Whoever said that you work best when stressed has obviously never been to a Broadway audition. The following is… what I recall of… my first and only Broadway audition:
I suppose it all began Friday, February 15th. There was an open dance call in Boston for the Broadway musical Newsies. This part of my audition story is not new, however, so I am going to just skip over it for now—ask me about it some other time if you’d like. The only thing you need to know is the outcome: from the 150 or so people auditioning, they asked me and about 10 others to come to NYC that summer for another callback.
I woke up to my alarm set to the first song in the Newsies album and dressed in my maroon shirt and gray shorts, an outfit I had taken weeks to perfect. My mom wished me a happy birthday and we walked past Times Square toward Pearl Studios. I found my way to the 10th floor and was surrounded by 150 dancers. Every single one was beautifully built, graceful, and astonishing to watch, even when they were just warming up. And there I was. I just shrugged it off and started to get ready. At this point, I was competing against not only the top choices in the US, but the UK and Canada as well.
This audition was essentially the same as the first in Boston. The same people were casting; we just reviewed the “Seize the Day” dance and the “King of New York” tap dance. We performed for the three-person casting panel, five at a time, until everyone had cycled through, after which we took our lunch break. However, at this point, the next factor was added: singing. I am not afraid of singing; I’m in musicals all the time. It’s just that every single Newsie in the show sings an A-flat (which is a pretty high note, at least for me). Well, they called me in alone and asked me to sing. The musical director was present at this audition, and I got so nervous that my jaw locked toward the end of the song. My final words, which were supposed to be “…see us out there, carrying the banner, always out there, carrying the banner…” came out more like “…see us ow thuh, cay yee ee uh ah nuh aw way ow eh, air ree’n a aa nah…” They laughed it off and asked me to sing it again. I *actually* sang the words that time, and they just chatted with me after—asking me how old I was, where I was from, and what I’d be doing if I didn’t get the part.
“Well I…um, I’m 19 years old as of today and go to Olin.”
“Well happy birthday! But what was that? Oberlin?” (How many other people has this happened to?)
“Um no, Olin. It’s actually called the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needha–”
They all looked at each other and laughed, asking me how I learned to dance like that, especially from engineering school. I didn’t really know what to say, and talked about my experience with theater, dance, and gymnastics when I was little. After sending me outside, the casting director’s assistant asking me to return the next day: “Be prepared to do everything you did today and more.”
…And more. Great.
When I got back to the holding room the next day, I found that only 36 of us were left. We were just reviewing the material when the director, choreographer, assistant choreographer, librettist, casting director, vocal director, musical director, show drummer, two casting assistants, several Broadway.com representatives, and some other people I didn’t know suddenly showed up. Our casting panel went from three to half the people in the room, taking note of everything about me: physical, emotional, and talent. We did the “Seize the Day” dance, the hardest section in the show, twice in a row then the “King of New York” tap dance one-at-a-time. We then tried to show off any special dance or gymnastics skills we had, before they sent us out in order to hear songs and scenes from us one-at-a- time. (I did the best I could, and they sent me home.)
The worst part about auditioning is the waiting; they’ll call you if you got the part, but they won’t call to tell you that you didn’t.
HOWEVER, I am lucky because I have a ridiculously complicated and far-fetched connection to the assistant choreographer, who said , “He likes you – he said he kept you because you are good and you know your stuff – you are definitely in the ‘Future’ file.”
So what did this all mean? What have I learned? Am I going to be in Newsies or not??
Well, theoretically I am in the future file, which means they are keeping me in a file for when someone in the cast decides to leave. I.E. When one of the Asian newsboys decides to not renew their contract, I will be invited to another callback in NYC to compete against the other four Asians from the final 36 to see who fits the part better. This could be anytime, three weeks or even three years. Only time will tell.
I can’t say that I didn’t learn anything from this crazy journey. The best moral I can derive from my story is that it is never too late to try something new. For example, I started doing flying trapeze first semester and ended up working on a trapeze rig this past summer. I would say that it is pretty unheard of for an engineer to reach the final callback for a Broadway show. Chatting with other potential newsboys, I found out that every single one was currently attending or had attended some of the best musical theater programs in the country—and then there was me.
I’ve been told that here at Olin, not everyone plans on being an engineer. I’d be lying if I said that I had never thought I could be on Broadway. That being said, I was definitely planning on pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. Now I’m not so sure. All I can truly and honestly say is that wherever I end up, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have both at Olin and around the Olin community. I’ll never forget the excitement and support I’ve had from every single Oliner in my time here, and I’ll always try to return the favor.
“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” (Theodore Roosevelt, Disney’s Newsies)