An architect killed himself after designing Rutherford and Eliot Colleges. I’d like to believe that, in designing the buildings, he stumbled upon some Lovecraftian incantation written in some dusty tome. Some spell that, while providing the perfect way to create buildings as mirror images as each other, unleashed some dark force that inhabited his mind. (I told this theory to The Student, who told never to watch Ghostbusters again.) Regardless, we had to walk through this labrynthine place in order to get to the auditions.
Once we arrived, I was reminded of a scene from the 1968 version of The Producers. A large stage, packed to the brim with cowboys, policemen, Indian chiefs, and Kaisers, all sporting square mustaches. The narrow hallway deep in the bowels of Eliot College was packed with about twenty people, half of whom were guys, all talking to each other about their experiences playing Tevye.
“Joy,” I said.
“What?” Dixie asked.
“You hear that? There’s ten Tevyes in here.”
Dixie clapped me on my shoulder, said, “That’s why I’m going for Perchik,” and laughed.
“You are a miserable comforter.”
We gingerly stepped over the people sitting on the floor like refugees, picked up a couple of scripts to be used for the audition, and walked back to the far side of the hall. “So what’s this about?” Dixie asked.
I sputtered. “You don’t know?”
Dixie shrugged. “Nope.”
“It’s...” I sputtered again. “Tradition!” (For those of you not exposed to the joys of Jewish-American culture, Fiddler is one of the cornerstones. There is a board game, kind of like Trivial Pursuit, called Tradition. While I haven’t played it in years, I seem to remember the media questions revolving around Mel Brooks and Fiddler on the Roof.)
“Tradition!” I repeated, as if that were explanation.
We sat down on the floor and Dixie—who knew most of the people from the showcase—talked to a group of girls auditioning for the daughters. I looked at the script.
“Hey, how’s this for a Yiddish accent?” Dixie asked. He read a few lines from a bit with Perchik.
I said, “Eh.”
“Eh? That’s great.”
“Nah,” I said. “It needs to be more... Jewish.”
“What does that mean?”
“Like. Er, here.” I cleared my throat, put on what I considered a Yiddish accent, “So nu, what you want I should be, a cartoon? Some kind of stereotype, maybe?”
“Bullshit that’s Italian.”
It was about to escalate into some bizarre accent-off when, thankfully, the door to the music room (where the audition was to be held) opened and the director—Laura—stepped out. Instead of normal people clothing, she somehow, inexplicably, looked as if she had become The Director. (“Wait!” I can hear someone screaming. “What the hell? You’re throwing another ‘The’ at us? Bull! We’ve had enough of your crap Nar—” Yes, Dear Reader, I know. Patience. There won’t be another The. Rebecca will not turn into The Girlfriend. Laura won’t turn into The Director. This isn’t Seinfeld and they aren’t episode titles.) She had on these thick—yet non-geeky—glasses with an outfit that would have been normal, were it not for the intense glare in her eyes. It was a glare that said, “I’m not taking your shit, now shut up.” It was, in other words, a drill sergeant glare. For the first time in what would wind up to be a four- or five-month long period of abject mortal terror, I witnessed The Intensity.
She went through the instructions about how to audition and then disappeared back into the music room. We’d be called in by numbers on the top right parts of our script. Out of twenty-two, Dixie and I were seventeen and eighteen. We, in other words, had some time. I snook a glance at other people’s audition sheets. There was a section about previous productions, acting lessons, that sort of things. Generally speaking, the other people in the hallway had a large block of solid black ink, their acting experience covered so much. I looked at Dixie’s and saw that, like mine, he had just a few things put down. That made me feel a little better.
“Woah,” Dixie said.
I turned. “What?”
“You realize that you’re shaking enough to make a milkshake, right?”
“Ah, no. It’s fine,” I said. “Working the nerves up. Getting the adrenaline pumping.”
Dixie raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”
Anyway, it was close to an hour before my number was up. People had been filing in and out of the room, talking about how their pitch was off—how they might have missed a note here and there and really blown it. A note? Dear fuck, they thought they might have blown it based on one note? And what was this pitch? The pitch I knew involved baseball, not this singing stuff. Why was no one talking about the acting bit? Did the acting bit not matter? Oh God, what if the—
The door opened and a tall guy, black hair and glasses, walked out. “Seventeen, your turn. Break a leg.”
I stood. “Who’d you go for?”
I groaned. “You didn’t complain about anything.”
“I think I did all right.”
I was screwed.
I walked in the room, handed Laura and the music director—Lizzie—there were a lot of L names in this society—my audition form and my mind went blank. The good kind of blank. See, like with a lot of things, there’s a good blank, and there’s a bad blank. The bad blank is when you’re still thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing, even though you’re petrified and cannot recall any information. The only thing your mind can do is send you wholly irrelevant thoughts, like mental images of penguins sliding from an iceberg into the gaping maw of an orca whale. Then there’s the good kind of blank where there is no thought. That’s the point where the best creation and performance arises. If you’re playing guitar, you don’t need to think about what chords come next, they just arrive—or a solo just falls into place. If you’re writing, then you’re no longer sitting in a room staring at a piece of paper or your computer, you’re in the setting wherever your characters are—you see the story acted out for you as if it were a film. That is the good kind of blank and, thank God, that’s where I wound up when I walked into the music room.
So, I read the bit from the script and instead of a spot on a white wall, I saw fields struggling to grow in the Pale of Settlement. Behind me, there was a horse with a thrown shoe, limping along as I schlepped a big honking cart down this disused road. Sholom Aleichem had written about some shlemiel dairman named Tevye. Fuck him, I was Tevye.
When I came back to myself, I found that, to my surprise, I’d already done the song and was told to head out of the room and back into the hallway. I sat down at my chair, exhaled, and Dixie said, “How’d it go?”
I shook my head. “I wish I could remember.”
Laura popped her head out, called for eighteen, and Dixie went in.
Afterwards, we made a mad dash for the bar and clinked our glasses to good luck. It would be a couple of days until we heard anything about the audition, so we resigned ourselves to stewing in anticipation.