True stories from the life of a musical performer in New York City
by Rori Nogee
|Spoiler alert: Do not read the following if you are not caught up on the newest episodes of Glee.--via Wikipedia|
On a recent episode of the Fox hit TV show, Glee, Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) said to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), “I signed us up for the last two slots for the Broadway revival of Funny Girl for next week!” And in response, I literally heard every New York City actor gasp, guffaw, or throw something at the screen.
Now, I am well aware that television shows are fictional, and that we are asked to hold a suspension of disbelief for our favorite characters and the zany situations they find themselves in. In shows that depict the theater community like Smash and Glee, we as the audience have learned not to bat an eye when characters break into song in bowling alleys or school hallways. It is accepted as normal.
|Impromptu sing-offs are standard fare on Glee, and we accept this as reality--credit|
However, Kurt’s above exclamation and the present storyline are so grossly exaggerated and ill-conceived, that as a real New York actor, I was incensed enough to need to write a blog about it!
In the world of Glee, the character of Rachel Berry was the star of McKinley High School’s Glee club in Ohio. Her only professional experience was winning a state show choir competition. For college, she attends the prestigious New York Academy of Dramatic Arts (NYADA), a combination of the real life NYU and American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As a college freshman, after her very first audition in the Big Apple, Rachel is somehow in final callbacks to play Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Many viewers believe the show has been leading up to this, as Rachel was depicted as having been Barbra Streisand’s biggest fan since early childhood.
|Who doesn't love Babs? She is a legend!--credit|
I was Rent’s biggest fan since I was 13 years old. I dressed like the show, I imitated the voices, I saw it 80 times. (Yes. 80. We all have our vices.) Does that mean I should have been entitled to catapult to Broadway stardom straight out of high school? No! Glee viewers outside of NYC don’t realize that even if Rachel Berry had been the most talented and passionate singer in all of Manhattan, she would never even have gotten SEEN at such an audition, whether or not the show was holding an open call and seeking “fresh, unknown talent.”
The elusive “list” of which Kurt spoke does not exist, nor has it ever existed. The only list resides at the Actors Equity building where professional actors in the union can choose a time slot. As non-equity performers without any agent representation, the best Rachel and Kurt could hope for is to show up at 6am, sign up on an unofficial list that morning, and wait 12 hours for the Equity members, Equity alternates, AND Equity Membership Candidates to be seen in the audition room first. Then, and ONLY then, might the casting directors MAYBE have time to see the non-equity talent sing their 16 bars -- the equivalent of just 30 seconds of music. That’s it. The audition would occur in a rented studio space, in front of a table, not for the prestigious creative team, but for a young intern who is an assistant to the actual casting director.
|Without an Equity card, the chances of getting to audition for Broadway are very unlikely.--credit|
Rachel’s audition on the show consisted of singing an entire song on a Broadway stage. And her choice of song? Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Generally, you want to sing in the style of the show for which you are auditioning. Any traditional Broadway tune would have been in the ball park.
|Funny Girl is a classic musical by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill--credit|
In real life, if Rachel had sung an '80s rock song for Fanny Brice, she would have gotten laughed out of the room and perhaps black listed for her stupidity and poor judgment. Yes, rock and pop tunes are increasingly popular on stage and at auditions, but there is a time and a place when such songs are appropriate. (Just ask Rock Guru, teacher Sheri Sanders, who specializes in rock song auditions.) In this case, Rachel’s song choice was that of an uninformed amateur. But for some reason, this gets her all the way to final callbacks where she sings, what else, a Celine Dion song. (To quote a friend of mine, “facepalm.”)
|Celine Dion? Facepalm--via Wikipedia|
By the point of final callbacks, she should have been singing nothing but the prepared material from the role in question, being paired with other actors, and receiving notes from the director.
|Rachel clearly prepared her performance, but next time she should prepare better repertoire. --credit|
I remember the giant publicity stunt casting call for Hairspray a couple of years back when I, along with a couple hundred other young kids sang a capella for a tiny back dressing room for a casting assistant. Even then, every single person knew to sing an era appropriate '50s or '60s song. It has taken me years to get to the point of agent appointments for Broadway shows like Once, where the head casting director actually pays attention to me in my given predetermined time slot.
It would have been more feasible for Rachel’s first New York gig to be a small workshop or festival musical that gets picked up and eventually transferred to Broadway, much like her real-life work in Spring Awakening. Even though such events are lucky flukes, that would have at least been less jarring.
Michele’s real-life journey in Spring Awakening involved workshops, concerts, and an Off-Broadway run, before the move to Broadway. And, it wasn’t even her first Broadway show!--credit
Shame on you, Glee. Your storyline should hold an iota of truth before you put it in front of millions of gullible hopefuls. New York City is rough on newcomers. Dreams are dashed before they are realized, if they are ever even realized at all. If Rachel ends up starring on Broadway, I will stop watching. Besides, if I didn’t have DVR, I wouldn’t have time to watch TV anyway. Where am I if not sitting on the couch? I am in line at 5am, waiting to maybe be seen at the end of an audition day to sing for 30 seconds, just like Rachel Berry should have been.