So, like you, I have been so inspired by the recent stories of first time auditionees that I just had to share mine. Because Muni magic is real. And it’s catching. But…it doesn’t always look the same.
When I moved Springfield as a pre-teen, I literally never felt like I would fit in. If you’ve read my previous blog posts and Muni moments, you know a little bit more about that journey. That I was lucky to find Muni and sink my teeth into and bury my feet in a community of like-minded people out to change the world with their art!! And as a young adult who just couldn’t believe that this small Midwestern town had something so wonderful to offer young thespians as The Muni (growing up a stone’s throw from Broadway) I could not WAIT to be a part of it.
My mom first discovered The Muni and we ventured out one evening to see my first show there…Show Boat. We saw several others, and like so many young people in theatre audiences across the globe, I dreamed of being a part of it. I begged my mom to find out all she could about auditions (how DID we do that back then?!) and I even coaxed my brother and sister to tag along since I was terrified and knew no one.
I remember spending weeks working on a song. An equal amount of time fine tuning the perfect outfit. Smiling in the mirror to see what I looked like when I sang. Praying that things would go right. I remember rolling up to Lincoln Land Community College (back when auditions were held there) and getting my first exposure to “bubble guts.” (Not going to elaborate on those in this blog…but find me sometime. They are real and yes I still get them.) I remember walking in and seeing people piled in hallways and rooms. Some with numbers pasted on their chests, some with rolled up sheet music. I remember caring so much and trying so hard at every turn to be JUST RIGHT.
Lots of changes have occurred to the actual Muni audition process but one thing has not: you stand and you sing and a long table to faces stare at you: some smile, some cry, some are stone faced…and then, you’re done. You enter this void of time and space where nothing else seems to matter except what may or may not be being said or decided and that you no longer have any control over.
I remember walking out and feeling great. Kind people stopped to say good job, everyone was happy and excited about the prospect of doing a show on the Muni boards. I hopped in the station wagon with my French rolled jeans and probably too big sweatshirt that I may or may not have borrowed from my mom and headed home.
I remember sitting at home waiting for a phone call. Not a phone call. THE PHONE CALL. I remember, back in the days of land lines, sitting RIGHT by the phone and staring.
And then it rang.
It was for my sister. She had been cast.
It rang again.
It was for my brother. He had been cast.
It didn’t ring again. I remember falling asleep staring at my mom’s old school mauve phone…fully dressed and laying on her bed, sure that any minute now it would ring one last time. I woke up the next morning still dressed. No phone call. No Muni show. No summer under the stars. And more bubble guts.
And you know what else? This happened several years in a row. SEVERAL LONG YEARS. At the time I thought about giving up on the idea of trying again. I blamed the fact that I was a squishy and awkward teenager, or that maybe I sang a way that no one liked, or that I didn’t know the right people.
When I was a senior in high school I decided I was going to major in musical theatre. Even though I hadn’t been cast at Muni I was active in my high school drama department and I was slowly building my confidence. I would go away to college and then back to NYC but before I did…I wanted to give it one more try.
I auditioned for Godspell directed by the incredible Georgia Dirksen. I sang Someone Like You from Jekyll and Hyde (horrible choice, but that’s another blog, too.) I was still squishy and awkward and I didn’t sing like everyone else but the second my audition cut ended there was a clock tick of silence and then Georgia said, and I’ll never forget it, “I don’t know who she is but we are taking her!” From the table that is usually silent. When you usually have to wait days to know for sure. I left and cried in my car for probably longer than I care to admit.
And she did take me. And it changed my life. I did wind up going to school. And I spent the next decade in Chicago and Los Angeles performing. I stayed in touch with that theatre community I had only just dipped my foot into. And because of it, in the summer of 2005 when I lost my dad to cancer and came back to Springfield…I went back to the place that made me feel welcomed, after all that time. I auditioned for Laurie Barnes who not only cast me, but cast me as one of my dream roles: Amneris in Aida. I made friends during that show that I now consider family…who introduced me to my now husband, Jake (who also always gets cast, but that’s another blog.)
Since then I have had the incredible honor of playing some of the best roles ever written for women on the Muni stage: Fantine, Mary Magdalene, Mary Poppins, Eva Peron. But you know what? I still have years I don’t get cast. And now that I have been on both sides of that long table I know why: the Muni moment. Sometimes it’s yours…and sometimes a bigger moment is waiting around the corner and you just have to be patient. Take those bubble guts and make them work for you. Because if I had decided it was too hard or too sad, I would have missed out on sooooo much magic. Figuratively AND literally (see also: flying over the stage.)
But guess what? I’m still that awkward and squishy girl, who spends weeks picking out an outfit and months working on an audition cut. And some years I’m just what they need. Other years? Not so much. And it’s not easy. And ya cry either way.
But you know what else? The great stories of musical theatre are of people persevering and not giving up. Rising to a challenge and overcoming obstacles. So if you’ve auditioned before and not been cast? If you’ve never auditioned but you don’t know if you’ll make the cut? Get out there and audition. Write your own story. Maybe this year will be the hurdle, or the challenge. But maybe…just maybe…it’ll be YOUR moment. If you never try then you’ll never know.
Oh, and Steve Kaplan…at some point in our lives you WILL direct Big River again and even if I am 87 years old and need a walker to get on stage…I WILL be Mary Jane Wilkes in Big River. (Some hurdles are harder to get over than others.)
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you at auditions where this year, for the first time, I’ll be on both sides of the table. Hoping for my Muni moment…and yours.
Mary Kate Smith