Musical theater is dead, continuing only to exists in order to haunt and mock the living art form that is musical cinema. Like the The Shining, Poltergeist and Beetlejuice, this shell of a an entertainment avenue serves to delude the minds of those that encounter it. While at first glance the theater is enticing, like a Jamaican lottery scam, it’s only after you offer yourself to it that you are rejected, mocked and given over to abject humiliation. Oh, certainly there are those that serve the cult of live drama. They feed off of the naivety of the general public, proclaiming that local theater is “good for the community” and a “perpetrator for the arts”. Their lies are sweet and their thieving ways steal not earthly valuables but dignity and precious time.
I’ll be the first to admit that my above hypothesis is ironic. For someone that claims to loathe the dramatic art of musical theater, I am over acting more than Brendan Fraser in *insert anything he’s ever been in here*. I, as the above may suggest, have been humiliated by false visions of grandeur stemming from a local musical production. There are exactly two musicals that are capable of causing me to forget myself. I love them so much, that if an opportunity were to present itself, I would consider the unfathomable: auditioning. And so it was, when I heard that Little Shop of Horrors was being produced at the small theater in town, the wheels began to turn. That evil voice began to whisper sweet lies into my ear “maybe you’re not tone deaf anymore”.
I first presented the idea of auditioning to my wife. She was supportive, but more honest about my singing ability than anyone else would be. Having survived a number of road trips with me either riding shot-gun or driving, she was the foremost authority on my singing abilities. “No” I thought. “Was she there at that Japanese Karaoke house when I sang Lola? She was not! She doesn’t know what I’m capable of”. If only I had listened, I would have realized she knew precisely what I was capable of. Yet, she stuck by me. My co-workers, however were worse. exclamations of what a good idea it was bombarded me from anyone that heard that there was even an inkling of possibility. When I was still hesitant the bribes started coming. All said and done, when I agreed that I would make a fantastic Seymour Krelborn, I had come out with 2 bags of hot cheetos and some australian soft licorice.
With my intentions set, I let Shannon know I meant business. The singing portion of the audition was to last 30 seconds. That didn’t sounds so bad. Sure it was 30 seconds without accompaniment. 30 seconds in front of people that lived for musical theater. 30 seconds on a stage, With the closest thing to a tune I had carried in my life being a small portion of a grand piano, and even that was difficult. So, I practiced. My wife listened to me sing 30 seconds of Build me up Buttercup dozens upon dozens of times. She was obviously concerned for my dignity, because normally she doesn’t take much interest when I get these hairbrained ideas. This time, however she critiqued and encouraged, she sat on the couch and listened to what could have easily been equated to a flock of bloated penguins playing frogger with a steam roller. That voice though, not mine, but the devious little liar. It kept on whispering to me. “You love Little Shop” it hissed, sounding famished, ravenous. “You need this. We need this. I NEED THIS. Feed me, Daniel!”. Was I sounding better? I was. I was finally getting it! I was Clem Curtis, lead singer of The Foundations re-incarnated. That is if Clem Curtis had died, of course. With a sigh, Shannon wished me luck as I stepped out our front door and into my destiny.
Arriving at the Claire VG Theater in Downtown Lynden, I had my picture taken and wrote down the roles I was auditioning for. No chorus line for me, no sir. I was going big or taking my talents elsewhere. First choice: “Seymour Krelborn”. As I entered the theater, I was instructed that first singing auditions would be held then we would need to stay for the remainder, that would have some read throughs and other activities. My heart was pounding. I have a hard time not panicking when standing in front of crowds let alone SINGING in front of them. And let me tell you, as someone that spent his entire K through High School career homeschooled, I was not socially accustomed to people that do theater all the time… for fun. I mean, good on these people for loving their craft so much, but it was apparent that I was outclassed and out of my element. And when I get outclassed or nervous, I start to find things funny. And people warming up their voices is funny. I soon found out there was a very good reasoning behind such exercises.
