Two days, seven auditions, fifteen monologues, one crowded floor of nervous actors.
I’m in San Francisco to audition for MFA programs in theatre. The odds of my being accepted are quite low, as I’ve only applied to the top schools: Juilliard, Yale, American Conservatory Theatre, American Repertory, etc. I figure that if I’m going to foot the bill and put in the time needed to obtain an MFA in this discipline, I only want to consider the finest schools.
Most of these schools audition over a thousand people each year, yet have only five or six slots available. And sometimes half of those need to be female in order to maintain an acting company from which they can cast the shows. To say these programs are exclusive is an understatement. They make medical school admission look like a lock.
This is American Conservatory Theatre’s Geary Theatre, one of downtown San Francisco’s cultural and historical treasures. It was destroyed by the 1989 earthquake and remained closed until 1996. When it reopened, the building had received a much needed renovation that went beyond just repairing the damage done by the earthquake.
The Geary has never been one of my favorite spaces in which to see a show. The house is not terribly deep, and with four balconies, the folks on the top levels often have a hard time hearing the player’s voices. I saw an ACT production of Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal there recently and couldn’t hear a thing. The seats are narrow, the aisles likewise. Even so, it’s a beautiful space.
Anyway, back to the auditions. To the uninitiated, the scene at A.C.T. must have seemed like a Twilight Zone episode. So many actors, each with their own preparatory ritual. To oneself, it’s a perfectly natural thing, but to everyone else it’s a freak show in progress.
My first year auditioning for grad school, I got into a conversation with another auditionee about the absurdity of what we were doing. It was one of those moments of self-realization, and we both had it at the same time. You have to laugh at yourself when you realize what you do on this earth sometimes.
He said, “Yeah, this would make a good subject for a play–all about getting into grad school: the expenses, the odds, the travel, the rejection, the acceptance, the weirdoes, the whole bit.”
The name, of course, was obvious: “30 Grant Ave” It’s the address of the building in San Francisco where the major programs hold their west coast auditions. It’s also where ACT’s offices are located. Anyway, I told myself that someday I’d write 30 Grant Ave, even if no one else ever read it. They say you should write about what you know. And after four years, I know 30 Grant pretty well.
So to answer the inevitable question “how did it go?”, the straight answer is “I don’t know”. All I can say is that I delivered the work that Martha and I prepared. That’s what I went there to do. I put forth my best effort. If I get in, great. If not, I’ll have no regrets about it. The minute the audition is over I try to forget about it. Several schools did ask to see additional work (i.e. a third monologue) and a song, which I took as a good sign.
The results of these auditions are somewhat random, as I see it. All you need is to have the person you’re auditioning for wake up on the wrong side of the bed that day and you can kiss your chances of getting in goodbye. There are just too many people. If they need more diversity, or more females, or a specific look for some show they’re doing in the upcoming season, that’s what they’ll go for. Talent certainly plays a role, of course. But talent alone does not dictate who will be accepted.
After the auditions were finished for the day, I had dinner at a little Italian restaurant next to the hotel. The waitress was pretty hip–she gave me the names of a couple of swing clubs in town. So after dinner I hopped a cab over to North Beach to dance at a club called the Highball Lounge.
Can you say “out of your league”? Well I said it several times while I was there. The Highball Lounge looked more like a movie set than a club; it seemed everyone on the floor was a professional dancer. While highly entertaining and educational to watch, actually going out to join the talent pool was pretty intimidating. But I’m proud to say I did. Talk about baptism by fire. They were mixing every style from Charleston to some Latin stuff in with the swing. My favorite was watching the lesbian couples dance. They were good, although as Seinfeld once quipped, it must have been hard figuring out who would lead.
I also did a bit of shopping at an upscale leather store on Market Street. My old leather jacket was purchased in 1989 when I was about 15 lbs lighter. It still fits, but it’s not as comfortable as it was in days of yore, so I don’t wear it as often.
The coolest experience of the whole trip? I bought a hot dog from a stand on the corner of Market and Grant. I felt so urban. It may not sound like much, but remember, I’m from Irvine. The closest thing we have to an authentic hot dog stand is the cartoon swan which gets roasted during Carmina Burana.