Attire: Burgundy top, black blazer, jeans.
Hair: Up. Greasy. (Auditioning unexpectedly or would have washed and styled).
Audition Experience: I walk in. The client is sitting behind a table. He has glasses and he doesn’t smile. When I was a child I was afraid of men with glasses and mustaches. I attempt to circumnavigate fear of this man as childhood habits creep back. He tells me to improv a pep-talk to a down-trodden employee. This shouldn’t be hard because I’ve often been a down-trodden employee and I know exactly what I’d like to hear. I improv something, but it feels flat. I don’t even remember what I say … something about a Panda not arriving for Christmas. I think I told the “down-trodden” employee to take a break and get a glass of wine. Totally unprofessional. Is this supposed to be funny or professional? I think I failed at both. He lets me do it again. I mention Pandas again. What is my problem? One just died – am I that insensitive? Get a grip, Stambaugh. He hands me a couple of pieces of paper. Sides. He tells me to take a moment to read through them, so the reading won’t be completely cold. Still, I have no idea what these sides are from. He doesn’t tell me. This girl seems to be annoyed that her … boyfriend? Sure, let’s make him her boyfriend. She’s mad her boyfriend interrupted her dinner with her family … or her friends? I don’t know. Family – that raises the stakes a bit. OK. Boyfriend interrupting a family outing. Unacceptable. And … go. I over act it. In school, they called this schmacting. There’s nothing real about what I do. I sound like Hilary Duff when she whines her way through Lizzi McGuire. I let Meryl down today … that’s my inner acting spirit. Yeah, I named her. What?
Audition Grade: I give myself a D. It just wasn’t great. And it wasn’t funny.
Reward Beverage: Venti Mocha Frappacino with whipped cream and caramel sauce. What?
Attire: Black t-shirt, black pants
Hair: Down and wavy.
Audition Experience: I walk in. I slate my name (“I’m Jana Stambaugh,” I smile as though saying my name into a camera is as much fun as riding Space Mountain at Disneyland. It’s not. I don’t care what any other actor tells you. It feels stupid). Then they give me a ton of directions. Something about looking over my shoulder with my phone by my ear and dropping an envelope off like a spy. Is that a common spy maneuver? Do they want James Bond face? What would that mean, Jana? My face always defaults into “Blue Steel.” And I call myself an actor. OK, so I look over my shoulder. I’m shaking as I bring my phone up to my ear. I’m supposed to be a poised spy. Breathe, Jana. Oh right – the breath. I inhale. Now exhale, Jana. Good Lord … I actually don’t know what to do with my hands! Is that how they wanted me to “drop off” the envelope? That felt like Molly Shannon in Super Star. Super Klutz. I enter the frame again (that means the camera can see me and I’m in the shot) with a stapler they told me to use as a gun. I mean, I have shot a gun off an aircraft carrier (military dad). The military dude told me to fire off six rounds (as if an 11-year-old civilian would have any idea what that means). I think I fired off 20. I fire off about four rounds with the stapler and run out of the shot. They tell me it was good. Was it? I’m sweating and all that motion happened within about six square feet. I wipe my sweaty face on my pants. Yes, this looks as awkward as it sounds. I ask if I can do it again. They say no. They tell me it was fine.
Audition Grade: B- for surviving and doing a “good” job
Reward Beverage: Skinny Vanilla Latte
Attire: Sweater Dress
Role: Real Housewife
Audition Experience: I walk into the casting office. I have to sign my name. I’m 12 minutes early. “Did you bring a dress to change into?” The casting agent asks. “No …” I’m wearing a sweater dress. “Oh,” the casting director says with a little too much tude. “Sorry?” I inquire. “Did you read the email?” She sounds condescending. “Yes.” “Well, then you would have noticed it said to dress appropriate for the role.” “Right …” “So you should wear a cocktail dress for something like this next time.” I step back to show her what I’m wearing. She gives me a glance over and tries to stifle a grimace. I look down. It’s a teal sweater dress, cut well on top to show off my collar bone. I see my dog’s fur clumped and clinging to the fabric. Ugh … I couldn’t get her to go outside on my way out of the house and had to pick her up … the casting director looks me in the eyes. “I don’t know what to do … should I go home and change?” I ask her. “Don’t let it throw you,” she suggests. Well, thanks, snob face … Easy now that you’ve made me feel like I have the worth of a Fagin’s Boy from Oliver Twist. I walk into the holding room. All of these girls are dressed to the nines. We’re talking high heels, cocktail dresses, housewife florals and pencil skirts. This is sexy. I catch myself in the mirror. How did I manage to show up looking like a cat lady’s favorite kind of frumpy. I take a deep breath. “Jana? We’re ready for you now.” I enter the room. It’s blue. It projects my downcast mood and the potential to cry drive home. Cry drive is when I spend my car journey crying so hard and fast I can’t see straight. It’s really safe. I slate my name (“I’m Jana Stambaugh”). I do the action described in the email. I enter on the arm of an invisible husband… so I’m essentially holding the air with my hands to my right, pretending I’m attached to a stunning man (I’m picturing Ryan Gosling today – Hey Girl). I wave to other people at the party (also invisible). I imagine Bree Van de Kamp waving back. She’s my favorite Desperate Housewife after all. My mentor and my inspiration. I change faces from pleasant to maniacal. I laugh evilly into the camera and run my hands (supposedly streaked in blood) through my hair, having just killed my Ryan Gosling-replica husband. The casting director says, “great” and asks me to laugh and stroke my hair again. I do so, a little more sickeningly sweet this time. “Good. Thank you.” I leave feeling more confident than I came in. The casting director watches me leave, smiling. Good sign, right? What does that casting agent know about dresses anyway? “Do you have any more blondes?” I hear the casting director ask. I sigh. Not good enough.
