Smash, that lovable/terrible/fascinating/aggravating show has brought a touch of NYC theater to the small screen in small towns across America. As a result, many people have asked me about the show’s content—What’s true? Is it realistic? Is there a Terrible Ellis in every production?
For these burning questions, and many more, I suggest checking EW.com, Vulture.com, and Sharon Wheatley's SMASH Fact or Fiction? on a regular basis. But for a day in the auditioning life of a small town girl (like Karen) who has been in the biz for a while (like Ivy) and who has made some questionable fashion choices (like Julia), read on…
I hate to break it to you, but the chances of a complete unknown getting an appointment to audition for the lead of the workshop of a new Broadway show are slim to none, even if you’re stunningly gorgeous and your voice is second to only grey-haired blues singer (and Teen Angel) Taylor Hicks.
Rather, you’d probably have a day like I just had: you do your hair and makeup, you pick out an outfit, and you schlep a three-ring binder full of songs you sing well and two pairs of dance shoes, and you arrive at a chorus call, where you sit on the floor like a kindergartener in a room full of 100-200 girls. When they call your name, you dutifully file into the room with a group of 20-30 girls, learn a dance on the spot in 30 minutes or less, and perform it in a smaller group of 3-5 while the casting director, choreographer, director, and various assistants whisper about your height, your hair color, your experience, your looks, your shoes…oh yeah, and your talent.
When everyone in the group of 20-30 has danced, the casting director calls names of the women that the creative team would like to stay to sing. Sometimes you can sense a pattern (all the girls are 5’ 6” and above), and sometimes it can seem completely random. And on very bad days, someone who looks exactly like you can get kept and you don’t. The girls who are asked to sing have to stick around until all 200-300 girls have danced, and then they file back into the dance room one by one and sing 16 bars (about 1-2 pages of sheet music) of a song of their choosing. After that, they are dismissed in a, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” sort of way. Meaning, the casting director might call you to come back again to dance or sing or even to read a scene—but if you don’t get a call, you don’t get a call. They don't call you to tell you the job went to someone else. You only know that you didn’t get a call when you read someone’s Facebook status that says: “Soooooo excited to get my dream role in Show X at Theater Z!!!!” Then, you immediately text your friends to meet you at the corner bar.
A singing chorus call works in much the same way—you gather in a room of 200-300 ladies, except this time, you’re sitting on the floor in a party dress and heels. You line up in a group of 20, and you file into the audition room one by one to sing 16 bars of your choosing. The creative team (which is sometimes represented by a casting director’s assistant’s intern and the theater producer’s coffee boy) writes cryptic notes about you on your resume as you sing. Sometimes they’re on their phones. Or the computer. Or eating lunch. Your job is to ignore all that and sing pretty. When you’re done singing, you often just get a, “Thank you,” and you walk out of the room. Sometimes they’ll ask you to sing a second song, sometimes they’ll call you back to dance, and sometimes they won’t call you at all. I dragged my sister to a singing chorus call when she came to visit, and her analysis is as follows: “People wore unusual outfits and tons of bright lipstick. You had to wait around forever and were only in there for two minutes. Some people seemed genuinely excited, some pretended, and some were too old to be there.”
And this is what we go through on a daily basis. Sometimes multiple times a day. To top it all off, booking a theater job isn’t like booking a regular job—chances are that the job you did all the above work to get will last for less than three months. Then you’re back to the drawing board.
I seem to have painted a very bleak picture today (probably because I have the post-audition blues, a very common side effect of this lifestyle), but I must say that the upside of this business is huge. HUGE. You never know when you may get a phone call that will change your life. For example, on my very worst financial day ever (the one and only time I had to ask my parents to help me pay my health insurance), I got a call that I had booked my very biggest show ever—The Radio City Christmas Spectacular—a show that would solve my financial problems for what turned into four years! And you’re always just one audition away from that all-important phone call—just inches away from the carrot dangling in front of you. You get addicted to the feeling of success being just around the corner.
That darn carrot is tricky to grab. In a (very) recent fit of exasperation, I asked a friend, “Why do we torture ourselves?!?!” She hit the nail on the head, pure and simple: “For the clapping.”
Any questions about show business or Smash? Ask away!