January 27, 2011 —
Thirty-five years after graduating with a BFA in Acting, I was going to my first commercial audition in NYC. This was the real deal, arranged for me by an agent who was taking a chance on an actress who had not taken a chance in 35 years.
Ann Berlin has been “in the business” at least as long as I have been “out” of it. When she agreed to represent me, I was full of giddy anticipation of the opportunities ahead. I wasn’t angling for a lead on Broadway so much as hoping for a role as a bag lady on “Law & Order” or in a commercial selling long-term care insurance.
I spent the weekend before the audition getting ready. As a rule, I spend more time grooming my Schnauzer’s eyebrows than my own, so professional help was needed. While I was at it, the brow wax was extended to my chin and points in-between. The make-up brush I use for stage makeup was prepped and cleaned for face powder. I put my missing tooth crown back in for luck.
The differences between a commercial audition and a community theater audition are numerous. For one, the people auditioning you don’t know your family and your family dog. They neither know nor care how good or awful you were in your last role and they could not care less about your hopes and dreams for the future. They want you in and out quickly and smoothly: “...Next!”
I arrived at the casting office on Madison Avenue a few minutes before my audition slot. I had picked a nice neutral outfit for the occasion: gray slacks with a plum sweater and gray pearl earrings. My shoes were comfortable black flats. Apparently every mature actress in New York has the same outfit. So much for standing out in the crowd.
There wasn’t time to check my makeup in the ladies room but I had been careful not to eat or drink anything. I hadn’t even licked my lips.
The casting office was out of Central Casting, all sleek and modern and well-lit (a little too well-lit for me, I thought.) I managed to walk through the towering glass doors without incident and approached the two sullen 20-somethings at reception. “I’m here for the Optimum commercial,” I said optimistically. The female 20-something glanced in my direction and pointed to a computer terminal on the counter. “Sign in,” she said with disdain.
Undeterred by technology, I began the cyber process until the question “Who is your agent?” with a long drop-down menu of names appeared. “Uh, excuse me, what if my agent isn’t listed here?” I said as beads of sweat trickled down my torso.
“Who’s your agent?” bored girl said gruffly.
“Ann Berlin,” I said.
“Manager, not an agent,” she said with the fewest number of syllables available to her.
“What should I do?”
Presciently predicting such a roadblock, Ann had rescheduled a physical therapy appointment to be available by phone during my audition. “Let me talk to her,” she said with all the authority of a big-city talent agent. Meekly, I handed my phone to the girl in power. After a few grunts, she handed it back and said, “Sign in,” pointing to the computer screen. Without further instruction, I checked “freelance” on the box next to the agent question and sat down.
I looked at the script. It was a dialogue, one male, one female. I studied the female. Her first line was “Yep.” There were five lines in all. All “Yep.” Great, I thought. I don’t even have to read this. A few minutes later it registered. I would have to express all my intention, character, humor and meaning in five repetitive utterances. Before I had a chance to absorb this, the door opened and a director peered at me. “...Next!”