This is a piece from my creative nonfiction writing class. I really enjoyed writing it, and it is, of course (and unfortunately) a true story.
I never thought that the role I’d most desire in theatre would be that of an opera singing wardrobe, and inanimate object turned animate. However, this role in Beauty and the Beast seemed tailor-made for me. The part wasn’t very large – in fact, she only sang one verse of one song by herself – but that solo was smack-dab in my vocal range. Plus, attention whore that I was (am), I knew I could milk the part for every laugh it was worth. It was also one of the few characters in any show, ever, that didn’t dictate that its portrayer be a skinny, beautiful, dancing soprano.
Of course, there was one small detail that I was neglecting: I had only been in one musical. While I dreamed of being an Ethel Merman, a Liza Minelli, a Patti Lupone or Barbra Streisand, the fact remained that I was more like the pudgy, cantankerous woman who sold tickets at our box office. Yes, I could sing and I could act, but putting the two together was a task I could not complete. Nevertheless, I showed up at the open audition, knowing full well that kids at least two years younger than me (but with twice as much experience) would be there to witness my foray into the “big time.” I was ready to prove my worth or showcase my girth.
As soon as our fussy, balding theatre director handed out the audition pieces, I was practicing. I sang it in the car. My voice coach and I went over it dozens of times. I sang it for my sister and my mom. I sang it in my room. I hummed it between classes. I had it down pat. But, as I sat in the choir room, knowing that I was at least good enough to make it to the other side of this audition alive, I couldn’t beat away the fingers of nervousness tickling at my stomach. I went over and over the lyrics in my head. The song was about how much the servants-turned-animate-inanimate objects in the castle longed to be “Human Again.” My verse went, “I’ll wear lipstick and rouge and I won’t be so huge. Why, I’ll easily fit through that door! I’ll exude savoir faire. I’ll wear gowns. I’ll have hair! It’s my prayer to be human again!” Pretty easy, I thought.
Our director was calling us each down, randomly, one at a time, to stand in front of the table where he, our choir director, the choreographer, and fourth teacher (a band director with a background in musical theatre) were seated.
“Lora,” he said about halfway through the audition, not looking up from the papers he was writing on and taking me completely by surprise. “Why don’t you come on down here?” As a walking bundle of nerves, I shuffled up to the masking tape “x” where I was to stand in front of the table, each of the four decision-makers seated there rifling through their papers to find my audition sheet. The choir room had a lot of windows, one of the few rooms in our dreary high school to have such a luxury, but now I was cursing them. They made the room feel too clinical, and I could just feel that the light crashing through them was highlighting my every imperfection. I had taken one last giant swig of water from my water bottle before traipsing to the front of the room, but already my mouth was dry and cottony. I opened and closed it a few times before deciding to do what I did best and make a joke about my weight.
“Well, I know that if this was Beauty and the Obese, I’d definitely be getting this part.” Three of the people at the table laughed, but not the director. He had heard me make this very same joke just that morning, in his class. He smirked an evil smirk, knowing that I was nervous, or at the very least desperate. Knowing him, he knew the exact person he wanted to cast in this role even before he sat down to audition us all. I also knew that I wasn’t the person he had in mind. If I were to get that role, it would be only because my audition changed his mind.
“What part are you trying out for?” one of the other three teachers asked.
“The Wardrobe,” I said. I tried to be professional, keeping my head high and my eyes fixed on theirs.
“Whenever you’re ready,” someone said. Behind me was the grand piano, where one of the vocal coaches who taught theatre students sat, ready to play accompaniment. Another strike against me was the fact that she was the director’s preferred voice teacher, and I took lessons from someone else. My coach was slightly more interested in letting her students try various vocal styles, not just Broadway, which as someone who enjoyed jazz and classical singing, I appreciated. However, the other coach taught the students who got the parts. It was obvious who the favorites were here.
I glanced back at this woman, poised at the piano keys, confident in the knowledge that her students would be walking away with the peachy parts today, and gave a nod, signaling that I was ready. Ready as I would ever be for possible humiliation.
A few bars were played before it was my time to come in, and I started off strong. I hammed it up and tried to gesticulate as much as possible, allowing my face to strike a series of ridiculous, yet appropriate, poses. As hard as I had been practicing (and not just for this song, but for my entire vocal career), I still found it hard to be a loud singer. Suffice it to say that that audition was the loudest I’d ever sung up until then, and it still wasn’t loud enough. This I was well aware of even as I was singing, and I did my best to force out my voice and amplify it, but it just didn’t come naturally. What I didn’t have in volume, though, I tried to make up for with flair.
“I’ll exude savoir faire,” I intoned, drawing out the “oo” in “exude” for as long as possible, and exaggerating the French-iness of “savoir faire” (it can never be said that my three years of high school French amounted to nothing). “I’ll wear gowns. I’ll have hair!” Here I feigned a look of dreamy happiness and pointed vaguely in the direction of my head. I never said I was a good actress. I was a passable actress. But I was a terrible musical theatre actress.
“It’s my prayer to be human again!” I chimed. I ended on as victorious a pose as I could muster. I was feeling pretty good. Maybe, I thought, just maybe I will have entertained them enough that they’ll forget that my singing wasn’t as good as some of these other girls.
“Okay,” said my choir director. “Good job.” I knew there was a reason I liked her. “Now, can you give us your best opera singing? Just, whatever note you want to sing.”
This I could do. I sang in my cheesy opera voice all the time at home to annoy my sister. I smiled, unhinged my jaw, and let forth a wavering tone that climbed up the scale and then cracked like a twelve-year-old boy’s. I erupted in a fit of giggles. The four supreme beings behind the table gave me a range of sympathetic smiles.
“Try again,” said the choir director. So I did. It sounded better this time, but considerably less confident, and for good reason. Confidence apparently made my voice sabotage me. I was sent back to my seat with a half-assed smile placed on my face. My audition wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t the masterpiece I dreamed it could be, either.
The call-back sheet was to be posted the next day. It wasn’t there during second period, when I was in theatre class. After lunch and science, I headed back down to the arts wing of the school for choir. The list was stapled to a bulletin board, and I felt both dread and desire languishing in the pit of my stomach as I approached. My head was buzzing as I scanned the page, until I found the words, “Wardrobe: two girls who are not named Lora Thompson.” While that’s not verbatim, it’s all I took with me as I continued my trek to choir, dejected.
A few days later, I found out I hadn’t made it into the show at all. It was merely a reminder that our theatre program was just far too competitive (or, as I discovered many months afterwards, my hassled and preoccupied theatre director had merely forgot to put me into the chorus). I wrote it off. I knew that I would still act and I would still sing, but I accepted the fact that I’d never be able to combine the two. As a bonus, I assigned myself a sweet, yet secretive, nickname: The Titanic of Musical Theatre. One maiden voyage, and then I was sunk.