Let me be correct. It's U/RTA- University/Resident Theatre Association. It's what I had heard about. It was my shot. I had to apply. What the fuck was a nomination? I had to have someone nominate me to audition?? Oh God, what was I getting myself into? Most kids who audition are coming straight from undergrad. A professor nominates them and says they're good enough to be seen at the auditions. OK. Well, I haven't been in school for 12 years so my nominator was none other than Doug, my friend who is in my improv group Veal. Good enough? Good. If they're going to ask for something silly, they'll get a silly response. This was the very first incident of many that I realized I felt I was a little over the system and just wanted to audition. I had been doing it professionally for 12 years, had my EQUITY and AFTRA cards and just needed to be seen. Let me fight for it then. Thank God I got an audition slot! If I hadn't, someone would have probably been shot.
The next step was doing what any professional does: stand out from the rest. I got new headshots, put together a nicer resume, and sent a letter to every single school that was auditioning at U/RTA and introduced myself and hope to play the "here's my resume, I'm a good actor, let's get to the interview and see if we're a good match". It actually worked with a couple of schools. Very non-New York. The next step was putting together my audition. Not going to make the same mistake twice and prepared a Shakespeare piece. How did I decide which piece? My friend Alexis asked me what I was considering, I told her a few different roles: Iago, Cassius, and someone else and she said, "Go with Cassius, you could play that role immediately". And that's how I picked my monologue to try to get me into grad school and start my life. Who said I wasn't strong in my shakespeare?!? She was right. I picked a hell of a piece. My contemporary was more of a struggle. There was a piece I had been doing that I performed really well, but there was something that was missing. Then it came to me. I had to do my Steve monologue. A piece I had written for OSU and became part of me. It showed my sense of humor, comic timing, honesty, and who I was as a person. All the literature said "DON'T DO A PIECE YOU WROTE YOURSELF". woops. Again, felt like I know something they didn't.
I picked one of my true friends and best directors I've worked with, Ken Kimmins. He's directed me and has always been able to pull things from me and know things about me that has helped me out. Then there was the damn time limit. 3 minutes to introduce yourself, the pieces, and do them. The first time we timed it was 3:45. Ok, we should make some cuts. Besides the technical side of the audition, we spent so much time just talking about the pieces, and the philosophy behind certain characters, and being creative artists for the first time in a long time, and it was a time that i actually missed being an actor. Take away all the business bullshit, the love of the art is what is missing in this city, but we'll get to all that later.
Hours of rehearsal for 3 minutes. These are the equations that make me hate this job. But I was ready and felt the same way I had felt about everything else leading up to this and OSU. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. If I'm not supposed to be at a school, it won't happen. And thank God I held on to that belief.
My audition was around 12:45 and we had an orientation at 12. So I'm thinking someone will just remind us of the logistics and I'll have about 30 minutes to get ready. It was at this time I almost just walked out of the building. We had to do a screening audition in order to be seen by the schools the next day. Ok, so one bad audition and you're done. Like playing a bad game during March madness, you're going home if you don't step up to the plate. We're at Crown Plaza in Times Square and there's about 40 of us in the room. The lady who was leading the orientation was making me never want to go to grad school or be an actor. I understand that I'm older, some of these kids were seniors in college, and most people don't follow directions well. But this lady talked for about 30 minutes about how to audition, who you should be looking at, to use your voice, the idea of grad school, reiterating EVERYTHING in the manual, telling you how you should eat between meetings, don't go to mcdonalds, see a show, etc and my head was going to explode. If you have been "nominated" to audition here, these BASIC rules of auditioning should be drilled in your body. And if you're going to grad school, these are things you should have known 6 years ago. But here I am, listening to this 20 minutes before I have to perform.
Finally, she gets done and I go to my room, audition, felt good, and left. That's it. That's auditioning. 3 minute. In and out. Thank you. I left it in the room.
