Saturday, July 13, 2013

Goin' Blue - Part I

This week I got to experience something that very few ever get the chance to experience - I auditioned for the famous Blue Man Group! It was a life changing event in many ways for me and I want to share the story because I think we can all walk away with a few things from the trial.

Tuesday Afternoon Blues
I was casually perusing my Facebook timeline as I normally do to see what everybody was up to (and secretly plan the next GREAT thing I was going to do to rise above the noise and raise my "like" count on my posts:)). I joined several Facebook groups dealing with casting for various opportunities such as film, TV, stage, and other formats. Initially I was going to promote all of my existing endeavors on these groups but quickly realized that most of them were not receptive to shameless plugging (at least I hadn't been around long enough for others to tolerate it). I ended up just following the posts and every once in a while something cool would pop up of interest.

Someone casually posted up the open audition notice for the Blue Man Group and that definitely caught my eye. I looked at the date and realized, "Man, that's tomorrow. Damn, probably can't get away to go do that. Well, I'll just pay it forward and maybe one of my peeps will go for it." I shared the post with the comment "I'm tempted to do this just to see what the process if like." The true intent of the post was to communicate, "Ha ha...this would be a cool thing to do some day in my life...not right now...maybe one of you should do it." Apparently, hardly anyone read it that way. Within 30 minutes I had 15 different replies saying something to the effect of "DOOOOOOOOO EEEEEEEEEEET!!" and cheering me on. I was floored by the response. I just had to ask myself, "Should I go do it? Do all of these people REALLY think I can? What if it goes well? " So, after some thought (lasting roughly 2 minutes), I decided to gingerly left a voicemail asking my loving Wifey if I could escape from the family to go pursue this audition. As I waited for her answer, the likes and comments kept growing on my post (I guess I got that "like" count to go up like I had originally wanted :)) I was REALLY hoping my Wifey would be done for it. She her response via text was, "Blue Man Group? Go for it!"


What Can Blue Do For You?
The open casting time was from 10:30 AM - 3:30 PM the next day so I took my time. I finished up a bunch of work in the morning and wasn't able to escape until noon When I arrived at 1:30 PM, I expected to see a huge line outside the door full of highly qualified drummers, actors, dancers, and wanna-be's psyching themselves up for the audition and talking about all the ultra-important projects they were doing/working on ad naseum to pump up their egos. That totally wasn't the case.

When I showed, up there were roughly 10 people sitting around the lobby of the Briar Street Theatre waiting and a small, unimposing woman checking people in. She smiled, asked if I was auditioning, and handed my some paperwork to fill out. I went to a corner to fill it out and in the corner of the sheet it read "57". That caught me off guard. You mean to tell me that I would be the 57 person so far auditioning for this?! I really expected it to be like 250th at the point I showed up. However, I reminded myself of the very strict requirements auditionees were to adhere to:

  • Must be between 5' 10" and 6' 1" in height
  • Must have an athletic build
  • Must be willing to relocate
  • Must have excellent drumming skills

After a little bit more thought, I was like, "Yep, that knocks out a ton of people from even trying out." Everyone of those requirements fit me to a tee . So, being 57th was pretty good.

The wait in the lobby before I got called up felt like an eternity but was probably 45-50 minutes long. I struck up conversations with people waiting in the lobby to not only give myself something to do but also size myself up to the rest of the competition. I decided to get to know them versus trying to draw out a resume just to see if there would be a ton of arrogance to wade through as I had envisioned earlier. Luckily, most people were really nice and down to earth. There was no one I spoke to who gave me the "I MUST MAKE BLUE MAN GROUP. IT'S MY LIFE'S DREAM. I WILL STAB YOU IN THE THROAT IF YOU GET A SPOT AND I DON'T" vibe. There was a guy who kinda went down the path of giving me his resume but it seemed like it was a part of his personality versus him intentionally trying to psyche me out.

