“Next,” the stage manager called. I looked around to be sure it was my turn, and she repeated impatiently: “Next.” I took a deep breath, put on my combat face, stood up and walked to center stage, struggling each step of the way to control my nervous trembling. Only the work lights were on, so I could clearly see the people running the cattle call. There were five of them. Why did they need five? Could this be one of those democratic collectives, where everyone argued instead of working? The stage manager handed what I assumed was my resume and head shot to who I assumed was the director. He briefly scanned it, then passed it onto the others.
I waited until the last person was finished reading and comparing me to the picture, trying to appear cool and confident. The director had been looking me up and down, which I resented, even though I should have been used to the unwanted attention by now. “Sing,” he said. I looked at him in surprise. “I was told that I only had to prepare a monologue,” I said. He ignored my feeble protest and said: “Sing.” “What kind of song would you like?” “Anything.” I took a deep breath and sang the first two lines of ‘Greensleeves’. I thought I was pretty clever, since I was auditioning for a Shakespeare play and it might impress the inquisition panel.
A lot of good it did. They stared at me blankly.
“Dance a beautiful dance,” he ordered. “I’m not a dancer. I’m an actress.” Once again he ignored my objection. “Dance a beautiful dance.” I briefly considered telling him to shove it, but I hadn’t done Shakespeare since college and I had learned that there were very few opportunities. So I did a beautiful dance. At least I thought so. It was some kind of cross between a waltz and a fox trot. It was the best I could do. There was no reaction from the inquisitors and I was beginning to get pissed off. If they wanted a prima ballerina they should have said so in the actor’s call in the trade papers. Part of me wanted to walk out without saying a word, but another part wanted to do the show. Besides, I didn’t want to give the assholes the satisfaction of watching me slink off, tail in the traditional place, another defeated actor.
By now I knew that something unexpected would be next on the menu, so I smiled pleasantly at the inquisitors. I got a quick rush of pleasure when some of them looked surprised. After all, it was obvious by now that they were trying to freak out the auditioners. They probably assumed by this time that the auditioners would be agitated and in the process of losing their stage persona. I had no idea why they devised this torture session. It was different from any audition process I had been through. Maybe they had already cast the show and were getting their rocks off by torturing some needy actors. Stranger things happened in theater. Whatever. I was here and I certainly wasn’t going to break down for their viewing pleasure.
The director gestured to the stage manager, who handed me a sheet of paper. It was in French. The director said: “Read.” I knew what he would say if I told him I couldn’t read French, so I read. Maybe Charles Baudelaire would have objected strenuously about my pronunciation, if he was there, but I was beginning to enjoy myself. “That’s enough,” the director said, staring at me expectantly. I guess he was waiting for me to ask how I did. I just stood there silently. He looked me up and down, “We’ll call you.” I just nodded and left. I knew they would call. I had seen that lecherous look before. Now it would be up to me to decide whether or not to do the show. Part of me was hungry for Shakespeare, but these were weird people. I wasn’t sure if I was up for any more bullshit in my life. Then I laughed. I didn’t have to worry about it until I got the
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 26 poetry collections, 10 novels, 3 short story collections, 1 collection of essays and 1 collection of his one-act plays.Gary lives in New York City.