On the one hand, you can say that my buddy Josh and I picked the perfect night to see a play. Not just because the show itself (an adaptation of the novel Monstrous Regiment) was good. The play was, in fact, awesome. But who should be seated in front of us but our former stage combat teacher? Who would then invite us to an audition he’d be holding early the next week?
My response to just about any audition invitation is Why not, man. Get out there. I’m at a point in my career that I audition for just about anything as long as it pays more than zero dollars (or not, depending upon the time commitment). The size of the job does not correlate to the amount of dignity, respect, and effort I put into my work, therefore I don’t spend much time in awe over any single gig’s career advancement probability or paycheck potential. Maybe later I’ll be important enough to be discerning. Until I have the power to say no to a project, all jobs are equal.
That being said, Nick Sandys is not just one of the best known fight choreographers in Chicago, he’s also been known to compete against himself for Best Actor in multiple productions in the same year, and is the Producing Artistic Director of one of the most acclaimed theatre companies in the city. So yeah, I follow Nick’s suggestions with the same level of consideration I’d give to a crispy firefighter who’d suddenly found his way into my smoky bedroom at 3am.
Nick and I exchanged emails the following day, and a few evenings later I found myself with about fifty other guys in the canteen of the Civic Opera House, a building I hadn’t been to since my graduation more than two years prior. I was wearing clothes I could easily move in, chatting with Josh, waiting our turn to “move around and do a combination w/ [Nick], maybe some drumming” which is the totality of what I’d been told to prepare.
Sure enough, we learned and executed a short (intentionally sloppy) fight sequence, then spent some time proving just how unqualified we were to simultaneously march and clap in a given syncopated rhythm. Then we took turns clapping either in time or wildly out of time with one another, each according to his inability. Okay, it wasn’t all bad, but the memories of two men working together to make the precise tick! tock! tick! tock! of a grandfather clock don’t stand out as much as the sound of two other men who worked together as well as a brick being introduced to a blender.
A few days later I was emailed a callback notice from a man whose job title is Super Captain, which is so badass I had to sit down for a minute and absorb that. I finally learned the name of the play I was auditioning for. Perhaps I should have been paying more attention, asked more questions. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered. Anyway, when I looked up the key words “anvil” and “Trovatore” I found a video on YouTube which was, as I’d later learn, The Met’s remount of the production I was now auditioning for, which had originated in Chicago.
More important was the revelation that I was going to be judged on my ability to play the anvil for the famous Anvil Chorus. Yes, it’s famous. Yes, you know it, whether or not you know you know it. Go ahead and look it up, but I’ll save you a bit of time and let you know there doesn’t seem to be a version with Bugs Bunny, which remains the only disappointment in this whole venture. Well , that and the fact that our man Bill dresses not at all like the Super Captain I get on a Google Image search result.
I acknowledge that women have it worse, but I also have the opportunity to feel inadequate when comparing my physique with that of other men. By no means am I a small man, but compared to the guys in the video (and this particular audition room) I’m downright frumpy. The doughy calzone to their lean cuts of beef. The plush cushion to their wood-carved furniture. They have abs like cheese graters. I have abs like a cheese eater. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one who hasn’t engaged in conversation over the merits of various types of bench press.
But I can keep a beat while slinging a three foot long sledgehammer.
So now I get to perform the signature element of one of history’s most iconic pieces of music to a potential audience of 3,500 people – all while earning a living wage.
One could accurately say that Josh and I got this gig by chance. Once we were cast we even talked about how lucky it was we picked that night to go to the show, how fortunate we were to have been assigned seats right next to Nick, how serendipitous that we were available to audition on short notice. If just one of these elements had been different, we wouldn’t have this opportunity. All of this is true.
But we also got this gig because we goddamn earned it. We didn’t just earn it at the audition, either. We earned it by working with Nick for years in graduate school. We earned it by keeping our skill set high and our professional reputations clean. We earned it by being reliable, and by being charming as hell. We earned it through years of trying.
We won the lottery by buying tickets. Lots and lots of tickets.
Gigs don’t last long in this world. Never more than a few months, and that’s only for stage productions. On camera work is likely to last only a few days, and something for the radio might take as long as an afternoon. Auditions, therefore, happen a dozen or more times a month, and if you have a success rate of ten percent, you’re doing a hell of a lot better than I am.
As far as I can tell, there’s never any such thing as having made it in this career. I’ll never get to relax, never get a single piece of work without having to prove myself all over again to someone new. Anything I get will begin and end in less time than it takes the leaves to change. And work doesn’t show up simply because I deserve it, and it doesn’t care whether or not I’ve earned it, or that it’s my turn, or how many times over I’ve paid my dues. The world owes me nothing, and if I’m not consistently pressing myself into service, then I won’t be ready for the bigger opportunities when they rear their heads. This is why every gig tastes like a mixture of chocolate and ashes.
But from now until Thanksgiving, it’s all gravy.