MFA Auditions 2018: Part 1: NYU

Originally Published: 14 March 2018

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018. The day I had been training for for the past two months. I was on my day off from Pride & Prejudice at Virginia Stage Company and had about six hours in Chicago to do six auditions and hopefully multiple callbacks/interviews for my MFA in Acting.

I woke up around 7am in the Hyatt Regency Chicago and, as I had decided the night before and in previous days, I didn’t force any process or structure. I allotted myself time to do hair, makeup, warmup, run my pieces, dance a bit if I wanted and call my dad. So whatever order those happened in, they’d happen.

It was a bit chilly, so I turned the heat up to make sure my body and muscles could get warm. I forgot about music until about 7:20 or so and put on Aloe Blac. I did a little grooving while talking to myself to warm up my voice. I did some light yoga, vocalizations and the time flew by. I ran through my pieces and made sure to take my time and not do them for the sake of doing them. I went full out.

Then, I did my hair in Bachelor-style curls because they make me feel confident and look like I should be in a Hallmark movie #marketable. I felt the nerves seep in and was trying to accept them as I sang along to the 90s Smash Hits Spotify playlist.

Breathe. Breathe. Getting clammy.

My makeup wasn’t done yet and it was 8:30, which was when I had planned to leave. Meh, 8:40 will be fine. Makeup makeup makeup. Meh, 8:45 will be fine. Ok let’s go, I can do my mascara there. Do I have my snacks? Yup yup yup!

Thanks to good planning, I was staying in the same hotel where 4 out of 6 of my auditions were. All I had to do was walk across an indoor bridge and take a couple of elevators.

I arrived for my 9am NYU audition at like…8:50? I didn’t have time to call my dad in order to ground me, as he and I had planned. The hallway looked just like the one my hotel room was in. I walk into the holding room and lo and behold, it looks exactly like my hotel room! But smaller and without a bed! I check in and fill it a little info sheet, where I write which pieces I’ll be doing.

At this point, I’m feeling nervous and superstitious, so put my earphones on and play my Spotify playlist specifically curated for this day: Feel Good Up Fun Dance. I hand in my info sheet and sit down again, with only one earphone in. A girl starts to try to talk to me. I pretend I don’t hear her and put my other earphone in. I don’t feel bad. And I’m glad I don’t feel bad. 

Oh by the way, this whole time I have my winter coat on. It’s something I like to do because it obviously keeps my body warm, therefore eliminating extra jitters via shivers. It’s also a kind of security vest. My cousin has a Norwegian Elkhound named Katie who has really bad anxiety. She wears this special super snug vest all the time and it helps her feel secure. So, I do that too I guess.

Any who, Mark Wing-Davey, Scott Illingworth and Lisa Benavides-Nelson come in to introduce themselves. They’re super chill and explain that the hotel is doing construction that they weren’t aware of. Hence the small, bedless hotel rooms that we’ll be auditioning in today. Mark says that he’ll be in one room and Scott and Lisa will be in the other. The monitor will split us up into two groups and we’ll go from there. Some of us will be asked to stay and be seen by all of them, some of us will not. It was an amazing, cozy, un-intimidating environment. And there was a bathroom right there in the room!

After a bit, my name was called. I took off my coat and earphones and am led into the room next door. Scott and Lisa are behind the table and greet me warmly. Scott asks what I would like to start with. I tell him and begin. I’m doing well, feeling it. Scott snickers, I can feel it’s good.

Honestly I don’t remember a lot of it because I was in the moment I guess. Not fully, no. But the amount of rehearsing I’d done on it made it so even if I wasn’t fully in the moment, I could still crush it.And that was the goal. I finished and then we had this brief awkward moment where I realized I didn’t introduce my second piece at the top because of how Scott had worded asking me what I would be doing today. Scott said something like, “What would you like to do next?” I said something like “I think I’ll do Helena from All’s Well That Ends Well". Honestly, I don’t fully remember that one either. It was good. Neither here nor there. I said thank you and they said thank you and that was that.

I started to briefly get in my head about the communication mixups, but then actively decided to shun it. I started talking to other people in the holding room. Chicago was refreshing. There was very little comparison going on. In NY, you can tell if people are comparing themselves even when they’re really trying not to and trying not to show it. But in Chicago, I felt like I didn’t have to worry myself with any competition. I know that sounds super arrogant, but it’s the mentality I had to have to get myself through this. That inflated sense of self I already have as an actor had to grow to the point where I truly believed I was better and more divinely inspired than anyone else in this city.

