In an exclusive column, Broadway performer John Carroll takes Advocate readers behind the scenes of Lincoln Center Theater's hotly anticipated musical production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is finally in the Belasco Theatre, our newly renovated home away from home. It's hard to express the emotions that came over me walking into the theater, onto the stage for the first time. It's been a long road, and I've finally made it to a rather wonderful destination — 111 W. 44th St., to be exact.
I started settling into my dressing room and I got to meet the stage crew, the group of people who will be the backbone of this production. I got to meet the man at the stage door, the man who will shield me from the endless hordes of screaming fans after the show ... cricket ... cricket. I'm figuring out where the closest coffee shop is and which streets are best to travel to beat the wall of tourists that creates gridlock in Times Square. It's a lot of new things to consider, and they are all welcome.
We are officially in tech rehearsals. This is the time when all the technical aspects of the show — sound, lighting, sets, etc. — are worked out and rehearsed. A whole other layer of magic is added to the show. While it can be a slow, arduous process, when it's done, the show is that much more complete. This time really isn't for the performers. We have had the luxury of weeks in the rehearsal studio figuring out our part in this show. However, it is now time to be patient and give the show's other elements their time. The technical side of WOTV is stunning. We have four treadmills, spanning the width of the stage, used to transport sets and performers. There are people literally hanging from the rafters and some of the most beautiful, crystal-clear projections that will make you feel you are in the outlandish world of Pedro Almodóvar.
Let's face it, I'm extremely grateful. It's easy to forget how it is when you're not working. How frustrating it is to audition for job after job, casting a wide net yet catching nothing. At times you question your talent, you question your training, your life choices, and sometimes even that second helping of macaroni and cheese that you really wanted but knew you shouldn't have had because the lactose always makes your stomach ... but I digress. Then, just when it feels too much to bear, you land that big job and suddenly you've been chosen. You are no longer on what feels like the island of misfit toys. I never want to forget what it's like to fight for that next job. It keeps me focused. It keeps me humble.
I've auditioned for and landed some pretty interesting jobs in between my more "prestigious" theater gigs. I’ve bartended in my underwear, danced for the Mouse in Orlando, Fla., while holding a five-foot-tall spoon, prancing around in candy-striped tights and a chef’s hat, next to a gigantic singing teapot in a flame-retardant costume, outside in the 100-degree-plus heat ... but again, I digress.
I once auditioned for an overseas company that was launching a new line of chocolate. They wanted to re-create a Broadway audition in a commercial to help sell their product. Now, what a Broadway audition has to do with chocolate is beyond me.
At the actual audition we were given choreography to dance in front of the director and the rest of the "powers that be" in this teeny-tiny cramped room. Since the director didn't speak English, there was an interpreter giving us, the dancers, direction. After we performed the dance combination, we were informed that some of the dancers that actually book the job might have to speak on camera. In order for them to see our acting chops, they asked us to improv. To improv is to spontaneously make up material on the spot to perform. The word alone gives me agonizing lower intestinal pains. So they pulled out two girls from my group and told them their improvisational scene is that they are at an audition and a very famous icon (who will be in the actual commercial!) walks into the room to audition along with them. Now, I'm sure you are wondering, Who is this famous icon they will be working with? Mariah Carey? No. Céline Dion? Not so much. Madonna? Dream on. The "icon" is Hello Kitty. Hello f---ing Kitty. Camera on and go!
These girls didn't know what to do. They were like, "Oh, my God, look it's Hello Kitty, she looks so ... young." "Hello Kitty, I always wanted to meet her." "My, what a great dancer that ... cat is." I was dying on the inside. My stomach was churning like Land O'Lakes, as I thought I might be called on next. The kicker is, the girls were abruptly interrupted by the man interpreting for the director and told that their acting was "over-the-top" and "completely unbelievable." Unbelievable? How does one make running into a cartoon at an audition believable? That would be like waiting in the boardroom for a meeting to start and having Betty Boop walk into the room.
In the end I booked the job. I got to work with Hello Kitty. I am happy to report that the cartoon looks much prettier in person, doesn't shed as much as I had anticipated, and should be applauded for her tireless philanthropic work combating feline AIDS.
I'm blessed to be working right now and to be involved in something I believe in. In life there is an ebb and flow to everything. As an artist, I really feel the surge of those waves. Sometimes your show runs "now and forever" like Cats and sometimes you don't even make it to opening night. It's nice to be able to take a break from the rat race, at least for now. Before you know it, I'll be chasing that cheese once again.