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One of my objectives for the past year has been to say “yes” to things when opportunities have come my way. By being open to new experiences, I figured life might take me in strange, funny, meaningful or otherwise unforeseen directions.
All of that has happened.
Perhaps the strangest and most amusing direction so far began unfolding last weekend. But let me back up first.
After I finished my commercial voiceover demo reel several months ago, I signed up for a couple services that help voice actors find jobs. One of them is an acting site called Backstage.com, the digital version of Backstage Magazine, which has been a bible for aspiring working actors for decades.
I created an acting profile with Backstage purely for voiceover work. I could think of nothing more anxiety-inducing than auditioning for — or worse yet, landing and having to perform — an acting role. (I haven’t had to learn lines and be on stage since I played George Gibbs in Our Town as a 9th grader at Foote School.)
In the ensuing weeks after creating my profile, I auditioned for a few voice acting gigs on Backstage and didn’t land anything. I let the trail there go cold and concentrated on finding work through a different website.
And then, a few weeks ago, I got an email to my Backstage account asking if I’d be interested in auditioning for something. Not a voice acting gig, mind you. This was a potential acting job. In front of people. In New Haven.
Naturally, as I found this whole thing both terrifying and humorous, I immediately said, “Yes.”
One point that made the invitation a little less terrifying was that I wouldn’t have to prepare anything in advance — the audition would be held on Zoom, and I would be playing a series of improv games with the other aspirants.
I wouldn’t have to learn a Hamlet soliloquy or a number from Guys and Dolls. So I could at least breathe a little easier.
On the morning of the audition, though, I was getting cold feet. I had been sick for a few days and wasn’t feeling energized enough to perform with a bunch of strangers. Or at least that’s what my brain said. My heart knew the truth though: I was afraid of embarrassing myself.
I considered emailing the casting director to say thanks but that I wasn’t up for it. But then I reminded myself that I had nothing to lose and only new experiences to gain. So there I was, right on time at noon, my face in a Zoom box alongside about 20 other actors.
For the next two hours, the casting director had us all perform various improv assignments, in groups of as many as five people and as few as two.
As it turns out, when two dozen actors — who don’t know each other and whose skill levels vary extremely widely — try to do improv together via video conference, the results are… well, you can probably guess. If not, here are the notes I took throughout the process (written through a cringy grin):
I immediately regret this.
This is so uncomfortable.
I want to quit.
So awkward + painful.
I want to die.
A few times, because of my own mortification and my embarrassment on behalf of other performers, I thought about just shutting my laptop and letting the whole thing go, never to be thought of again.
But the word “yes” kept coming back to me. So I gritted my teeth, smiled, and kept on playing when the next game rolled around, which required my colleagues and I to act like astronauts on Mars with our oxygen running out.
Ultimately, I made it to the end. The casting director thanked us for our time. Several people noted how much fun they had(!). And we said our goodbyes.
When I finally turned off my camera and assessed what had just happened, I could only laugh. I figured I wasn’t among the best performers nor was I among the worst. I was somewhere in the middle, and I thought that gave me a reasonable chance of making the cut.
Sure enough, two days later, I received a welcome email and a contract.
I don’t want to say too much about what this show is other than that it’s an immersive mystery experience for audience members. Performances are generally once a week on Saturday nights all year round.
I have no illusions that I was chosen based on the following three criteria:
Has a pulse.
Lives in New Haven.
Can at least somewhat improvise on cue.
But if that’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me. And I’ll gladly — if nervously — add yet another new experience to my list.
As my Grandpa Irving used to say, “Yes to everything.”