Shopping period has its darker side for the Yale theater community. In a perverse and dystopian re-imagining of the daytime flow between Luce and Labyrinth, Marvin Chun and Shelly Kagan, we scurry to overlooked common rooms and basement bunkers, following scrawled paper signs and propped doorways. Under unflattering fluorescent, we peddle our dubious charms to grimly smiling production teams, whose weary amusement seems to belie a profound dissatisfaction with our diction, haircuts or inability to pronounce “Aeschylus.” It feels less like attention-whoring, as actors are wont to do, and more like actual whoring. As far as the prostitution of performance goes, Yale is much more Victorian London than modern Amsterdam — instead of sanctioned glitz, it’s bitterly cold, everyone looks wan and underfed, and there’s the lurking fear that the next John is really a maniacal killer with a penchant for evisceration. Here, fortunately, our internal organs are less endangered than is our sense of hope and self-worth.
Auditioning is, in other words, the ideal antidote to Pride, every actor and Eli’s favorite sin. There’s nothing like dancing around an abandoned classroom in WLH screaming profanities while dispassionate onlookers scribble on note pads to put the absurdities of dignity in perspective. When you eat alone in the Berkeley dining hall, you only think you are being judged; when you incompetently mime drunkenness and come across looking more like an amateur flamenco dancer, you KNOW you are being judged. And even if you don’t quite believe that ritual humiliation builds character, it’s certainly better shock therapy being rejected on the basis of talent and/or physical characteristics than being quietly booted out of an IR seminar for being a sophomore.
But the really great part about auditioning — if you aren’t already sold — is the completely unique form of reunion it creates. Like most reunions, encounters with fellow performers outside audition rooms are perfunctory, awkward and spiced with competition. Yes, in theory these people are our closest friends, our surrogate family, the companions we ran lines with and stage-kissed and ill-advisedly attempted to seduce at cast parties. In practice, there’s nothing to freeze the lifeblood of a relationship (temporarily, one hopes) like standing together outside an audition room, the silence broken only by sounds of torture from within. People generally negotiate the tricky politics of pre-audition socializing in one of five ways:
The Too-Professional. You are dressed in a waistcoat, have printed your head shot on glossy paper and are performing Tantric breathing exercises while actually memorizing the audition monologue. You are a douche.
The Too-Casual. Pregame!
The Too-Bro. After a bombastic entrance, you chummily hug everyone while rattling off a list of congratulations on recent shows and sexual exploits. Everyone is more uncomfortable than you are.
The Too-Introverted. Huddling in a corner while rocking back and forth may comfort you, but it makes everyone else think you’re about to snap and start eating insects and telling people to put (fucking) things in the basket.
The Me. In a well-intentioned attempt to synthesize the above approaches, you meekly hang back until the tension is palpable, then break into an awkward hug, inadvertently clothes-lining the victim of your affections while relating a semesters-old tale of shared experience that your fellow auditioner doesn’t, or pretends not to, remember. You then stare blankly at the script, wanting to appear intensely fixated so as not to be forced into more horrifically gauche conversation, while in fact you are quietly repeating to yourself, “I am a tool. I am a tool. I am a tool.”