Last fall I had a terrifying audition for a new musical. It was only my fourth audition for a musical since I had gotten back into acting a few month prior. But I knew the composer and from what I knew of the material, I felt I had a good chance. I wasn't shaking uncontrollably like I used to at these God forsaken auditions. I felt fairly in control. I got lost in the middle of my song but the accompanist, bless his Sondheim-loving heart, got me back on track and I muddled through. I did both scenes I had been given to prepare. The director gave me a note and I did one of the scenes again.
I'm going to pause here to give what I realize now is a key piece of information. The note I was given was this: This is all new to her. That's it. "This is all new to her." That's about as clear as saying, "She feels something." It could have meant she was overwhelmed, happy, terrified, excited, leery, confused, determined. . . I went with a combination of all of those things. But in retrospect I realized he meant something totally different and specific. Why he didn't just say, "She's really excited about this new discovery,"? I didn't know at the time, but I do now!!
The composer then had me sing my song again, got on my case about smoking cigarettes and then had me do vocal exercises, all the while yelling at me to "hit the wall with the note!", "Straight tone to vibrato!", "Don't diminuendo!" I was so flustered at that point that I just kept belting up the scale until I was literally squatting to get notes out. When she told me I could use my mix voice, I had completely forgotten how to do that. By the time I left the room, the other girls waiting to go in were ashen and freaked out. I looked at them all and said, "That was the most terrifying experience I've ever had. Have fun!"
I called my agent and told him to forget about the project, never speak of it again and move on. He called me back that night with the offer.
The workshop was tough. New material was being written daily. My solo wasn't written until a couple days before the presentation. The writers weren't quite sure what to do with my section of the story. And our director kept giving direction that I was doing my best to decipher. I realize now I should have just asked him flat out to be more clear, but I thought it would make me look stupid. So, I kept my mouth shut and remained confused. A few days before our presentation, while I was learning my new song he told me he "needed more access" to me. I went home that night totally spent, frustrated and deflated. I thought things had been going well. I thought I had been giving them what they wanted and suddenly I felt like they were all unhappy with me. The next day I asked the director what he meant by more access. What he basically said was that he needed me to project.
This was when the light bulb went off and I realized it wasn't me. He was actually giving vague, esoteric direction. I don't know, maybe if I had gone to Yale or Julliard I would have known that "we need more access to you" meant "project". As it was, he explained that I seemed to be holding the performance close to my chest, which is what I tend to do in early stages of rehearsals. It's my way of figuring out what I'm doing. Call it fear of failure. I tend to not let go until I feel fairly confident in my performance as a whole. At any rate, I released my performance and "projected" and the results seemed to please the powers that were. At our final presentation the composer told my FATHER how much she loved me right in front of me. It had been a foggy, obscure road, but I made it to the end with a product I thought I had been asked to produce and a seemingly pleased creative team.
Life moved forward with the possibility of a run this summer, but nothing concrete.
Suddenly a press release went out announcing that the show was going to a prestigious development program in July. This set a few of us from the cast on edge. Why had we not heard anything, yet? What was going on? We had right of first refusal which meant we had to move on with the project or be paid off. But surely we were all moving on with the project. I mean, why wouldn't we? We had this one in the bag. Right?
But still, no word. Radio silence. Emails were sent. Agents were called. Sweat was sweated.
I got a text from one of my castmates. She wasn't moving on with the show. Something about how the development program liked to use their own actors and double-cast when they could, but "we love you" and blah blah blah. She took it like a champ while I had to put my head between my legs, feeling sure this was a bad sign. Then again, my part was larger than hers. I had been told I was the only one who auditioned who understood what the scene was about. I HAD this.
A week went by with still nothing. Every time I got a new email I held my breath, both dreading and looking forward to what it might be.
And then the email came. It was the composer. I'd known her for years, so she had been charged with the task of letting me know they would be moving on without me. They had decided after the workshop that they were going to be adding more "fast and furious" language for my character and they felt this was not a strong suit of mine. The character, she said, was "spinning into butter."
It doesn't really matter how much you prepare yourself for this kind of thing. It fucking hurts. A lot. Even though I had run through this exact scenario in my head 100 times, when I actually saw the words, I was blindsided.
That first day was the worst. I only let myself cry for about 10 minutes. I crawled back in bed but forced myself to get up and face the day. I had a show that night and despite being on day 19 of a diet that forbids alcohol, I had a whiskey. I went through all the stages of grief. I was devastated. I was furious. I was embarrassed. I desperately tried to think of a way to reverse their decision. Maybe I could reason with them. Maybe they would replace me and then realize they had made a horrible mistake. I wouldn't mind. Like a lover returning after an affair. It's okay. You love them and forgive them and are grateful they came to their senses and came back.
As I stood in the shower that night, scrubbing away the layers of fake tan I wear in my show, watching the makeup swirl down the drain between my feet, I repeated the composers words to myself, "spinning into butter." Standing there, alone in the shower, I yelled, "Why didn't you fucking say that to begin with????" The only clear direction I had been given through the entire process was in the email letting me know I was being replaced.
I feel cheated. It's one thing to disagree with a director. Plenty of times we are at odds with our directors and we fail to see eye to eye. But to never have been given the chance to understand what the director was looking for in the first place and then to be told you aren't capable of doing it? That sucks.
My father asked me if I was going to email the composer and tell her these things. But it's not my place to do that. She wasn't asking for feedback. She was just letting me know they were moving on without me because I couldn't talk fast enough for their purposes. And who knows, maybe that was just an excuse. Maybe they really hated me. Maybe they decided they wanted Celia Keenan Bolger and gave me a bunk excuse. Joke's on them! Celia's busy starring on Broadway. . .
All I can do now is trust that something better is out there. And use my free time to create something better for myself.
Otherwise I'm just spinning into butter.