A little preamble…
Note: This post is longer than normal because of the background info on this project. Most will not be long. Stick through it…please 🙂
A few months ago my friend Angel started talking to me about this grassroots movement that had begun in the Asian acting community which led to the formation of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition. They gathered some pretty impressive and shocking data that highlighted the percentages of actors of color working on Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theatres (you can go to my post here to read those stats).
The lack of visibility of actors of color on the stage is not a new problem. This has been a consistent issue that many actors gripe about (rightly so) but have been able to do little about. The last time I heard of a group going to Equity to lodge a complaint they were basically told to shove off and be happy that at least Bombay Dreams was running.
I looked at the stats of my own group which was even more depressing – I talked about it in my post on the Public Theater Blog. I have been disgruntled with my profession for a while and not feeling like it was really worth it at the end of the day to keep trying because a) the default was always going to be white and b) the next default was going to be a name actor. And in my community, pickings is so slim that once one actor gets a major accolade or role (despite talent or lack of) the rest of us are essentially up that well-known creek without a paddle.
But the AAPAC, and my post, and talking to other artists of color got me fired up. I could do what many people do, what has been endemic in the history of humanity, which is to just sit there and ho-hum and realize that the group mentality is the one to go with, or I could do something about it in my own small way. So I decided to try this little artsy initiative of 100 Auditions in 100 Days and to blog/tweet about it to anyone who wanted to listen and join in.
The point: Rather simple. Go to 100 auditions in 100 days (business days that is – let’s not get TOO ambitious). Auditions of all kinds – musicals or plays – for shows of all kinds…even ones with all white casts. I am under no illusion that I will get hired or called back for any of them. For me this is about raising the profile of actors of color in the room. And to encourage others to go out even if they feel it is “pointless” and that the EOE statement on the auditions is a piece of boilerplate tripe (and it is). And it’s some damned good practice and networking anyway. AND if I do get hired, well then, it’s win-win.
What really cemented this for me was talking to a casting director I have become slightly chummy with. He asked me why no actors of color had come in for a show he was casting even though he explicitly expressed interest. And my response: No one buys it anymore. And for the most part, we don’t. I have gotten so used to categorizing myself that I only go out for shows that list an ethnicity I share (and I got three to pick from).
Though to be honest, the last audition I went on that was not motivated by my agent or manager was three years ago. It’s been 3 years since my last EPA. THREE. YEARS. Yeah, sure, EPAs are also somewhat pointless – that is no secret in our industry. But if I want people to start seeing me, and I mean actually see me, and others like me, and take us as serious viable options then I can’t wait to be called in for a role I “fit.” I have to challenge the patriarchy. Present them with a different option. Make people tilt their heads. Cause confusion. And if I am good enough in that moment, make them wrestle with the decision to call me back or hire me despite my ethnic background.
So I am starting this little project. And I started it with an unexpected bang and on a whim this morning. So I’ll write about the auditions, the rooms, the racial make-ups, the funny parts, the frustrating parts, sometimes the sad ones. I’ll blog, vlog, and tweet. I’ll take pictures and post. I’ll gladly tell you when I embarrass the shit out of myself in a room. I won’t really mention the theatres unless they do something horribly egregious and need to be called out. This is not about snark. It’s anecdotalizing and journalism…ok, maybe a LITTLE snark. And I hope that it inspires you (the actor of color) to get out there and do the same thing. To challenge people. To make them pay attention. To realize that we are worthy and viable options.
Day 1/ Auditions 1-4
I wish I could say some big event inspired me to start. But no – it was simply a decision made last night to join my friend Kim on her round of auditions today. She’ll lead. I’ll follow. I’ll audition for whatever she does.
Finding my sea legs again was a bit wonky as I haven’t been to one of these things in 3 years. I got lazy when I got an agent and manager. And the last EPA I went to made me so angry I vowed never to go to another one again. What happened? In this major casting office (you know the one – we ALL want to be on their radar and ALL can’t stand them for always calling in the same people), I heard someone in the office say within earshot: “God, it’s like Slumdog Millionaire out there.”
Oh, yes. It happened.
So I decided to never go back to one of these things.
Today that changed. Also, it’s been 3 years and I’ve gotten over my hang ups (for the most part) and really just don’t care. I’m Brown – suck it up and deal with it.
I had almost forgotten what it was like to wake up at 7am to get ready and downtown by 8am to sit on the floor and wait to get into a holding room to then wait until 9 to get in line to sign up for a slot or to get on the wait list. Today was surprising because I managed to get to four auditions. It was that sparse. I don’t assume it will be like this everyday, but it would damned well be nice.
Amongst the people throwing around idle gossip, dropping names, and trying to intimidate people with their siren warm ups (it’s 8am – shut up and chill out), I sat with Kim and we talked. About nothing. Trying to make one another laugh. Mostly by my making disparaging comments about the non-union folks.
I DID say SOME snark.
The first was for a revival of a musical a major organization is mounting. I was thrilled to get an early slot. And then realized as I looked around the room that I was the ONLY actor of color there. Not even a single African-American. Granted, this may have changed throughout the day, but at that moment, in that holding
pen room, there was nary another skin tone but white and me. And the EOE statement was on the notice.
Kim and I decided to leg it downtown 1 block and try our luck at signing up for a production of I Love You, You’re…blah blah blah. Despite the oppressive heat in the room (BTW, great weather today right?) which smelled like hairspray, feet, and paranoia, we got early slots.