While waiting, I ran into a fellow actor who had the day before encouraged me to audition. It was great to see him because it gave me a little bit of solace to know that one of my colleagues was here to cheer me on and that he respected me enough to want to work with me in this arena. He informed me that there were three rounds to the day's audition process:

Round 1 - an interview
Round 2 - an acting evaluation
Round 3 - a drumming evaluation

He was already past the first two rounds and ready to do round 3. He seemed so calm and collected when speaking to him that my reaction was, "Dude, this guy has got it in the bag. He's not nervous at all!" He was in all kinds of productions around town for which I never thought I could be a part of due to personal commitments or lack of skill. It totally respect him not only on stage but off as well. To see him so centered and focused it made me feel like "Nelson, you've got a TON of work to do today." My attitude the entire time was more whimsical than anything. Don't read "whimsical" as "I don't care" but more of "Yes, this is important to me but I am not going to slit my wrists if I get cut (no pun intended)." He returned to his holding area as did I and I awaited to be called up.

Round 1 - The Interview
My name got called and I was happy to finally get on my way with the process. The auditor took my information and led me into the theatre space where there were two comfy chairs. The chairs were straight out of 1960s Bond film. They looked very expensive and inviting to sit in. My first thought was, "It's so nice to be in a theatre that actually has money." We sat down and I prepared myself for a lengthy interview.

The woman looked over my resume intently while nodding consistently and said, "Oh yeah. You can do this. You're good."

That was my interview.

She then came with "Well, I guess I should ask you something right. Uhm, you're currently working right?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Ok, well, we're going to move you onto the next round. It might be a little while before we have enough people to take you in a group for the acting audition, " she said politely. I was lead into the holding area for round two and saw most of the people I chatted up a storm with from the lobby in there.

Do Ask, Won't Tell
I don't want to divulge too many "secrets" here as to what the entire audition was like so I will speak about what we had to do in generalities without giving away any of the BMG methods. Needless to say, even if I was to share this information, it wouldn't really help. The BMG requirements far exceed what I'd be able to explain with my limited exposure and vocabulary. Everyone's internalization of the audition is truly unique. You'll need to just experience it yourself. So, for the rest of the blog(s), I'll be giving high-level descriptions of what they asked us to show them.

Round 2 - The Acting Audition
They took a group of 11 of us to another office just up the block from the theatre. Our auditors were Blue Men (both men and women) and welcomed us in. We sat around and got an overview of what the rest of the audition process would be like (I'll go into it later).

Each of us then individually performed a set of two exercises. They basically forced us to demonstrate our ability to be able to tell story with just our eyes and minimal body movement. It honestly was one of the most uncomfortable activities I've ever had to do. Take a way an actors usual tools to communicate and then ask them to perform in front of completely strangers. It is nerve-racking!

Overcoming the Teen Wolf Syndrome
Not to sound too crass but I don't get nervous at many of my auditions. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's bad. I went into round 2 not nervous at all, but half way through the first exercise I had never been so nervous in my life! At that precise moment the Teen Wolf Syndrome kicked in.

If you haven't seen Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox (MJF) in the starring role, go do so! During 90% of the movie, MJF's character Scott goes through growing pains in his social life after discovering he's inherited werewolf-ism from his father's side of the family. Scott uses his new found powers to excel at all kinds of tasks such as playing killer basketball, acting in school plays, moonlighting with the hottest girl in school, and performing awesome acrobatics on top of moving vans. With all of this new found power, Scott eventually learns that he's got to us his powers at appropriate times and to focus on the people who really care about him. He decides to play the championship basketball game in human form and forgo the "guarantee" his werewolf form would give the school. It's an unpopular decision but Scott sticks to his decision which forces the other players to work at a team. They get to final seconds of the game and are basically tied when Scott gets fouled. He goes to the free throw line and gets two free throws to take. He needs to make one to win the title. He shoots the first free throw and misses. The crowd is in a frenzy and Scott lines himself up for the second shot. Now this is where the syndrome occurs. As Scott begins bouncing the ball, the entire world goes into slow motion...and Scott magically also goes deaf. All of the crowd noise dissipates and the only thing Scott can hear is the bouncing of the ball and his heart beat. That is EXACTLY what happened to me in the middle of my audition!

