MY FIRST TIME… Auditioning for a lead

20 Feb

My first time auditioning for a lead role.( I have changed names and places to protect the innocent.)
By Pam Quinn

I’m just gonna dive right in…

09_brockish_warsawghetto_5Jews.  Love em. My dad’s one… kind of. I’ve got 1/4 of that stuff goin’ on. Los Angeles Jewish Community Theatre for Children. Or JAK (Jewish acting kids) is what the company was called. I was beginning my Junior year of high school and Hamlet was up at bat. Being that Gertrude and Ophelia were pretty much the only female parts worth playing and my teacher had his senior favorites, I decided to venture outside of the school, thrusting myself into the world of community theatre. The world of JAK.

They were having auditions for Little Shop of Horrors and little did the theatrical brains of SoCal know, but at summer camp (*Note – not the computer camp where I was kicked out for getting ‘too theatrical’ during a ghost story) I played the dentist’s assistant, AKA Shoop Girl #3, Ronnette. My 10 year old “urchin” experience was sure to land me the Doo Wop girl in this production


My sister had read about the auditions and gathered a couple people from our Melrose Place-like apartment in Burbank to join her for her reach at Audrey, the lead female. The company’s age cut off was 25 so she was 4 years in the clear. I grabbed the only sheet music I had (Part Of Your World from The Little Mermaid) and joined the JAK audition train.

I had only been on one real audition in my life thus far. Won the role of “Scheherazade” in a children’s theatre production of Aladdin. Though, “won” is a stretch cause they took the song “Arabian Nights” from me and gave it to the 11yr old Sulton.

Well my day had come, I would show that 11yr old King of Agrabah that I was worthy of singing solos on stage in front of a large audience made up of parents and screaming children as well. Most importantly I was being given the opportunity to experience an audition beside one of my acting heros. My sister. She may not have Down Syndrome like Sue Slyvester’s older sister on the hit show GLEE, but I believe I can emotionally manipulate an audience just as well as FOX.

We were poor, cold cause the heater never worked. Mama died when we were 3 and 8, and our father left from grief. We had no choice but to turn to shelter at the local orphanage. The only thing that made us smile was hearing Robert Lindsay sing “Leaning on the Lamppost” from Me and My Girl. Okay, really the only true part of that statement was the part about Robert Lindsay. We often free styled to the title song on Christmas morning while our alive mother sewed costumes together for the elementary school shows.

I wore a short skirt and a sparkle top, hoping that this would aid the Jewish casting directors in seeing me as Crystal or Chiffon. (Ronnette- Been there, done that. It was time for me to grow as a performer. You know… sing the soprano part in a 3 part harmony instead of the mezzo.) I looked through the sea of Jewish teenagers all vying for my role. There were a couple of blondes whom I knew were there for Audrey, so I filed them away as a non threat. I could tell a few of them knew one another. Had worked together… in… Fiddler I imagined. My sister practiced her audition song and I kept my eyes ablaze on the competition. (Well, my right eye anyway. I’m legally blind in my left. But that’s another short story for another time)

The initial audition went great, I thought. I pantomimed those “whozits and whatzits” better than any Arial before me. But something was strange. They called me back for Audrey. There must have been some mistake. I wasn’t lead material and I certainly wasn’t going against my sister for a role. I didn’t stand a chance. She was really the actress in the family. Annie Sullivan (Miracle Worker), Bakers Wife (Into The Woods) and Cat Woman (Batman & The Power Rangers). I was more of the family’s class clown who “would be doing well in school if it weren’t for all the failing”.

Three other girls entered the callback room and all I kept thinking was “How could they ignore the Aguilera-like riff I slapped on my take of Part Of Your World?”

“I don’t know when… No, No… I don’t…
I don’t know how… Don’t know how baby, just don’t know…
But i know something’s starting right now… something good, somethin’ real good…

Images-1Audrey wasn’t the riffing type. Had they already cast their Crystal? Their Chiffon? Heck, I’d have taken a stab at Ronnette again cause in that callback room, I felt… so confused.

  • GIRL ONE – Not So Jewish – Best vocal impersonation of Ellen Greene I had ever heard. Almost better than Ellen Greene herself.
  • GIRL TWO – Semi Jewish – Looked the part. Great cleavage, blonde hair, struggled on the high “C” in Suddenly Seymour, but had an ass that wouldn’t quit.
  • GIRL THREE – Full on Jew – Strong voice, strong acting, strong nose.
  • GIRL FOUR –  1/4 Jew – My sister. Perfect ingenue, brilliant actress, strong voice.
  • GIRL FIVE – Me – Awkwardly tall, freckled, big haired screamer.

Out in the parking lot I had to admit that I was pretty bummed. I checked off “Will Play Ensemble”, but that was a bold face lie. I wanted Crystal and it didn’t look like that was in my future and after watching my fellow Audrey auditioners, all I could sing softly through a closed up throat was…

“Downtown, where the sun don’t shine.
Downtown, that’s the bottom line.
Downtown, where depression’s just status quo…”

My sister put her arm around me in the parking lot and we, along with “Billy”, “Allison” and “Sydney” returned to our car.

The director called out to us and expressed his surprise that we were sisters. After she and I explained to him what happens when a man and a woman make love, we felt silly realizing the confusion was in our different last names. (She had, earlier that year, surrendered to the ugly call of young marriage and took the guy’s last name to seal the deal. You know… make it offish.)

“So, it’s between sister’s now, is it?” He asked with a smirk. Suddenly my stomach began to hurt. I felt berserk. What a jerk. To make us… alert… to the fact that one of us would lose and one of us would… work. Woah. (I saw 8Mile a few times).

We were years apart! Neither of us had ever been up against one another for anything before (other than our parents love). It had never been a possibility. Knowing I had never been cast as the lead in anything before, I smiled on the way back home. Regardless, I had made it pretty damn far.

That night the phone rang. It was a local service provider trying to switch us to AT&T. After that, the phone rang again. It was the director of JAK. He offered me the role of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and I “Suddenly” burst into tears. (see what I did there?) After I recuperated from the stroke (or migraine) I was having, I gladly accepted the role and got a body crippling hug from my sister with pride.

I am incredibly thankful that I was cast as Audrey. I didn’t even know how badly I wanted it until I got it and the experiences I gained and people I met from that show changed my entire life. How many 16 year old girls get the opportunity to play the lead in a musical and perform for the woman who not only originated the role, but played it for several years after. Ellen Greene pulled me aside before curtain of the performance she attended and whispered “I’m on your team”. After I cleaned up all the crap in my pants, I went out there and sang “Somewhere That’s Green” with minimal riffing.


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