Sawing the Air with My Hand Thus

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In response to our inquiry about audition stories – avid follower of our blog and all-around joyous snark Jason Rohrer shares his tales of woe from the business we call show.

Contributed by Jason Rohrer

I have read with interest the recent stories in this space about the trials of actors. As a man who’s had 17 paying gigs in the two decades since acting school, I not only feel your pain but enjoy it.

The Author/”Artiste” – Photo by Irina Zvonkov

Most of my several hundred auditions have case citations under “not to be emulated.” While still in college, in New York, I used a Mamet monologue featuring a 12-letter word for “taboo practitioner” to try out for a Yonkers production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. At an Into the Woods audition to play the big bad Wolf, I started to cry during my song. (It was “My Way.”) I chose 1999 as the year to commit to a mustache, an especially astonishing decision since I never got mustache headshots, so when I showed up to auditions the note I got was “Shave. Not here; go home.”

The stories did not get happier after I moved to Los Angeles. Once, I made it through callbacks for a new TV show. When I went to producers, and they asked me how I saw the character, I suggested black. (I’m not.)

I have not limited my career subversion to auditions. Within five minutes of meeting one studio executive, I was half of a shouting match about whether John Wayne was 6’4″ or 6’3″. Over the course of about a year, I met the same girl at five different Hollywood parties before I began to recognize a) she was the same girl, b) she was a casting director, and c) I’d drunkenly hit on her at the last four parties. And gotten nowhere.

When I do get a job, I’m not always what you’d call prime talent. I like to ad-lib during the table read, as a warning to the production that I’m incompetent at memorizing lines. Playing John Proctor during The Crucible‘s climactic courtroom scene – “Because it is my name!” – I thought it’d be funny to sign my confession one night as Donald Duck, the next night as Porky Pig; Judge Danforth was not amused. He said it hurt his performance, but I think it probably helped motivate him to sentence me to death.  That actor is now a regular on a TV show. I am writing this.

You know actors like me, but probably by another name: critic.

I am proof of the axiom that “Those who cannot do, write articles for a few hundred dollars about those who can.” Thanks to the Internet and the underemployed, the epithet “theater critic” has been demoted from its previous consensus definition – “snide, over-educated know-it-all” – to the broadly accepted new “ignorant asshole.” We’re jerks who get free tickets to everything, to write either an interview that misquotes you or a review nobody reads. And it’s not like you don’t read it in print: In my case, you don’t read it on the Internet.

Of course, my primary work as an arts journalist (actual journalists, please don’t take offense) is to pretend I’m not just a failed actor. I try to look the part of a critic. I wear tweeds in summer. I use phrases like “self-reflexive,” and I insist that in America, “theater” is spelled with an -er.

But we both know that like most arts writers, sports writers, political writers – a pattern forms – I’m still a guy who types about other people doing things he isn’t talented enough, or pretty enough, or tall or short or fat or skinny enough, to do himself. (I left “lucky enough” off the list so you won’t think I’m feeling sorry for myself. I also referred to myself in first person, then third person, in the same sentence. This is called working the message.)

But I digress, which is what I’m good at; see above under “doesn’t memorize lines.”

Did I mention I’m also a failed screenwriter?

 


Jason Rohrer studied at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, the National Academy of Theater and Film Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria, and U Nkitskih Gorot in Moscow, Russia. He contributes to the magazines American Theatre and Teaching Theatre, and writes criticism for Stage and CinemaHe lives in Los Angeles, so he has acted with Michael Paré and William Katt.

 

 

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