Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Bad Arena Stage Audition

My dad had signed me up for a six week summer theatre course at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. while I was still in Paris, getting ready to come home to finish my last two years of university. The course was great and at the end of it, I was invited to participate in an open audition for the repertory company. I had been going to Arena Stage since I was 15 years old. My parents dragged me and my sister to every museum, play and art gallery in the free world. At the time it was annoying. Now I'm grateful because you never know when you're going to need to break out a soliloquy from Richard the Third or have to choose between buying a Picasso or a Modigliani.

The audition consisted of an a cappella song, a piece from Shakespeare and something from a modern play. I don't remember what I sang or the Shakespeare piece but remember I did a monologue from Arthur Kopit's Oh Dad Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' so Sad.

The day of the audition I felt like a million dollars. Happy, upbeat and totally on top of my game. I was also on my way to Ocean City, Maryland with a bunch of my girlfriends because I forgot about the audition. Arena Stage is one of the biggest rep companies in the United States. Serious, stodgy, and all up in the I'm An Actor And You're A Housewife attitude. And I was on my way to the beach. When I finally remembered all I could think about was that my dad was going to kill me. My Dad who was all "You kids get off my lawn! Now!"

"Well you'd better call them and reschedule," my Dad said when I got home. I had not counted on that. For starters I thought he was going to scream at me but he didn't. I assumed that the reason I had conveniently forgotten about the audition was because I secretly didn't want to go. This was a big rep company. If I sucked and went down the drain, then my entire acting dream was likely to follow. To be rejected by them would have killed me. My dad didn't see it that way.

"How will you know if you're good or bad unless you show up?"
"What if I blow it?"
"Then you blow it and go on to the next thing."

Arena Stage rescheduled me and this time I showed up. A few weeks later my mother called me in the dorm.

"You made it into Arena Stage!! Call them, here's the number!! Congratulations!!"

I was devastated. I had come out of denial long enough to recognize that the real reason I had missed that first audition was not because I thought I couldn't cut it but because I was engaged to be married (to the guy who ended up marrying a rich chick and sitting around their house playing his guitar). I had planned on joining him in California, which was not on the East Coast. I wrote down the number and told my mom I would call but I didn't.

She called me ten days later and said Arena Stage had phoned again and why hadn't I responded? I reminded her of Peter and moving to California and she said I would always regret not taking the job. I reluctantly called the woman at Arena Stage.

"The first year you'll have small non-speaking parts like spear carrier or maid. Then the second year you graduate to a few lines in each play and then the third year you get bigger parts and so on and so on."
"When do I get bigger roles?"
"Well obviously you have to work your way up..."
"How long does that take?"
"Well, if all goes well, maybe five or six years."

I turned down the job and then five months later my fiancé dumped me. All in all, not such a great year. I never regretted the fact that I didn't take the job. I would have been stuck with my real last name for years and years and years instead of the name I now have. I knew I was not cut out to be a spear carrier because spear carriers had no lines. And I ended up being a standup comic. And standup comics do.

End of chat.


  1. I'm glad you went to the audition. In the end, I think it is better to be offered a part (or a job) and turn it down on your own terms than to have never given yourself that chance. It is very empowering.

    Thanks for the story.

  2. I remember this one time I was trying to choose between a Picasso and a Modigliani and I couldn't make up my mind and someone else grabbed them both. Your parents were so right.

  3. Funny. I was planning to move to California with my guitar player boyfriend who dumped me too. So instead I auditioned to be a stewardess. Worked that stage for 14 years.

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  5. We not only have lines, most of the time it's ALL the lines. A much better distribution of being the center of attention, IMHO. Oh, and always go with the Modigliani. Most of the Picasso stuff you see are fakes.

  6. Anonymous1:00 PM

    To quote my nieces when my sister was dragging them through the better museums in New York, "Mom, do we have to keep looking at all this old stuff?" Then they went to Italy for a month saw all of the art treasures, got home and reported, "It would have been more fun to go vist Auntie Martha in Hawaii where there are good beaches..."
    Martha Jane

  7. Its funny how we can rise to the occasion (like parents actually giving good advice).

    That is a good story. No wonder I've never heard of that theatre company. Did anybody with any ambition ever "graduate"?

  8. Okay, I'm not sure why I'm sharing this but I thought the contrast was amusing.

    I wanted to go back to study after High School, my pops instead encouraged me to fill out an application at Brown's Chicken, the Chicagoland's answer for KFC. It was supposed to be "temporary".

    I worked there for 9 years.

    I did meet my husband there so not all was lost. :o)

  9. Daniel12:38 PM

    I'm crushed.

    I was so excited to think of going to arena and being in your cheering section...and then I read on.

    I'm glad you went and tested your self with the audition.
    They are a very good, creative and sort of avante gard production company so it is a great compliment that they selected you.

  10. I would have made a great spear carrier. I would have carried the HELL out of that spear!

  11. To answer Anne's question - some of the best American actors began at Arena Stage - James Earl Jones, Dianne Weist, Robert Prosky, and a host of others have graced their stages: Ruby Dee, Kathleen Turner, Jessica Tandy, Jean Stapleton, Angela Bassett, Debbie Allen, Morgan Freeman...the list goes on.

    Also, Arena Stage essentially started the regional theatre movement - Founding Artistic Director Zelda Fichandler championed Congress to allow theatres to have non-profit status, and they were one of the first integrated theatres, the first regional theatre to transfer a production to Broadway, and the second regional theatre to win a Tony Award.

    If you haven't heard of them, you should read up!