As I was telling the first story with my eyes, all of the noise in the room went away. All I could hear was my heartbeat and my thoughts. At that point I had made the realization, "HOLY SH*T! I'M FREAKING THE F*CK OUT! WHAT DO I DO? WHAT DO I DO?! OH MY GAWD! THIS IS AWFUL! " I can feel myself getting hot and starting to break a sweat. Because of the eye expressions and my nervousness, I went partially blind as my contact were drying out. The world went blurry on me. The whole experience was starting to crash in on me. The only thing I could do was think, "CALM DOWN. BREATHE! JUST BREATHE!" So I began breathing heavily and patiently and completed the piece as calmly as possible.

When I sat down to watch my peers go up, my mind was blown. This isn't a bragging point (or maybe it is....I don't know) but I hardly get nervous at auditions. It's not because I am the best actor or that I feel i've got the job on lock but rather I want to have fun at my auditions as much as possible. By having fun, the pressure is reduced. I still take my auditions very seriously but getting nervous doesn't really help anyone. The judges want you to do well in an audition and are really cheering for you. Why not join your own team by having fun? Having been so nervous in this audition at that point was incredibly foreign and alien. Just minutes before I was cracking jokes and chatting up a storm with my peers without a care in the world. At this point, I'm torn to pieces and incredibly insecure about what I just did for the judges. Apparently I wanted this thing more than I ever realized.

We finished our sets and the judges went back to confer with each other. It felt like we just made the first round after the golden-ticket phase of American Idol where they put all of the kids into different rooms and everyone waits with baited breath for the results. We sat there for probably 7 minutes but it felt like an hour. At that point, they came back and thanked everyone for their audition. Only three of us moved onto round 3. Fawk. That's hardcore! And I made the cut!

Round 3 - The Drumming Audition
We left the building and were told to return to the holding area in the theatre. After paying my parking meter, I walked into the theatre while one of my peers was performing with a Blue Man drum instructor on the Brair Street Theatre stage. Shortly I was called up to head up on stage.

The drum instructor asked me about my drumming experience and I told him that basically I had been involved in various bands, had been in marching bands, had drummed in musicals, and marched in a drum corps. I had to remind him that I wouldn't actually consider myself a drummer but have some basic skills.

They set up two practice pads where we could face each other and play. We started off playing straight eighth notes on the pad together and he asked that we make our drumming sound the same. Mind you the other drumming auditions I had eavesdropped on ran anywhere from 7-10 minutes so I was already prepared to have to pull unknown skills out of my arse as I figured they would run me through my paces for that amount of time. After roughly 7 seconds of drumming he began nodding and saying ,"Yeah...good...alright, you've got it." He stopped and then softly said, "Let's get into the more complex stuff." I was like "Wow. Ok!"

He then began doing various syncopated accents that he wanted me to follow. I picked those up really quickly. Once we got into a groove, he and I would mirror each other instinctively. It harkened back heavily to what I felt like doing during my drum corps days of "gacking" with the drum line during down time to learn their cadences and get a sense of what it was like to be in the line during a show. I could tell he really responded well to my actions and we ended up riffing off each other a little bit and getting into poly-rhythm work. I was especially proud of the moment when we both decided end the jam together with a unified rim-shot at the end just like most drum lines do. That to me was the sign I nailed that part of the audition.

And Now We Wait
I was then finish for the day. I has no idea if I was going to get a callback. I went to my favorite restaurant Uncle Julio's Hacienda for a celebratory meal and then started heading back home. My mind was on auto-pilot the entire time as I needed time to decompress from the experience. As I'm on the road chatting up with one of my theatre members, I receive a text message. I think I got a callback for the next day. I basically ignored what my buddy was talking about for about 10 seconds while I carefully double checked what it said. Yep. I definitely got a callback! I then exclaimed into the phone, "Dude, I think I just got a Blue Man callback!" followed by a ton of apologies for completely ignoring him and the conversation.

Day 1 was a crazy experience. It only got crazier when I got home. I'll detail it in Part II.