Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"DON'T" You Dare!!

When I was in college, there was a class all us freshmen musical theater majors were required to take, specifically designed to address the intricate process of auditioning for a musical. The first few weeks were devoted primarily to picking the perfect audition song, or more accurately, eliminating all of the ones which were considered "forbidden." There were even several categories in which to place the many "DON'T" songs. It's been a few years, but I think I can still remember the majority of them:

*DON'T pick a "signature song." Signature songs are those performed so expertly by celebrities, you should never, EVER attempt to do them yourself. These songs include, but are not limited to, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Judy Garland), "People," (Barbara Streisand), and "New York, New York" (Frank Sinatra). The premise is that these legends have made the songs their own, thereby making your auditioner recall the celebrity, not you, when you attempt to perform them. Our professor told us that unless we felt we were better singers than Barbara, Judy, and Frank, we'd best leave those songs be.

*DON'T pick a "list song." A list song is pretty much what it sounds like, one that doesn't really contain any character progression, just "lists things." For example, here are the lyrics to "You're the Top" by Cole Porter, a classic "lister:"

"You're the Top, you're the Coliseum.
You're the Top, you're the Louvre Museum.
You're a melody in a symphony by Strauss.
You're a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare's sonnet,
You're Mickey Mouse..."

You get the idea, lots of items, but the singer doesn't actually get to express the character's FEELINGS. Our professor stressed that it is imperative that your feelings are expressed when auditioning, so list songs were definitely OUT!

*DON'T pick any songs from the hit show currently running on Broadway. This is audition suicide, our instructor noted, only because EVERYONE will be singing them. This will cause your auditioner, after hearing the same song sung for the 800th time that day, to go slightly insane when you begin YOUR version. Therefore, the chances of him wanting to hurt and/or kill you are extremely high. If you are injured or dead, this greatly reduces the possibility of your being cast in the show for which you are auditioning. So, DON'T!

*DON'T pick a song that is out of your age group or gender type. You wouldn't want to embarrass yourself by singing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" if you're a fifty year old man, nor "Old Man River" if you're white, sixteen, and female. You get the idea.

*DON'T pick a song different from the style of show in which you are trying to get cast. For instance, if you're trying out for a role in the 60's rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar," you probably don't what to sing a selection from Roger's and Hammerstein's plucky 1940's western, "Oklahoma."

There were others, I'm sure, but this is all I can recall off the top of my head. Pretty impressive list, huh? By the end of a few weeks, we students had a pretty clear understanding of what NOT to sing.

Here's the problem, there was nothing left on the "DO" list. Literally, nothing. Every tune we considered would inevitably fall into at least ONE of the above specified, forbidden categories. So, with no other options, we chose them anyway, usually adding something like, "Well, it's a 'list song,' but I guess it won't be TOO offensive." My self-confidence was pretty crushed. Where I used to walk confidently into the audition room, blissful in my ignorance of the horrific audition faux pas I was committing, now I approached my "mark" apologetically, armed with the knowledge that my performance was fatally flawed.

So, that in mind, here I sit with my many "How to Write" books, trying to learn about this new world in which I have just, so far, dipped my toe. I see a whole lot of "DON'Ts" staring back at me: DON'T write a memoir, everybody does that. The market is saturated. Your manuscript will get lost in the piles already written that contain the same. DON'T try to publish a book of short stories about your life. David Sedaris already did it -- well. Why should you try to compete, do you actually think you can compete? And so on.

I'm not naive. I know the amount I have to learn about the craft and business of writing would fill (excuse the pun) VOLUMES of books. But I've got to tell you, I worry about my "creative soul" a tiny bit. I mourn what that professor did to my innocent, inspired audition confidence. I never got it back. I don't want that to happen again.

I begin my first writing class this thursday. While I'm both excited about this new beginning and hopeful for the knowledge I will obtain, I'm also just a tad wary. But, on the other hand, there's a noticeable difference between that nineteen year old musical theater major and the middle-aged, battle-scarred, cancer-fighting, divorce survivor I am today. I've become a little more protective of this sensitive soul of mine, and I've gotten pretty good at defending it. I don't respond to "DON'Ts" quite the same as I used to.

So, I'm amending my class preparedness procedure just a bit this week. Along with my spiral notebook, my #2 pencil, and my cool new Trapper Keeper, I'm also packing a large mental filter. I will work hard to absorb the helpful lessons that will make me better, but I will immediately release any attempts at promoting self-doubt or unworthiness and let them fall right through that filter, straight to the floor. Then, I'll sweep them away with the other garbage...

Thanks for Reading!!


exskindiver said...

Hi Joan.
You are a very entertaining writer...taking this writing class will kick you right OUT of the league of blogosphere writers...(wink)
As signature songs go,
mine is "I've Never Been to Me" by Charlene.
Really cheesy--no one else sings it because of just how cheesy...
makes the person you are auditioning for VERY UNCOMFORTABLE.
I did not realize you were a divorce survivor.
Your present husband Alan sounds like an amazing man (I mean, doing the laundry, and folding it too???!!)
Survivor does not do that justice. How about Marriage Upgrader?
Glad your lymphoma is under control...

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Oh. My. Gosh..."Marriage Upgrader?" I LOOOOOVVVVE it!!! I'm TOTALLY blogging about that!! Thanks, Chesca, for your kind words. I can't tell you how much they mean to me. (Also, Alan really IS too good to be true, he was DEFINITELY worth the upgrade!!)

See you in the blogosphere!!

Anonymous said...

Can't tell you how much I appreciate this one, Joan. So much of life seems to be people in (say it in a low and officious voice) authority providing you with not only a long list of what YOU shouldn't do, but what YOU'RE doing wrong RIGHT NOW. Holy mother of .....

Anyway, I say listen well to the experts and reject everything that isn't pure Joan! Then let me know what it was and I'll join in you in saying "who the eff do they think they are?!"


Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Stasha, you have NO idea how fantastic it feels knowing I have have someone as KICK ASS as you watching my back!! Thanks. BTW, when you join me, can we also get wine? xo

Daisymum said...

Enjoy the class!!!!I took a writing class in college and I am still working on my writing. I think I will always be a work in progress. I just don't spend enough time on it. However I do recomend the book The Artist Way. When I actualy spend time writing, this book has helped.I think you will do just fine. I enjoy reading your blog!!! It is nice to read about other subjects besides Yarn!!!

Unknown said...

Great job, Joan! I have such high hopes for that class. Have a ball, savour the "meat" and spit out the "bones."

JenTaft said...

That's what makes you a better learner in your 40's than in your 20's. Educators refer to that as your schema (one of my favorie words), or your life experiences that you bring to the table.

Try not to intimidate the other students in the class with your remarkable writing ability. You will defiitely create envy with your ability to create vivid mental images (another favorite phrase)and pull your reader into your piece.

Dana said...

JenTaft is right on--"definitely create envy". I continue to love reading what you write...and can't wait for that memoir, or book of short stories about your life, or the next blog!! :D

Bill said...

Interesting list of Don'ts there. I agree about signature songs. I've noticed that ever since Pavarotti in 1990, every tenor has to have a crack at Nessun Dorma, just to prove he can.

By the way, I've 'tagged' you:

rxBambi said...

I'm interested to hear what some of the do's are in your class. be sure to post on it!

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