Not long after everyone finished, the monitor left and came back in with a paper. She read aloud the names of maybe 3 or 4 of the initial 8 who had auditioned who they would like to see again.

My name was called (which I fully expected even before I went into the room #confidence). I breathed a bit of a sigh of relief as the other folks headed out and the 10am group began to stream in. I popped 6 feet across the hall to check in with Yale, whose audition I had at 10am. I let the super nice monitor, a current stage management student, know about my situation and she was very understanding. She checked me in and assured me everything would be fine and she could put me at the end of the 10am group.

I went back to NYU and did a little socializing. A little music. It took a while but I was finally called. I went in a different room (but much to my comfort, it was exactly the same as the first audition room) and found Mark, Scott and Lisa behind the table. They welcomed me and we talked briefly about how I knew an alum I’d mentioned on the info sheet (Hi Kate!). Mark got down to business and said “Let’s see The Norwegians”. I said something stupid like, “Sure let’s go to Norway” and then was like “well actually that’s not where it takes place it’s in Wisconsin but that’s fine”. I didn’t feel them turn off, but we were riding a fine line between charm and girl does not know what she’s doing. I think, had I not been so genuinely confident in myself and done all that personal work over the past few months, these comments would have come across as self conscious.

I did The Norwegians and had fun with it. I found new things, it wasn’t perfect, but I played and gave it my all. I think they laughed? I don’t remember. I had fun.

Then Mark asked to see Joan la Pucelle from Henry VI Part 1. I was a little surprised, but ok let’s do it. He saw it two years ago. Would he remember? Would be be like, “oh girl is NOT original, recycling pieces and whatnot.” Also that’s not how Mark talks at all. So I did it. I felt really handsy, a habit I’d developed over the past week or two. Lots of hands. Hands hands hands! Everywhere! Hands! I settled into my rehearsed version while still being as present as I could, getting what I wanted from the invisible person on the curtain rod of the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Mark then decided to give me some direction. I exulted inside! Yes! This is my element! I can take direction like you’ve never seen before!

He had me sit in a chair in front of them and asked if I could do a rural American accent. I said I could do some sort of southern and he said that would be fine.

Then this:

Mark: You’re in the electric chair

Me: Oh fuck…(to Scott) pardon my French (Scott shakes his head ‘no worries’)

Mark: And there’s glass here, a wall of plexiglass where all your family and friends and loved ones are watching. Alright.

And then he said something like I need those people to save me and to know that I’m not guilty, that I am wrongly accused. I’m here for the wrong reasons. And I’m strapped in so I can’t move my arms or anything #handshandshands

I begin. I don’t have it. He stops me after a line and says, “No no, you really don’t belong here. What are you afraid of ?” And I say, “I don’t want to die”. He says ok, and that I can say that before the first line. So I do, “I don’t want to die. First let me tell you whom you have condemned” and so on and so forth.

It was beautiful. That southern twang paired with the core of what that monologue is about. Mark is a brilliant director and I was lucky enough to get a taste. It was amazing. I had been fighting for what I needed for the whole piece and in the end I broke down. I tack on this part where Joan says she pregnant and that broke me. I finished, and Mark said “Yeah. I would break through this glass to save you”. We let the air settle for a minute. I think they asked me how that was for me and I said that I noticed myself falling into a line reading of some points because I’d rehearsed it so much; but at the times when I was able to free myself of that, that’s when I felt the magic. It’s always a plus to be able to talk about your experience and your work with awareness. 

The air settled some more and Mark asked if I sang. Never in any of my three previous callbacks had I been given direction or asked to sing. I knew this was a good sign.

I hadn’t practiced my song that morning! Crap! I put the chair aside and quickly decided between Wide Open Spaces by The Dixie Chicks and Down To The River To Pray by Natalie Maines (using the lyrics she sang on The Simpsons). My gut said River by my head said Dixie because I’d practiced that more. So I did Dixie and maybe sang a little too much. There’s this one lyric that goes “She needs new faces” and I looked at the three of them, thinking I was being all cheeky. Only Lisa was looking at me and she was not amused. So I kept going. Decided to add in a note at the end I hadn’t practiced and was like, “eeeeerre oooops” in my mind. But! Oh well! They said thank you and I said thank you and we parted ways.

Ok! 5 more auditions to go on this day in Chicago. Will I sabotage myself? Will I be able to take a nap at any point? Will i make my flight back to Norfolk?!?

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