One of the more unique auditioning experiences I have ever had was for The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip hop musical based on William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. I cannot speak to the quality of this play or the likelihood of Shakespeare himself rolling in his grave over its existence, but it’s supposed to be pretty good. Either way, it was at a highly reputable Equity theater and I was willing to dare the universe to give me a chance. The audition breakdown asked for a classical musical theater song and a rap if the actor had one available.
I was seen at the audition fairly easily; I imagine many performers do not have a rap available. I finished my first song, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, from My Fair Lady. They thanked me and made it clear we were all finished with each other. I started to walk over to the piano to get my music, but something stopped me. I turned to the table of auditors and said, “I have a rap, if you’d like to hear it.”
Whether the reader is intimately acquainted with musical theatre auditions or not, he or she may imagine that sentence rarely gets uttered in the same few moments as Lerner and Loewe’s most famous songs. Though surprised, the person I assume was the director said he would like to hear that very much. After I found my beat, I went into about 32 bars of Ludacris’ “You’s a Ho”. I finished, thanked them, and walked out. I knew before I even finished that I was not in contention for that show, but I felt so good about myself. I was scared to death* to do that rap but I knew I would kick myself if I wussed out of giving my all at an audition because of potential embarrassment.
Actors are crazy good at rejection. The vast majority of us hear “no” all the time, if we are lucky enough to hear more than radio silence. I got to a place where I was so good at being rejected that I was counting myself out of things before I even got the chance to perform. I’m still finding my way back from that. Self-criticism is what chases a lot of actors away from the business altogether, especially because it starts to feel ridiculous to doggedly chase a dream that may never come true. You joke about it around your family and friends to shield everyone from the looming threat of failure. The more you prepare yourself to fail, the less hard you work and the less likely you are to get a job. It’s really important to treat your art with respect without going overboard. If you find yourself talking like Jo(h)ns Lithgow and Lovitz as Master Thespians, dial it back just a smidge.
*When Shia LaBeouf talks about being “terrified”, I don’t think he can begin to understand what that means.