The sweaty palms. The thumping heart. I’m not even trying out for The Illusion—I’m just sitting outside Webster Studio 2 among the actors hoping to be cast in the play. But the quiet, nervous anticipation is contagious. When the director, William Cranch ’08, approaches me, I am reticent, flustered just trying to explain why I’m there.
Cranch, a theater and dance major, is directing The Illusion as his senior project. (For their own senior projects, Brendan Horton ’08 will design the sets, and Chris Gillyard ’08 is already slated to play the lead.)The Illusion is Tony Kushner’s 1988 adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 17th-century comedy L’Illusion Comique, involving a sorcerer whose spells and trickery “blur the line between fact and fantasy,” according to the announcement of the try-outs. Cranch is laid-back about the audition process (“Hopefully they’ll have brought a monologue, but if not, it’s not a problem”). He gives me a job: to guard the door and remind actors to fill out the required form.
Soon, Cranch is ready to begin. A woman from Smith College says she’ll perform a song in lieu of a monologue. I’d like to watch, but I don’t follow her in. She doesn’t need another set of eyes on her, someone else taking notes on her every move.
A few minutes later, the Smith woman emerges with a male actor. They have five minutes to rehearse a scene together before going back in to the audition room. These sides are cold—that’s theater-talk for these lines of dialogue are completely new to them—so they struggle through Kushner’s ornate language—phrases like “presumptuous homuncula.”
“Wow—that is weird,” says the woman, once they’ve made it through the lines. “It’s fun, though.” Then she asks, “Do you get nervous for this kind of thing?”
“Yes,” the man admits.
“Really?” She’s surprised. “But you’re so good!”
Tucker DeVoe is crouched on the floor outside the studio, waiting his turn. He is a double major in theater and English at UMass (and, I can’t help thinking, he already has the name of a soap opera star). He’s prepared a monologue from Our Town. “I do a lot of floor-work, a lot of stretches and a lot of breathing exercises, just to calm my nerves,” he tells me. So I leave him to it, but he just puts on his headphones and listens to his MP3 player in quiet concentration. That works, too, I suppose.
Down the stairs in Webster Studio 3 the next evening, Michael Birtwistle, the Stanley King ’03 Professor of Dramatic Arts, Emeritus, is holding auditions for Lacuna Park. He is directing the play, which Jonah Shepp ’08 wrote as his senior project.
One actor—a student at Hampshire College—waits outside the studio. She is in a fiction writing class with Shepp at Amherst, and she’s curious about his play. She has already tried out for The Illusion.
“My nerves often get the best of me,” she says. “And by the time I’m fully warmed up and confident, it’s like, half the audition is over. [But] I just kind of fling myself into it. I think about how badly I want the part.”
I remember that wanting. I also remember the ensuing slap to the ego when I didn’t get the role—and, once in a while, the thrill when I saw my name on the cast list. I’m relieved not to be the one flinging myself in this time around. But also a little sad.