So........... I have to come back a couple hours later and get my results to see if I'm auditioning for the schools and now we're in the same room but the numbers have doubled. And here comes the woman again. For the next 30 minutes (as she's holding the results sheets in her hand) she explains to us, in detail, success stories from past U/RTA auditions, why the schools might not like you, don't take it too hard, how to come back next year better, what we should do at our callbacks, specific things schools are looking for when they audition you, etc and again....... my head is going to fucking explode. After her drama club speech, we received our results.
I passed! yay! We have orientation tomorrow morning and my callback is at 10 am. Thanks.
The next morning we go to New World Stages and meet as a group. Thank God, we have a new leader. He comes in, tells us the logistics, and we then go into the theater and get to look around. We walk on the stage. I go out into the audience to see what they'll see, and what I see is this: Boys doing acoustic checks with their voices and looking up. Crazy noises from mouths. Acting, and I mean ACTING of monologues. Wow. I am old. Save your energy people. Focus. Find your objective and just go after it in the most natural way. thats it.
When my time came, I went in, did my monologues. That's it. Thank you. 3 minutes. Done.
Should I have checked to see where the acoustic sweet spots were before? nah.
Back to the Crown Plaza. Oh God, here she is again!! Now we're getting the reasons schools might not call us back and what to do with that information. Again, more success stories from years past. STOP TALKING STOP TALKING AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, after all my work, letters, calls, coachings, research, years of acting in NY, who called me back? UNLV, Roosevelt, Purdue, and Maryland. Shit. what about the Texas, Cal U, Florida, Florida State, Northern Illionois, Indiana??? Wait, what did that woman say about why a school might not like you? And what the fuck was Roosevelt?
My first callback was at Maryland. As I sat down, they said they received my pic and resume and wanted to know what it was about their program that interested me so much. i couldn't answer truthfully. "Actually, nothing. I sent those to every school so that I could spark interest and hopefully get an interview." I didn't get a good vibe from the recruiters and it went really downhill when the question was "Who are you Jason?" I answered "The perfect boyfriend". "No, don't be funny. answer truthfully." Oh God, these must be the nominators for the Academy Awards. Comedies can never be considered Best Pictures! To be funny is not acting. Just like in college when Theo, Ian, and I did funk and rock 'n' roll and weren't considered music majorly enough. Then she came out with a doozy "I see you've done mainstream theater, but what's your interest in experimental theater?" Oh god, I can visualize this program now. 'We are going to crawl, moan, cry, and pound our chest, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is acting'. When they said I'd need to come down to the campus for a final callback, I realized it just wasn't meant to be.
Roosevelt wasn't really a callback. They invited everyone and just explained the program. I liked it a lot, but I think I would have gone broke living in Chicago with no income.
Purdue was pretty average but I couldn't imagine living in Northern Indiana in the middle of nowhere. That would have been tough on Jess.
Then UNLV. Perfect. I had been looking at the program for awhile now. Perfect location. Such a laid back interview. The guys were great. The recruiter had gone to school with my theater head from undergrad. The program was laid back, very physical based, good money. The conversation led to all areas that i liked. We went past our 15 minutes and I left thinking "I need to get an apartment in Vegas, I'll be living close to my friends, Jess should be ok out there, and it'll be warm!"
First offers would be made Feb 15th, what a birthday present! I called my friends in Vegas, let people know that this might be happening, and started visualizing myself there. I contacted the current students at UNLV and got feedback on the program from them. Seemed like the same things were said by all of them. What was most suprising was how diverse the background of the class was. It seemed like these kids weren't even serious about grad school when they were accepted and their theater background was sometimes minimal. This was such great news to me because how could they pass me up? I'd be perfect for them!
Well, my birthday came and went. The next few days went by. Oh my God, it's happening again. I sent an email to my contact and received "We made first offers, we can't move on until we hear back from them, but you're still in the running". The horror! The horror! All I wanted to do was go to grad school and get my MFA. Why is this the hardest thing in the world?!?!?