Audition Grade: C. I was inappropriately dressed and it made me uncomfortable. I let it affect my attitude and demeanor. After the blonde request, I realized even my hair didn’t do me justice today. Not so great.
Reward Beverage: Black coffee. I don’t deserve cream.
Attire: Lacy cream dress
Role: Shakespeare Ingenue
Audition Experience: I get out of my car in the parking lot. I see another actor entering the building. “Hey, I know you,” she calls. I hate seeing my competition. Especially when I know them personally. It means the minutes and seconds before the audition – minutes and seconds that should be spent focusing – are spent pretending I’m so glad to see the person who could potentially be cast instead of me. It feels fake and yet we hug as though it’s pleasant and we are so pleased the other is there. We ask about other projects, other auditions. We tell each other about mutual friends and their projects and their auditions. Then we confirm that I need to go because my audition slot is coming up and hers isn’t because she “got here early.” She says this as though she won a best actor contest … whatever. I enter the audition hall and they immediately ask me a ton of questions. “How are you? What project are you working on? … Oooh, I see you’ve done The Tempest. … Oooh, you played Kitty. I see it now. I get it.” This woman is more doped up on caffeine than I am. I’m nervous. I’m standing too close to her. It feels weird. I want to stand back, but then I’ll just be standing in the middle of the room with nothing to lean on and I’ll look exposed. Like I’m on display. It’s hard enough being displayed on stage sometimes. In real life, I try to avoid it as much as possible. I ask her about her concept for the play she’s chosen to direct. It sounds high tech and modern. It may even make the Bard roll over in his grave, but what do I know? If my work is performed 400 years from now, I hope people allow it to be relevant to the time while still respecting the gorgeous text I’ve managed to create. Does this audition log count? Doubtful. I do two Shakespeare pieces. They contrast. One comedic. No one laughs until I get to the end and make a face … but that had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s text. Helloooo did they hear anything I said? I do the second piece. Serious. I can see the green carpet in my peripheral vision. It makes me think of warm tropical water. I wish I was in Hawaii right now … Jana, you’re doing a monologue. I finish it. I don’t remember what I did or said. The actor black out. I’m told it’s good to not remember an audition. It means I was in the moment … or in Hawaii … I mean, whatever. They don’t look very impressed. “Thank you so much, Jana.” They say that a little too enthusiastically. I exit feeling a little stupid. I was performing Shakespeare right? I honestly don’t know. It’s not like I’ll wake up tomorrow and everyone will tell me the crazy things I did the night before. The actor black out doesn’t happen in front of friendly witnesses. I’ll never know what happened in that room.
Audition Grade: B+. I mean, I don’t remember what happened. Must have been decent.
Reward Beverage: Coffee and cream.
Attire: Black blouse, black blazer and skinny jeans (they look good today).
Hair: Curled and Ab Fab
Role: Average Weight Dieter (What?)
Audition Experience: I sit in a room with 20 women. They’re all older and pretty fat. I look really young and skinny in comparison. Holla. The casting director comes out to collect us one by one. Every time he comes out, I catch his eye. I am the young, skinny one in the crowd after all. When it’s my turn, I’m instructed to sit in a chair, push the chair back with my feet as though I’m pushing myself back from a table, stand and stare at where the table and my cheeseburger would be and give a look that says, “I’ve conquered it. I haven’t eaten it.” He explains to me that this is a love-hate relationship, though, and I need to take my time with it. He tells me “action” (so movie making). I push my chair back and I stand up, staring down at where that gorgeous Big Mac sits invisibly taunting me. I pause, looking at it, before I nod in satisfied confirmation that I don’t need that burger anymore. I’ve found the diet plan that works for me and I exit the camera frame. “Good,” the casting director seems pleased. He has me do it again. And again. I think he likes that I take my time, lingering over the mouth watering ground beef and cheese between a bun that radiates through my imagination. When I’m finished, he walks me out and tells me, “That was very well done.” Could it be I was successful at lusting for a cheeseburger and he thought so, too? Total win.
Audition Grade: A. I needed this.
Reward Beverage: Coffee with cream sugar-free hazelnut syrup. My favorite.
Jana (it rhymes with “banana” or “anna”) is an artist from Clarksville, Maryland. Growing up her parents always told her to “be whatever you want to be.” Seeing as she has come from three generations of doctors, she obviously became an artist. As an actor, she has performed internationally Off-Broadway, and locally to the Baltimore/DC area. Favorite roles include Juliet, Ariel, and Caliban. Jana is the Founder of Red Connect Online, a social media marketing company that creates customized advertising campaigns for small businesses. You can listen to her podcast, Confessions of a Closet Christian, on the E-Squared Media Network. You can also follow her on Twitter (@Jana_Stambaugh) and friend her on Facebook.