We leg back up 1 block for this revival – Audition #1. I see a familiar face in the room behind the piano, which is always helpful, I sing, I revert back to the non-equity me hoping for some scribbling on the resume or studying of the headshot (and on this day I have no new ones so I am using my old ones where I have a
fatter fuller face and look 5 years younger), then realize to myself: Fuck it. Just sing the shit out of the song and have fun.
And I do. It’s the least nervous or anxious I have been at an audition. And, sure, there’s no pressure because I’m not actively thinking I will get hired. But isn’t that the key really? To just go in there and be yourself and have fun. It’s YOUR time. Enjoy the hell out of it even if the person is texting on their phone, eating potato chips, or picking their nose.
These are all true occurrences.
Kim and I are on a high and we figured, oh what the hell, we have an hour before Perfect, let’s leg it 10 more blocks and sign up for another call. And we got seen within 10 minutes of being there – Audition #2. And for shits and giggles we decided to sing the same song – she stole it from me at an audition a while back. She sounds great singing it. I love the song. So I do the second part of it at my auditions. And since we’re going in back-to-back we figure this will be a great anecdote one day.
This particular regional theatre (a major one) had planned A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde, Sunset Boulevard and 42nd Street for their season. Their notice also stated: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend.
I assure you that I, once again, was the only one there of a differing background. EXCEPT for one person who apparently has become a bit of a legend in the audition circles. You know the type: Strange, awkward, over-enthusiastic, in the way, nosey, at ALL the calls. I saw him everywhere I went today. And while I was happy he was another actor of color, and of MY ethnicity, I was also a little let down that he was a little maligned everywhere I went.
But whattayagonna do.
We sing, the room is cold (not temperature, energy – YOU know what I mean). Who cares. No time to think. Dash back up 10 blocks for Audition #3.
Thankfully I see two other actresses of color. African-American, but, hey, for Perfect… that’s not always a given, so it’s good to see them. And, again, this theatre has noted: Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds are encouraged to attend.
Why aren’t they there? I know there aren’t that many of us, but there are enough, right?
I sing. I get an arm reach across the table to read my resume. I get some raised eyebrows for the ridiculous high note I hold at the end that’s just vocal masturbation, to be honest. But I am having such a damned good time. I’m on a high. Who the HELL am I?
Kim and I decide, you know what, it’s such a good day, let’s keep it going. We jet to the Equity and sign up for a theatre doing Ring of Fire, Suds, 39 Steps, and the Western Nunsense.
At this point you think: YOU went in for THEM?
Yeah, I know. It’s laughable. But they had the same EOE statement on their notice. And 100/100 is all about going in for anything and everything no matter how insane. And I get to test out new material.
We easily get slots for after lunch. We decide to treat ourselves to…a major chain restaurant in Times Square I can’t divulge because it’s just embarrassing but I had a Xmas gift card for a boys toys store and we’re both broke so…..
But at this major chain restaurant, and you could probably guess it, we eat (snarf down like animals more like it…you don’t realize you are hungry on these marathon days until you stop for a moment), we pay, we get ready to leave and I look over to see Eric Ripert.
What…in…the hell…is he doing at a CHAIN restaurant. The man has the palette of silk and brocade. He’s not a tourist. Does he have a gift card too?
I stifle the urge to say hello and we return to Audition #4. The last. And the most surprising.
This is a lesson in never trying to determine the fate of any room or job. It’s also a lesson in remembering everyone you meet because you never know who you will run into again.
I go in and sing a ridiculous version of “The Gypsy in Me” – I am channeling Mel Brooks and Feydeau. Really the only show I could do is 39 Steps, but I don’t have a monologue because in 5 years of being a professional actor I’ve never really needed one.
And I’ve been lazy.
So I took a risk and went funny-nuts. And I get asked to sing a second song.
And I’m thinking: Huh? Come again.
I suppress the urge to say that and just sing what is asked of me. And I realize that one of the directors behind the table has met me twice before and seen me in a show. And it dawns on me I know his face. And I realize, once again, how beautiful and small this business can be. And how grateful I am that people remember me when I never think anything I do on stage is going to carry over to any future job or audition.
Kim is as surprised as I am. But in completely positive ways. And I find that this little initiative could really be a good thing. For me. For others. Maybe even for the business – small parts of it. We’re going again on Wednesday. I am just tagging along and going for a ride with no plan. Because if there is one thing I learned about this business a long time ago, it was to grab onto the beast by the horns and let it take you for a ride. And sure I may have some shitty days doing it, but that’s all part of it. So I am looking forward to those as well.
And the worst that could happen is I could get a job out of it…and if that’s the worst then what do I have to lose, really?
So what do you have to lose?
My thanks to Angel Desai and Aapac – Asian American Performers Action Coalition for inspiring this. And to Kim Morgan Dean for letting me tag along.
Not to mention my Rising Circle Theater Collective cohorts.
Read your blog, hubby – great idea! SO fascinating, can’t wait to read more. Thanks for the shout out, too :-).
Thanks wifey – now pass it on to all our folks. I want us out in droves in these rooms.
Ugh, this is all just too true. I’m half Chinese, but honestly don’t look it. But, it is so easy to just be like… I’m too ethnic for that. Hairspray a show about blacks and whites. Not about ethnically ambiguous people. Keep it up, man!
Good points. And, hey, for some shows you HAVE to be ethnically closed off to preserve the story. I am all for colorblind casting, but not at the expense of the story and the accuracy. Not that it stopped this theatre from doing an ALL-WHITE Hairspray.
Everything I want to say to you about this blog makes me sound like a little old grandma pinching your cheeks. And I think you have a picture of me looking the part.
Fantastic idea and great attitude! Color-blind Florida misses you a lot!