on that paper, every fanatical dance mom who brought their son to this audition was about to be as disappointed as my parents already were. (Not about the audition; just in general.) Let me be clear: I can't actually do a Valdez (it's some pretty high-level gymnastics floor shit), but I at least knew what it was. While I had prepared myself to act, sing, tumble, and tap dance at a moderately above-average level of competency (while completely ignoring the ballet), the dancers in the room had neglected every other bleeding requirement of being a Newsie.
This was going to be a long day.
None Of It Mattered
The director and choreographer were a little overwhelmed -- which was understandable, since there were freaking 52 of us in the room. There's a dance break in the middle of the show's main number, "Seize The Day" (from roughly 2:02 to 3:45 in this video), and we learned that choreography as one over the span of about 90 minutes.
While I certainly tried my darnedest to spin on cue and not fall on my ass in front of the actual professionally-trained dancers all around me, I was really banking on my singing and the shreds of an accent I picked up living with a roommate from New Jersey to propel me into at least a callback. Hell, I was even confident enough in my tap dancing ability to handle the main tap number (which I'd watched probably a thousand times) at the beginning of Act II. But I got to do none of that.
I was crushed.
After the dance class, the directors listed maybe 10 names who would get to tap dance, and from that group, only a few guys would get to move on to singing and tumbling and reading monologues in a Brooklyn accent. By the time any of that was happening, I was already drowning my sorrows in a protein shake and a chicken gyro.
As I was walking back to my car, I ran into "What the hell is a Valdez?" kid, who had been among the ten to get to tap dance. Even though he was still thrilled that he'd even gotten to move on to the that portion, he had to admit he wasn't much of a singer, and that the tapping had shaken some guys' confidence.
We would later find out that they didn't keep anybody from the Detroit audition, and according to the Newsies Instagram account, it looks like they only took three new guys nationwide. That works out to just three-fifths of a cast member per audition.
Put together like some kind of adorable Frankenstein monsters.
Honestly, I'm not bitter about this in the slightest. I had a ton of fun learning new stuff, gained valuable audition experience, and I still show up to an adult tap class on Saturday mornings. I'm coming for you, Riverdance.
See why Broadway isn't all bad in If Everything Got Adapted into a Broadway Musical. Then again, with tickets costing more money than a holy relic, perhaps we could never see a show anyway. Check out what else sucks about NYC in 6 Reasons NYC Is the Most Overrated Vacation Destination.
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