When we think of a child’s audition, most of us think of the “drama mamas” out there or the little girls playing Matilda on Broadway, and we become overwhelmed. Trust me, you’re not alone. This was my first thought when I woke up to a Broadway World EPA notice for the role of Small Alison in the National Tour of Fun Home. My head started swirling with the worst possible scenarios, like the Dance Mom/Theatre Mom stereotype, not being able to audition (mainly because I am non-Equity/non-union, which means I have to wait for all the Equity kids to audition first, then pray to be seen) among other things. But, on January 2nd, 2016, I decided to face my “fear” of child auditions in New York City and go try for the role of Small Alison in the National Tour of Fun Home.
Let me give you a little background on myself. I am a very small seventeen-year-old girl, standing at only five feet tall. (I was sixteen at the time of the January audition.) I often get asked if I am eleven to thirteen years old, and since Small Alison is ambiguous in age and the casting breakdown said nine to eleven, we (meaning my dad and me, the person who would accompany me) decided I could look eleven and go for it. It was quite a feat for me because I’d been told in the past by my dad that he didn’t think I was quite “ready” for professional auditions because I started performing at nearly fifteen years of age.
For some reason I just wasn’t as excited about this big opportunity as I felt I should be. I had never been to a big audition like this because I am currently working in the Atlanta market, so this was quite anxiety-provoking for me. A good anxiety, yes, but anxiety nonetheless. I had less than a week to prepare an audition song and know exactly how to navigate an audition like this. Running from acting coaching to vocal coaching, we were told the exact same thing. “Get there EARLY. Be ready to sit on the street. I would get there at about 7am if it’s a 9am sign in.” So, naturally, I took the advice gratefully.
The night before the audition, we flew into NYC. The flight was just long enough for me to look over my audition material and center myself so I could get to bed as soon as we hit our hotel. I had decided to wake up at 4:15 in the morning and did so with ease. (Hamilton, Kinky Boots, Newsies, Legally Blonde and Wicked make a great waking up/energizing playlist for those of us who aren’t normally morning people.) Once the water had boiled for my tea and I was ready to go, we headed out. I observed how incredibly peaceful New York City is at 6:30 in the morning. We headed to Ripley-Grier Studios and were the first ones there. My dad and I were shocked and went to make sure we were in the right place because we were alone. We expected to see lines of kids going out the door, and not just us! The security guard laughed and said he’d never seen a little kid here so early and so energetic and happy. My dad playfully groaned, knowing he could’ve gotten more sleep. He let us sit down in the lobby until we were allowed to go to the fourth floor.
At eight, once we were allowed upstairs, the competition started to arrive. There were about four kids and five adults, and naturally, we all started to talk. No one thought I was over twelve, and I started to laugh quietly saying that I was sixteen. No one believed it. I was so worried that these moms would be the quintessential theatre moms that we all dread, but they were actually quite kind. We all had a lot in common, except for the fact that I was in Atlanta and hadn’t auditioned like this before. We all signed an unofficial sign-up list, and that was trashed come 9am. The monitor (who is a person who monitors the audition and helps the casting director wrangle the people auditioning) wouldn’t accept it, and I started to worry. “How many Equity kids would be here? Will I even be able to audition?” I took a deep breath, and the monitor asked all the Equity kids to sign in. To my surprise, there were only three of them. Then, she asked EMC members to sign in. EMC members are Equity Member Candidates, or people who aren’t part of Equity yet but are working towards enough weeks to become Equity. Another small, calm line of kids and moms went up. The monitor then took out another pen, slammed it on the table, pushing it as far away from her as possible and said “non-Equity kids” before throwing up her hands, like she was defeated. I have a feeling she knew the pandemonium that was about to ensue. It was absolute madness. All of the other kids were pushing to get a spot in line. I ended up getting the second non-Equity spot, so I was pretty satisfied.
Then, we sat and waited. A lot of people had told me me to be tunnel visioned at auditions, but I personally don’t like to do that; I like to listen and know what’s going on so hopefully I’m not surprised. I think one little girl probably knew that a few of us would do that, because she left the room, ran back into the room like a tornado and started yelling: “Sixteen bars, mommy! They cut us to sixteen bars!” We had been told we could sing an entire song, so I saw a lot of kids panic, looking over their sheet music more intently. I had personally experienced a cut like this a few weeks back when I auditioned at one of the big Disney cattle calls. They cut us from sixteen bars to eight, so I went ahead and cut extra songs for this audition.
