An homage to Malcolm Gladwell, this recurring blog topic highlights some of my best (read: most horrific) audition experiences. Because, hey, if you wanna get good at something, you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it. That’s science.
“Do you sing?” inquired world-renown British theatre director Keith Baxter.
I started crooning Gershwin. "There's a saying old, says that love is blind..."
“Oh, no. Not like that," Keith admonished. "Stand at the back of the room and sing to the wall.”
Ten seconds into my audition for the romantic lead in The Imaginary Invalid at Shakespeare Theatre Company and I’d already blown it.
To the wall I went. "There's a saying old--"
“Do you dance?” Keith interrupted.
Clown I am, I swiveled around and shuffled off to Buffalo, limbs akimbo--nothing like the 17th century aristocrat I was auditioning to portray. Keith hung his head.
"No, no, darling. Do you do the ballet?"
I slid into first position and smiled, hiding my secret wish: for this venerated director to realize he didn't want me to play Angelique and put me out of my misery in time to make the early bus home.
But the audition continued, Keith assessing my skills with a candor not often found in American audition halls.
When I imbued the scenes with sexual innuendo, he gave a firm redirection against my "naughty choice." I was to portray this young lover as nothing but totally and utterly innocent. "She has no knowledge of such things. Now do it again the right way." Had I suddenly lost all my comic timing?
I can't say for certain, but I feel like at some point I tied my skirt in a knot between my legs and began doing cartwheels. (The fact that I'm not sure if that did or did not happen speaks to the traumatic nature of the audition.)
But I was certain that 1) Keith hated me, and 2) he was torturing me to make a point to the producers at Shakespeare Theatre: Don't bring that girl in ever again.
After what seemed like hours, I skulked out of the room, dumped myself on a (very late) bus, and called my boyfriend, who, upon hearing my tale of woe, did not console me but instead blew a puff of air out of his mouth: “You just humiliated yourself in front of theatre royalty.”
Keith, you see, is a legend. He was Prince Hal to Orson Welles’ Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight. When he recalls an evening at Liz and Dick’s house, you know exactly who he’s talking about. And even well into his 80s, he’s performing and directing all over the world. He is the raconteur of raconteurs, as wry and quick and devastatingly funny as you’d imagine.
Keith and I caught up in London last week, a long overdue reunion. When we discussed that fateful audition, he remembered that I sang “Someone to Watch Over Me.” But he incorrectly remembered casting me the role in the room. If I’d only known then that I was the first actor cast in a play that would forever change my life, I wouldn’t have exited that late bus ride home with my mind made up to quit acting. Well, at least until the producer called to offer me the role.
Over martinis and lunch, Keith and I chatted about love and life and the elevated role of the director (thanks, Kenneth Tynan). We talked about how exotic and exciting it is to be an actor and how it can destroy any chance one has at a normal family life. We shared excitement for the talented and handsome Tony Roach who played Cleante to my Angelique and who is about to open as Professor Higgins on Broadway.
But mostly we shared joy and sadness about our beloved Dame Gillian Lynne, whose extraordinary presence made that 2008 production of The Imaginary Invalid so special. I'd so hoped to see her miraculous self, her adorable husband Peter, and dear Keith during this sojourn to England, but I'd missed her by a matter of weeks.
Fortunately, before her death, a theatre in the West End was named in her honor. I'd watched the ceremony online, but Keith was there in person. He assured me the fanfare for the naming ceremony was as sublime as it should have been for a woman of such extraordinary talent and accomplishment.
Earlier that day, I'd strolled down Drury Lane meditating on the gifts Gillian left the world and paying homage to her at the newly minted at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Then I'd ambled into Joe Allen and waited for Keith. He was 30 minutes late, and I'd convinced myself he too had died. What if Keith was right all those years ago? What if my timing really is that bad?
Then, with the bravado of boy made invincible by his superhero cape, Keith burst into the restaurant. Powered by his giant smile and mirrored sunglasses he sighed, "Sorry, darling, the trains were a mess."