I shuffled in and said hello to the one person that I knew there. I sat down shortly before the first person was called up to sing their bit, and I honestly don’t know how they did because I was dreading getting on that stage, there were Phantoms in places like this that killed you if you were a bad enough singer and shamed their theater… aren’t there? It wasn’t until that moment that I truly realized what an egregious error I had made. That inner voice that boosted me with the intoxicating idea of stardom was now shrieking in laughter like some kind of sick, sentient hyena. Like Ariel, I had lost my voice and the villainous wretch was loving it. I calmed myself. I was one of the last people to show up to the audition so I would have time to mentally prepare myself. Even if it was done alphabetically by last name, Robison was a safe bet for later on. The first person sat down to enthusiastic claps and cheers. Good, ok, starting to calm down. “Daniel Robinson” close call, my name is-“no, sorry, Robison. No N in the middle”. I’ve never been smacked upside the face with a regulation slowpitch softball bat, but I imagine if I had I might see a brilliant, blinding flash of off-white before my vision returns to a small tunnel of it what it should be. That’s kind of what happened when I heard my name. I was called to go second. There was no logical reason for me to go second, it was against all reason. I later found out that a lack of reason and sense is a trait the theater folk pride themselves on.
Physically, I’ve learned to mask the majority of my emotions. The exceptions being grief, fear, pain, joy and disgust. Vocally, however, I quickly learned I have little control. As I ascended to the stage, it felt as if I had been munching on a bag of dry cement dust just moments before. I could barely breath, let alone sing. Yet, I prevailed, knowing that if I didn’t complete what I had set out to do that I may very well lose the package of licorice sitting in a drawer at work. I wasn’t about to risk that. So I sang. Or rather, I began to until the warbles kicked in. It was like I was a cartoon character trying to vocalize while underwater and the sound comes out popping like bubbles. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as when my voice just said “screw it, I’m out” and left the stage before I did. That’s right, after what felt to be about seven hours into my 30 seconds, my voice and all the air in my lungs took off. I stood there, mouth opening and closing like a dying fish sitting at the bottom of a boat waiting to be clunked over the head so as to be easier to filet before being smoked for dinner. And then, when I finally surrendered myself to the fact that the sound wasn’t coming back on and no one was going to unmute me, I stopped moving my mouth and stood there. I composed myself and said something I’ll never forgive myself for. “I’ve uh…. never sung in front of a crowd.” I made an excuse for myself, and it was an abysmal one. But that wasn’t the worst of it. After I whimpered out my pathetic apology for what was about as good a performance as my 1st grade church Christmas Pageant with less cute little kids and more awkward grown man; they began to clap. Loudly. Each slap of their palm was like a strike to my face. Every clap caused my cheeks to flush a little more crimson. I’m certain no mal-intent was present, but boy, when you screw up it’s not like Cool Runnings where you feel good for finishing. I returned to my seat, laughing in embarrassment, realizing I had better just buckle down and enjoy the rest of the audition because they asked us not to leave.Thankfully, after many auditions I felt I could relax a little. I was called to read some lines and that was actually quite enjoyable. Mostly because it had nothing to do with music. But then, sitting down again I heard something that indicated the audition was not quite over yet. “Alright, we’re going to do some choreography now”. Despite what three, maybe four people at my brothers wedding this summer will tell you, I have no sense of rhythm. That’s putting it mildly, I hardly have control over my body, let alone enough control to make it react appropriately to music. But I danced, or rather flailed. I spun the wrong way, I was stiff as a board and I just about fell off the stage. I was laughing all the way out the door, but it wasn’t like the good kind of laughing. It was the kind of laughing when you’re being tickled just slightly more than you’re being hurt and you’re really quite uncomfortable. I learned many valuable lessons that evening. First I was never to audition for a musical again. Second was that musical theater was not thriving, it wasn’t even dying, in my mind it was absolutely dead. NIt had not perished due to the lack of talent for those involved with the production, on the contrary they were all quite impressive. It is deceased in my mind due to my own personal vendetta against it for luring me in, deceiving me and spitting in my eye. It will not happen again… Unless my greatest fear comes to fruition and an open casting call for The Pirates of Penzance is announced.