At about eleven, they called the first non-equity group. Unfortunately, the way we signed up, sixteen-year-old, five-foot tall me was in a group with mainly four-foot-nothing eight-year-olds. For once, I could say I was tall! As we waited, I asked the monitor if we had been cut to sixteen bars, and she shook her head with a funny look and giggled a bit. She told me no, and I was relieved. I wanted to sing my first choice, naturally. I pulled my original song, then went in with a slightly faked confidence. I sang “I Know It’s Today” from Shrek the Musical, and really put my focus on telling the story, and I felt it went really, really well. The casting director, Ms. Jillian Cimini, was staring at my resume from the moment I started to sing, writing things down. At the end of my song, I said thank you, picked up my books and turned to leave, and right before I took a step, she stopped me, asked where I was from and what grade I was in. She thought I was a freshman at the oldest and seemed surprised when I said I was actually a Junior. She nodded, thanked me and I left. As I left, I surveyed the room one last time. A lot of kids had shown up while I was in the room, and there was now a line out the door. To my surprise, it was 11:30. I was told to expect to be there until late that night, but we were done. That was it, and it was a lot simpler and less dramatic than I had imagined. So, my dad and I packed up and decided to roam the city that never sleeps.
Fast forward to a normal morning in June. Just like any other teenager, I woke up and the first thing I did was look at my phone. When I opened my Facebook, the first thing that popped up on my newsfeed is Kids on Tour posting an update about Fun Home having an open call for Small Alison and John. I shot up and almost started crying (as dramatic as that is) and immediately downloaded the audition material. That day, at lunch, I broke the news to my dad who unhesitatingly asked when the audition was. We decided about two days later to go. (Ironically, my dad asked my mom if we could go right as the My Ring of Keys promo video that I was asked to be in came out, and my mom said that we had to go audition then.) So, in two weeks, we’d be heading back to NYC to audition once again for Small Alison.
Before we left home, we decided that the first audition was too good to be true. We had been told to expect a huge wait and everyone to be unfriendly, but the exact opposite was true! We decided to adjust the game plan for the big day and get there earlier to accommodate more kids because it was an open call, not an Equity call. The big day came, we got to Pearl Studios at 6:30. Again, my dad and I were the first ones there, and I received another groan. The building was locked so we stood outside. As time went on, another girl and her mother joined me. The girl was only an inch shorter than me. She and her mother were quite nice, and we talked the entire time. Around 8:00am they let us in the building to sit in front of the elevator. The sign in was at 10 again, and there were only four of us at 8 in the morning. This surprised everyone there and my dad had a thought. He pulled out his notebook and made a sign in list, passing it down and having everyone sign in. As the list was being passed down, I noticed there were girls of all shapes and sizes. Some “Matilda” sized, (4’0”-4’5”) some medium sized, and then some “tall” girls (around 4’10’-5’0”). I learned quickly that we were all just kids, and could all have a lot of fun together.
Around 9:00, they let us upstairs and we all spread out through the studio. The talking stopped a little but quickly picked back up, unlike before where the talking never ceased. I sat next to some of the Matilda sized girls, and they were quick to bring out their Broadway show cards, and we all laughed, talked, and traded. They didn’t seem to be fazed by the fact that I was older, or maybe they just thought I was their age and tall. I’ll never know.
Around 10:15am, there were about 20-30 kids there, which was surprising because there were lines out the door in January. Ms. Cimini was back again. She announced that she would take the sign-up list and that she was going to start auditions now instead of at 11am. She let the monitor line us up, and I was first. Now, being first is not all it’s cracked up to be in my opinion. I was sort of “thrown into” the action, which stressed me out a little. I sang the audition cut of Ring of Keys first, and I felt that went well, and I went to read my side (which I thought I had memorized) and completely blanked, probably because I’m used to having my second to center myself. Moral of the story: if a casting director says you can use your side, always hold it in your hand, no matter how well you think you have it memorized. Afterwards, I was asked questions about why I came back, where I was from, and how I was schooled. The two casting directors smiled, said thank you, and waved at me as I was leaving. Although I didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped on my side, I still felt good about my audition. Either way, it was done, and there was no reason to dwell on it any longer. I skipped out of Pearl Studios at 11:15am incredibly surprised. I honestly thought that the previous audition experience had been a one-off, but it seems to be that you can get out of an audition in a more than timely matter if you show up extra early.
Going into a New York audition was definitely intimidating at first, but I quickly realized that it was like almost any audition I had been to in Atlanta. I don’t think kids or parents, for that matter, should be scared of the child audition. Both auditions were some of the most organized and simple auditions I’ve ever been to. Personally, I know there were things I wish I would’ve known or things I could’ve done better, but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world.