In eighth grade, I was Tessie in my school’s production of Little Orphan Annie. Tessie is, like Annie, a little orphan, but unlike Annie, she’s a wimp. When situations get rough, she jumps on her bed to get as far away from the action as possible, shrieking “OH MY GOODNESS, OH MY GOODNESS!”
At some point, our director told us that he assigned roles based partly on what “fit best” with our real personalities. I was horrified.
Six years went by – six years of staying as far away from singing for an audience as possible. Don’t get me wrong: I love to sing. I’m no good at it, though, and there are very few people I’m willing to sing in front of. Late in the evening, I walk back to French House along the back of the dorm buildings, because pedestrians are scarce along that stretch of Memorial Drive, and the cars and river add comforting background noise. When no one else is around, I shoot for the high notes without worrying about damaging anyone’s stereocilia. I belt it out. I emote without worrying that people think I’m crazy. I only auditioned for Little Orphan Annie because my best friend auditioned too, and we took comfort in solidarity. Otherwise, auditioning for a musical is basically my worst nightmare: not only can people hear me sing, but they’re listening to me sing, and judging the quality of my voice, which I have already judged to be less than good.
Now, on the subject of auditioning for musicals: a week or so ago, a notice went out about auditions for a musical written entirely by MIT students, two of whom are from my living group. It read:
“Please come prepared to sing 16-32 bars of a song that shows off your vocal quality and range.”
Feeling disinclined to demonstrate my lack of both, I ignored the e-mail. I didn’t delete it, though. I let it sit in my inbox and stare up at me, saying “hey Anna, remember how fun Annie was? Remember how much you love to sing? Remember that post you wrote about doing things you find scary? Are you really such a hypocrite?”
Ignore, ignore, ignore.
Last week, Julie (the musical’s composer, who used to live in French House with me) sent out an e-mail to the living group:
“You should audition if any of the following are true”, she said. “You want to be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity to originate a role for the stage. You have never been in a show, but would like to try something new this IAP. You are looking for the most fun thing to do at MIT this IAP. You love to sing. You love to act. You love to dance. You love me”
Yes, sure. Yes. Yes, of course – not sure embarrassing myself in front of an audience is it, though. Yes, in private. Sure, but I’m awful at it. Yes, in private. YES, I LOVE YOU JULIE.
I had a hard time justifying NOT auditioning, so I sent Julie an e-mail explaining the source of my uneasiness. She told me that everone finds auditioning terrifying, but it’s never as bad as one imagines. I said I had basically no acting experience. She said that enthusiasm was more important than experience. I mentioned that I’m a terrible singer. She mentioned that there are dance-specific roles. I asked if I could just dance for my audition, and not sing. She said no. I puttered about for a few days wondering what to do.
Wednesday night, I told my boyfriend (who wrote the lyrics for the musical) about my exchange with Julie. He got all excited. “YOU SHOULD AUDITION!” I face-planted into a pillow and moaned about how terrifying it would be. He agreed that yes, it would be, but pointed out that that wasn’t a reason to not do it. Since he’s familiar with MTG’s audition process, I grilled him on the format – turns out there would be a panel of people watching. Humiliate myself in front of a panel of judges? I don’t think so. “Alright,” he said. “But you’ll always wonder: WHAT IF?”
I scowled at him.
As an afterthought, he added – “and you could write a blog post about it!”
Ugh. FINE! I opened Youtube to find a song to sing. After subjecting the two of us to ~30 minutes of my voice, I settled on Colors of the Wind, from Pocahontas, since it’s a song I could sing in my sleep.
Auditions were from 7-9pm. I had neuroscience recitation from 7-8, and couldn’t stop fidgeting. At 8:15, I printed off the sheet music I needed for auditions, and sat all huddled up outside the Student Center for a while, singing softly, under my breath. At 8:30, I went through a major attitude check. I was being a wimp. What would Eleanor Roosevelt say? “Do one thing every day that scares you”, that’s what. This certainly qualified. I steeled myself and marched up to the third floor. I signed in. I filled out a couple of forms. I hyperventilated a bit.
At 9:10, they called me in. I was ushered through a set of double doors, into a big room with a piano, and a long row of desks – and a long panel of people. They introduced themselves, smiling politely, and I thought: “I want to leave.” I stayed. I handed my sheet music to the accompanist, who beamed at me, and I thought: “I wonder what they would do if I ran.” I stayed. “Okay!” the pianist said. “We’re going to start with a range check.” A RANGE CHECK? Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. I needed a bed to jump on. Or maybe a window to jump out of. I needed to pull a Tessie and bail. I didn’t. I sang, instead. I sang the first verse, and then had to stop, because I got out of sync with the piano – I explained that I hadn’t sung it with a piano accompaniment before. “They’re going to kick me out,” I thought. Julie told me I could sing it a cappella, if that would make me more comfortable. I started over, so terrified my body went rigid and my throat felt constricted.
After that trauma, I had to read a few lines from the script, from two different characters. The first character was furious, and swearing wildly. That went fine, since, well – I sort of felt like doing that anyway. The second was a narrator, and that went fine as well. The last task was to be taught a dance routine, and perform it twice for the judges. I’m lucky it was twice, because I totally blanked on the first try and spent the last few counts gaping at the panel. I did a pretty sweet somersault both times, though.
After that, I left the room. I felt very calm, and totally zapped of all mental, physical, emotional energy. I walked back to French House like a zombie, along the front of the dorm buildings. Suddenly, from behind me blasted very passionate, out-of-key, off-pitch singing. I (and the people walking in front of me) turned to see where it was coming from. A guy rode by on his bike, belting out some song that he obviously loved, not caring at all that people were staring. I beamed at him. I would have given him a high five, if he weren’t, you know, on a bike. What an awesome way to be.
Anyway, the audition didn’t go spectacularly, but whatever. It’s over. I did it. I won’t have to wonder “what if”. And I found out that in real life, I’m not like Tessie.
Added 3 Dec:
Um…woah. I got a callback. So I’ll be back there tomorrow, doing more lines-reading and singing. Wish me luck!
Added 5 Dec:
I GOT THE PART! WOOHOOOOO – wait. Now I have to perform it. In February.
This is going to be an adventure.