I’ve just come out of the audition for Madame Butterfly. I was cut in the first round, which is disappointing — I won’t even pretend that it’s not — but not particularly crushing. The thing about auditions like this is that they are such a long shot anyway. You don’t go in expecting to get the part, you know? It was a really good set of puppeteers and frankly, I didn’t show well.
So, what does an audition like this look like?
It was a little different from the last one. There were only a dozen of us, which is pretty amazing to start with. We were led up the elevator to what felt like the bowels of the Met but is actually the top floor. Totally feels like a basement, though. The last time, we’d been on a replica of the stage, with the actual set. This time was in a rehearsal room
The puppeteers all sort of stretch out while we’re waiting. This is part getting the body ready, part showing off flexibility, and part distracting oneself from nerves.
They started by just having us move around the room to get comfortable with the space and with each other. The goal with these moments is to see how well we move and also to start building teamwork. Since the puppet is worked by three operators, this is vital.
Once we’d warmed up, they started having us work the puppet in teams. The first team up was really good. I mean… frequently that is not the case, but they’d already narrowed the selection. I think all of us sort of internally went, “Oh, crap.” Or maybe that was just me.
Then the team rotates so that each person gets to try a different position on the puppet.
When my turn came, having watched the others, I volunteered to do the feet first. With the other teams, as they rotated, the puppet director had the puppet try faster things so the last person on the feet kept winding up running. I’m no dummy. I did not want to have to do that without practice.
I had fully expected the feet to be my worst position, because I have the wrong body type. Since the figure is direct manipulation and worked on the floor, this requires the puppeteer to hold the feet and work in a squatting posture. In the show, the puppet runs 60 feet down a raked stage. For this particular figure, you want short legs and a long torso so you can really stretch out in front of you. I have long legs and short torso. My knees get in my way.
And yet, that was the position that I was strongest in. I had good placement and stride. I planted fully and showed weight.
Then we rotated. I was fine on the torso and right hand. Nothing special but nothing broken, either.
Then we rotated. On the head I made such a basic mistake that I’m sort of horrified. I checked the range of motion on the other body parts, but I did not check where the puppet’s focus was — where its eye level is when it looks straight ahead — before we started. It was much, much higher than I thought. So my puppet spent the entire time staring at the ground. I also verbally coached my teammates, which, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have done. It’s a trick we use in rehearsal, but in this audition, they were looking for non-verbal communication. I also, didn’t do a particularly good job of countering, that is keeping sightlines clear. So, as I said, I did not show well.
By the way, this is the performer’s version of rejectomancy.
I want to be clear, for people who aren’t used to theater, that I do not feel sorry for myself. It’s also not false modesty or downplaying things to say that I didn’t show well. I’m a really good puppeteer. I know what I’m capable of and I didn’t deliver today.
The last thing they had us do was cross the stage floor in a gliding walk. It’s a very stylized movement that stagehands use in bunraku. I have no idea how I did there, since there weren’t mirrors.
They sent us all out in the hall while they conferred for five minutes and then brought us back in. They read the names of the six people they were keeping. While I hoped I was wrong, I was not surprised when mine wasn’t one of them.
It was a great experience overall. So often, productions think they can just teach anyone to work puppets and it is wonderful to see them take puppetry seriously. It’s also really nice to spend an afternoon watching a whole bunch of really good puppeteers do their work.
And at the end of the day? I got to audition for the Met. Twice. How many people get to say that?