I was shocked to read recently that Tony Award Winner Karen Olivo of In the Heights and West Side Story had decided to leave show business. After many successful years on the Great White Way, she told The Ledger that she moved to Wisconsin and is currently teaching pottery classes.
A lot of my actor friends have forged new life paths as well. Some have become nurses; one is now living in Florida, and others have decided to settle down and have families. Meanwhile, my Facebook news feed currently looks like a virtual tour of a hospital nursery.
Auditioning is like a full-time job – it takes hours out of the day, requires being on call 24/7, and makes it necessary to have a flexible day job to attend last-minute callbacks. I don’t blame anyone for burning out and choosing to move on after a lifetime of typical days like this one…..
The alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I pack my canvas shoulder bag with three changes of pumps and four different dresses, in hopes of hitting every audition listed for the day in Backstage magazine.
I sign up at 6:30 a.m. next to the slot for #127 on an unofficial list. I wait in the heat, cold, rain, or snow, until the building is opened and then herd into an elevator with hoards of girls who look frightening without their makeup (myself included).
I sit on the floor of the holding room in my dress and get trampled by girls who flock to the mirror with their curling irons. I try to ignore the actors who attempt to intimidate everyone by talking LOUDLY about their last cruise ship gig and how they were a STAR.
I wait hours upon hours for my name to be called (which I hopefully won’t miss while I am out getting a latte to stay awake, or while in the bathroom relieving myself of said latte), or I will be placed at the very end of the line.
Finally, I enter the audition room and stand before a table of judgmental faces. I sing my prepared 16 bars of music for the casting directors who hold my fate in their hands. In this 30 seconds of singing, I must make them laugh, cry, and gasp in awe at my full acting arc and power-belting prowess. My efforts are summed up with a simple, “Thank You” or my personal favorite, the possibly condescending turn of phrase, “Good for you!” I receive no feedback, no notice of when I might hear of the casting decisions, and later, through the grapevine, find out that they were only seeking an Asian transsexual midget who excels at aerial dancing and fire breathing.
Actors do this daily. Wash, rinse, repeat. We put our hearts on the line, make ourselves raw and vulnerable, until rejection becomes as normal to our daily routine as riding the subway.
Why do we subject ourselves to this madness? Because suddenly, the phone rings and a voice on the other end says, “You got the part!” For me, that new job offer provides the same thrill as finding Wonka’s Golden Ticket inside of the chocolate wrapper. After thousands of tries, the prize is finally in my hands.
Perhaps the call was an offer for a three-month tour around the country that leaves immediately. I get to quit my day job, pack my bags, jump into daily rehearsals from 10 to 6, and embark on new adventures. I visit exciting cities on the company’s dime, make mischief, earn a paycheck, enlighten the lives of others, forge new families with new friends, and above all, create art. To my friends who have married, relocated, and are exploring other avenues in hopes of drowning out the ticking biological clock, I wish you all the love and happiness in the world. I admire your ability to find fulfillment outside the spotlight.
However, my happiness still comes from being on stage, and I will continue to pursue that dream full speed ahead. I am a free spirit who is not tied down to anyone or anything (except my cat, of course), and I enjoy taking off at a moment’s notice whenever an opportunity knocks. The only clock I hear ticking is my alarm clock, waking me up for another audition – another chance to do what I love most.
Sometimes I wonder where a more traditional path might have led me, but I always come back to the same conclusion: I wouldn’t have it any other way.