Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Male Diva

Patrick and I have done several shows together over the years. It's rare that we actually get to act opposite each other; often our characters are peripheral to one another. But it's still a great bonding experience to be able to commiserate over the daily grind of rehearsals, our reflections of the casting choices, the idiosyncrasies of this director compared to others we've had, etc. That's the perks. I've dragged Patrick to many an audition based on that feeling.

On the other hand, there's the irrefutable fact that this is Atlanta, not New York. There are about 20 girls to every guy at most auditions I go to. Of course it's rare that a female and a male will be in direct competition for the same part, but the odds of getting cast - at all - are decidedly in a boy's favor..almost regardless of talent.

This is particularly true, or at least particularly irritating to me personally, when it comes to musicals. I love my husband very much and think he has quite a gift. But out of the two of us, I am the much better singer and dancer. This isn't bluster; Patrick would tell you the same thing, as would most of our mutual friends. Moreover, while the thought of singing and dancing fills me with joy and anticipation, it fills Patrick with chagrin and nervousness bordering on panic. (The same way I feel when asked to do improv, a skill at which Patrick shines. So you see, we're evenly matched). That situation is hardly unusual. There's many a girl who's felt the disappointment of a rejection email only to discover later that half the boys in the show didn't even have to audition.

But how many of those girls are married to one?

I recall a situation like this a few years ago when Patrick and I auditioned for The Fantastiks. He learned about the audition from me, and I more or less dragged him there. I painstakingly chose a piece from my thick songbook that I thought matched the tone and musicality of the role I was trying to portray. Patrick's audition song repertoire consists of Cole Porter's "You're the Top" and "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz. And since he can't read music or sing with a piano, he only sings those two accapella. I wasn't cast and Patrick got the lead, and I was genuinely happy for him. Then I found out later that the director had acknowledged Patrick's lack of vocal prowess, but cast him planning to teach him to sing during the course of rehearsals. When the theatre went bust before rehearsals started, I felt terrible for Patrick, who had really been looking forward to the role. But secretly, I couldn't help feeling a little vindicated.

I've never had trouble being simultaneously happy for Patrick's victories and sad for my disappointments. So when Patrick was cast in a principal role in our latest show, while I was relegated (once again) to an ensemble role, I had a good laugh and an eyeroll over the situation and gave him a big congratulatory kiss. But later that day, Patrick mentioned offhand that he would never have accepted an ensemble role; that in fact it was his policy to only play leads because playing in the ensemble is a waste of time.


I hope you'll be forgiving and understanding, reader, when I tell you that I flew off the handle just a little bit. I thought it was pretty rich, coming from someone who isn't good at singing and dancing, who doesn't even like it, to insist on lead roles. And as a husband, he would have done well to remember that his wife plays ensemble roles constantly. It's very condescending to say that ensemble work is not worth the time and effort it would take when I am giving that very time and effort--in the same show! Not all of us have the luxury of playing only lead roles; if I waited around for only big parts I wouldn't get to act nearly as often. Patrick has this luxury, essentially because he is a good looking man who knows his way around a stage. And it has gone to his head.

I know it sounds like I'm picking on poor Patrick, but I'm merely using him as an illustration. I know for a fact this is not a unique thought pattern. Unfortunately for him, being used as an example is another side effect of being part of a show biz couple...particularly one who blogs.

I have to wonder, what kind of male actor are we encouraging here in Atlanta, when he doesn't have to audition, it's not important whether he can sing or dance or act, as long as you carry the Y chromosome? And if by some chance you don't get accepted in a lead role, it's completely understandable and even admirable to reject a lesser role, and in some cases even drop out? You might think I'm exaggerating the situation a bit, but consider that in the show I'm currently rehearsing, every single one of the guys is playing a principal. There are no male ensemble members.

I constantly hear actors say that "not everybody can be the lead." Usually, it's coming from somebody who consistently gets cast in principal roles. Well, take it from someone who's had a share of both, that statement is true, and I would add to it, "thank goodness". Just as the show doesn't work without its stars, neither does it work with only stars. And there's no room for divas at all.