Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rump-fed runion, anyone?

In my freshman year of college, I'd mentioned to friends that I'd wanted to get involved in theater. So it was that one day three of them came pounding on my door to tell me that there would be auditions for Macbeth, and they insisted  I try out.

To understand how I was at the time, you have to understand that while I was very expressive and fun and witty, I was also horrifically self-conscious. (College helped me with that, but during my first semester I was still changing in the closet and could not go to the cafeteria without first securing a dining companion. I'd once just gone alone, and upon seeing no one I knew, had put my full tray on the counter and walked out.)

I went to the audition. Now, I'd like to be able to tell you exactly what happened, but I was so petrified I've blocked most of it out. I do remember that I stood in a room and faced the Communications Department head and the director, a young man with whom I would end up working, and who would be a great teacher for me. But at the time, they were simply the most intimidating people in the entire universe.

I remember they had me read Lady Macbeth's "unsex me here" scene and I was too terrified to do anything but jump. I recall flashes of flailing arms, and I think I went for loud. In other words, a college freshman audition.

I caught a break: not enough men auditioned, so they gave me the part of Malcolm, changing it to Margaret. I got a role, and Scotland got a little liberated. It was an experimental production, abbreviated, so it wasn't a huge part, but I was thrilled that I got a little soliloquy, and the final line to the show. Not to mention freeing Dunsinane.

That was my only Shakespeare experience, and it was fun. I got good feedback from the director, but never since had the opportunity to do more. I read aloud when I read Shakespeare; it's almost a compulsion to feel the words in my mouth.

So when I saw auditions posted for a production of Macbeth to be held outdoors this summer, I jumped at the chance. I had to prepare a monologue. At first I selected something form the Merry Wives of Windsor, something easy I could do well, one that would not require a lot of study and interpretation. Then I decided that I was going about it all wrong. I wanted the role of Lady Macbeth, and I needed to show that all five feet of me could command a presence on stage. So I chose a scene with Queen Margaret in Henry VI.

In this scene, Margaret is sadistic, contemptuous. I ate it up. I worked this monologue for two weeks, testing every line to see that it rang true and worked with the line before and after, I worked on my paces, my gestures, every nuanced facial expression. I obsessed. I ran through it in my mind on the El, while doing laundry, on the elevator.

"What, was it you that would be England's king?" I muttered at Au Bon Pain. "Thou should'st be mad, and I to make thee mad, do mock thee thus," I told passersby as I walked to the El. "But how is it that great Plantagenet is crowned so soon?"

The day came, and I drove to Evanston, full of optimism. Almost thirty years later, I had the maturity, the creativity, the confidence, to do this play. I understood her. I understood a woman who could be so blinded by ambition that she could delude herself that she could do anything, even survive the loss of her humanity. I knew what it was to pretend to be someone I wasn't to prove to myself that I could. In the end, I know, that never works. Lady M learns it, too.

I'd even practiced some Lady Macbeth lines in anticipation of learning them once I was cast. "Who'd have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" is such an anguished line that it brings tears to my eyes.

So when I saw that the two women waiting to audition were in their twenties, I had a familiar sense of foreboding. Ditto when I saw that the man ushering people into the audition was also very, very young. Chin up, I thought. Judi Dench.

I was ushered into a large room where the director, her stage manager, and her designer sat. All were women. The director, at least, looked over thirty (I later learned from a friend that she'd graduated from Julliard and directs a lot of Shakespeare. I'm glad I didn't know that at the time.)

I did my scene, trying to control my nervousness, but pretty sure I got across that I can deliver Shakespeare decently.

"Great, thanks," the director said when I'd finished. "Can you go out and look over these pieces, and come back and read them when you're ready?"

Excited, I took the sheets of paper and walked toward the door. I looked down to see what I'd be preparing. The name on the top sheet jumped at me.



I looked at the other two sheets. Witches.

I felt all the air leave my body. Men and witches. I made them think of men and witches. Nice.

I went back out, and the two 20ish girls were there, clearly nervous, bolstering each other in that false way that the two finalists in the Miss America pageant do.

As I stood in a stairwell going over the pieces (they were fairly uninteresting, not particularly easy to get anything out of), I realized they were bringing each woman in more than once. I heard loud wailing from inside the audition room.

"I will be damned," I thought to myself, "If I will be in a production where Lady MacBeth is a freaking twentysomething."

I took a breath and focused. At least one of the witch scenes was my favorite to say, about the sailor's wife who won't share her chestnuts. ("'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed runion cried.")

The two girls avoided my eyes and spoke only to themselves, and the young man never cracked a smile, instead being stiffly polite. I call it the "I don't know how to behave socially with anyone more than three years older than I am" syndrome. And yes, I was the ugly duckling next to the tall, willowy girls. I'm used to that, and it doesn't usually get to me, because I like myself, not to mention that having a thin skin is pointless when you decide to audition. But I was having a hard week. And... men and witches.

I went back in and delivered the Malcolm scene - I wasn't really feeling it, and they asked me to speak louder, so I belted out the witch scenes, already feeling like this was a courtesy. I've been on enough blind dates to know when I won't get called. They were polite (ack! Not polite!) and I left.

I doubt I'll get a callback. Still, maybe I'll luck out and Margaret, daughter of Duncan, will once more need to rise to the battle to liberate Dunsinane and Scotland from the tyrant.

Not holding my breath, though. there's always tomorrow. And tomorrow....

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