“The Audition” A Memoir

By Elizabeth C. McCourt

    I hadn’t done something that scared the crap out of me in a long while. I missed it. I wanted to feel my heart pounding, all the while telling myself that I didn’t care, trying to be nonchalant.

    When I read about the audition in the local paper, I’d thought about going to buy the play to prepare, until I realized that it wouldn’t arrive in time. A monologue wasn’t required — a good thing because I didn’t have a monologue to work with. I used to be pretty good at cold readings back when I was in school, so I thought I’d just wing it. The audition was being held in the Quogue Community Center, and I planned to go after work.

    I felt comfortable I could look the part, a 40-something daughter who’d written a memoir about something the family wanted to forget. When I’d moved back to my hometown over a decade ago, that’s exactly what I’d planned to do.

    While I was in the process of writing my memoir, the writer Frank McCourt told me that the story of my father dying and me going off to Asia looked more like a travel log, and that was boring. Nobody wants to hear about what you did on your summer vacation, he’d basically said, not in second grade and certainly not as a grown-up.

    I heeded his advice, but took some of what was the truth and massaged it into fiction until it turned into something not resembling the truth at all. In fact, it became a mystery, a crime drama about a woman whose father commits suicide in the middle of a career-making case in New Orleans, where I’d lived for a period of time. It wasn’t my story any longer, but there were pieces of me hidden in every character.

    Rain made the bunch of us auditioning have to cram into the stuffy entranceway of the community center with metal and padded chairs. Some people had professional headshots and most were furiously reading the pages that had been tagged for each audition. I was number nine on the list.

    After reading though my pages a few times, I pulled out the local newspaper and pretended to relax — an old law school trick to try to psyche out your fellow students by feigning confidence that you didn’t need to do any last-minute studying.

    After waiting nearly an hour, I considered leaving. After all, I was probably out of my league and hadn’t auditioned for anything in nearly 20 years. But that wasn’t the point, I needed to finish and feel the full effect of what I’d come to do. They called me in.

    “We’ve never seen you here before,” the woman who was the director said to me.

    “This is my first time here,” I said.

    “Are you ready to start?”

    I thought about saying something funny, but instead I used my lawyerly confidence, got up on stage, ready. My partner, the man that was likely already picked to be the father in the play, jumped right in. I wasn’t ready. When I bumbled a line, I faked it and pretended nothing was wrong. I tried to think about the character and the secret that she wanted to expose about her family.

    I remembered the last time I’d auditioned for a local production and I’d needed to sing. My father always told me to belt it out. I got that part. But since then I’d traded in my acting chops for a lawyer gig. And when I’d moved back to the Hamptons, I got a job that required phone work, so now voice tone was my new skill.

    I tried to intonate my words and coordinate my moves around the stage with my acting partner. I couldn’t remember what to do with my hands and when I put them on my hips for the second time I tried not to cringe, lest I start to bomb. One of my lines produced a short laugh (appropriate) but the rest of my lines were nothing special. There’s a feeling when you’ve nailed it and I didn’t feel it, although I did feel exhilarated, as if I’d done something big, risky even.

    “Pretty good for a first-timer,” the director said when we’d finished.

    “Thank you,” I said and smiled, but next time I’m going to be even better.

    Elizabeth C. McCourt’s recently completed mystery novel is called “Red Beans & Murder.” Her work has appeared in The Southampton Review and Proteus, as well as in previous issues of The East Hampton Star. She blogs at triathlonobsession@wordpress.com.