Audition Tips for True Professionals
by Joel Fishbane
As a true professional, you must always be prepared. You must learn your lines and practice every day. Love the great playwrights and prefer only the words they wrote. Take me, a true professional from Montreal. Une professionelle. Introduced to Chekhov by my ex-boyfriend, I find recitations of The Cherry Orchard to be the most remarkable things in the world. At auditions, I perform Charlotta’s speech from the top of Act Two. “I’m so lonely, always lonely,” says Charlotta. “No one belongs to me.” I’ve made these lines my own. Consequently, I’m ready when I book an audition for my ex’s new play. It’s last minute but une professionelle never panics, not even when she learns the writer will be in the room.
Always consider your headshots with care. I have two: one for comedy, full of smiles and teeth, and one for tragedy, in which I emote a soul writhing with dramatic worth. Sergei’s new play is a romance about a writer and the girl who broke his heart. Some people find his plays funny, but Sergei calls them doux-amer. Bittersweet. I choose the tragic photo. When Sergei knew me, I was smiles and teeth; tomorrow, he’ll see that I’ve changed.
Let’s look at my resumé. First, I list my name or rather my stage name. Veruca Hope: my nom d’étage, Below are my past productions and the many parts I’ve played. Skills: flamenco, juggling, fencing, skiing, horseback riding. Languages: English, French, some Russian (I know the dirty words). The true professional’s resume is almost honest—it never contains a lie she can’t pretend is true. For this reason, I make an edit. Sergei will remember that trip to Kentucky; my terror of horses had been both disappointing and clear.
On the day of the audition, the true professional plucks and shaves with care. When dressing, she remembers that simple is best—for instance, I choose the black skirt which Sergei loved and the necklace he gave me last Christmas Eve. Before leaving, always touch something for luck. I have the horseshoe Sergei gave me but any talisman will do. Find someone to tell you to “break a leg.” Ideally, this is a lover but in the absence of one, select a parent or close friend. If, like me, you’re an orphan who people call étrange, consider the landlord. No matter what, never stop rehearsing. “I’m so lonely!” I say as I wait for the bus. People watch me but I don’t mind; the true professional craves an audience wherever she goes.
The true professional arrives early and isn’t surprised when the waiting room is suffused with a mood of tense competition. Here you might find the people who have been besting you for years. Watch out for the Recent Theatre School Graduate, which can be identified by its fresh face and eager-to-please demeanor. Don’t be deceived. I left Sergei for one, only to learn it had a wife. The RTSG is a conniving beast. It will cause nothing but la peine d’amour. Heartache.
When called into the audition room, enter with poise. Always maintain composure, even if the first person you see is the person who last saw you begging him for forgiveness. It’s important not to lose focus. Instead of looking at Sergei, I give the director my full attention and cast a winning smile. She takes my resume and studies it, during which Sergei and I exchange looks. What is that in the air? Nostalgia? Regret? To fill the space, I provoke a casual exchange rich in subtext and double entendre. A risky maneuver, but one you yourself may someday choose. Generally, the true professional never dates the playwright, but what is life without exceptions? Be open to the possibilities.
When it’s time to perform, take your place and speak the speech. Acting teachers suggest inventing someone who your character might be speaking to. I pretend I’m talking to Sergei. Not the Sergei who is here but the one I hope he’ll become, the one who will kiss my mouth, forget my mistakes, tell me to break a leg, applaud me when I do, hold me when I don’t, and bear witness to all the triumphs and failures of my career.
“I’m so lonely, always lonely,” I say. “No one belongs to me.”
Sometimes, after the audition, you will be invited for a brief chat. Be engaging and keep the conversation moving. For instance, when the director asks if I have any questions, I inquire about the production schedule. She replies that rehearsals will begin in a month, after her honeymoon, and I congratulate her before asking where she’s headed.
“Kentucky,” she says. “Sergei’s going to teach me to ride a horse.”
The true professional always behaves as if everything that happens is exactly what she expected to occur. See how I maintain my poise. Sang-froid. I don’t even wince as I shake Sergei’s hand, even though it’s sharp as broken glass.
The word audition comes from Middle French. Audicion: a hearing in a court of law. It’s a trial and, as in all trials, there’s only one chance to get it right. Which is why, after the audition, you will want a stiff drink while you consider what went wrong. Resist the urge to ask for feedback. What’s to be gained by confrontation? Directors and ex-lovers aren’t any different. Whether it’s a director or a playwright, the response will be the same. In the end, you aren’t getting the part. Acting, like love, can be terribly cruel.
But does the true professional despair? Do I burn my headshots or grind Sergei’s necklace into dust? Jamais. I return home to wait for the next audition, the next trial, the next chance to prove my worth. Know your lines! Have both headshots ready! Your mistakes may not be forgotten today, but there’s always tomorrow. The true professional must always be prepared.
Joel Fishbane’s novel The Thunder of Giants is now available from St. Martin’s Press. His short fiction has been or will be published in Ploughshares, New England Review, The Saturday Evening Post, and Witness, among numerous other outlets both online and in print. For more information, you are welcome to visit www.joelfishbane.net.
“Audition Tips for True Professionals” won the 2020 Roadrunner Fiction Prize. Guest judge Michael Jaime-Becerra wrote: “I chose ‘Audition…’ as the winner because it wonderfully captures its speaker’s voice, which is complex and funny and a little defensive, too. Without spoiling it for future readers (I hope!), I appreciated how the writer uses precise details to suggest the blinding force of the speaker’s ego, how the true motivation for the audition begins to reveal itself, how the humor in the story begins to resonate differently, more meaningfully, as the speaker continues to share their insights on the audition process and its outcome. This is a brilliant, moving piece.”
The Roadrunner Review nominated “Audition Tips for True Professionals” for The Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.