THIS morning is a lonely time for an actor. I lie awake in bed as I have done for a good part of the night and wait for the alarm to ring. As I whisper yet another rendition of my monologue to the ceiling, I ponder how Shakespeare became so grossly overrated. Light the color of Pepto-Bismol slides into the room. Should I switch to the Neil Simon monologue? Try to learn that Brecht piece? Skip the whole darn thing and stay in bed watching reruns of "The Love Boat"? Get a grip, Warnick--just another audition.
The notice for the audition is in the Sunday, July 24, edition of The Washington Post. I do not see the paper, but word travels quickly among actors, and I soon get a telephone call with the necessary information. On Monday I trot down to Arena Stage and make an appointment to audition. This is a "cattle call," named for the stampede that results when auditions are open to all comers, and Arena Stage has been holding them for eight years. One marvels at the auditioners' capacity for pain. They tell me to prepare a two-minute monologue and have another ready in case they want to see more. Being asked to perform a second piece is no indication of approval, they claim--but they probably lie.
After considering my repertoire of five monologues, I choose to perform one of Aaron's speeches from "Titus Andronicus," William Shakespeare's worst play. Aaron is one of those fascinating characters everyone secretly envies. The speech I pick concerns the joys of murder, rape, bondage, severed tongues and lopped-off hands. A real live wire, Mr. Aaron: he is never dull. Consider a typical line: "Oft have I digg'd up dead men from their graves, And set them upright at their dear friends' door, Even when their sorrows almost were forgot, And on their skins, as on the bark of trees, Have with my knife carved in Roman letters, 'Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.' " Words like these tend to attract attention.
I have about a week to rework and polish Aaron before the audition, and I fall into a rehearsal pattern. Each night I slide behind the wheel of my '67 Karmann-Ghia and drive to the drama department of my alma mater, Catholic University. Although the theater building is tightly locked when I get there, I know how to jimmy open one of the doors, and I slip in quickly to avoid security guards. Walking through a deserted theater at night is an unsettling experience. I turn on the lights to scatter the ghosts of past productions.
My rehearsal always begins with physical warm-ups: extensive calisthenics, 30 push-ups for macho reasons, and 20 minutes of stretching picked up from various dance classes and one season of track.
Once limber, I begin vocal warm-ups. I sing scales, speed through some Gilbert and Sullivan patter and open my throat with some difficult poetry. After a few tongue twisters, it is time to get to business.
I HAVE never been totally satisfied with my movement during Aaron's monologue and much of my early work is dedicated to finding a reasonable way to walk and say the lines at the same time. Some nights I concentrate on the language--alternately screaming and whispering the words, while looking for new line readings. I find that some of Aaron's statements are more chilling if delivered with no emphasis at all in a simple monotone. Because my character's motive for the speech is to hurt his listener, I try addressing the words to various nasty teachers and employers I have had--an altogether pleasant experience, rife with therapeutic benefits.
After a week of nightly rehearsal, the written words from the printed page are cemented in my memory. No improvising in desperate iambic pentameter for me. I can recite Aaron's lines from start to finish with screaming cats attacking my kneecaps, or with 16 casting directors watching my every move. The night before the audition I soak for an hour in the tub, wishing I raised cattle for a living.
AUDITION day is here. I lurch from my pallet with adrenaline already pumping through my blood. I stretch out to a recording of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries," and then run through the monologue while shadowboxing in the shower. Although eating is difficult, I suffer through a large breakfast. I will need energy for this very long day.
When I walk into the designated waiting area at Arena, I am greeted by the usual pre-audition insanity: A young girl in a torn leotard lies on her back and chants mantras to some obscure eastern deity; an older women in a sweat suit almost hits me on the head while whirling her arms and running around in circles. If she comes near me again I know I will have to do her serious harm, so I retreat into the bathroom for more stretching. I am not to be trifled with before auditions.
At 10:30 a.m., 10 of us are marshaled into Arena's Kreeger Theatre. We are seated in stiff wooden chairs and left to squirm until called one by one into the light of the small stage. I am scheduled to go sixth. I rejoice when the audition before mine is not too bizarre. It is difficult to make much of an impression after a monologue about homosexual ax torture.
When my turn comes, I take the stage briskly and smile too broadly. After announcing my name and selection, I take two deep breaths, sit in a provided chair and let Mr. Aaron take over.
The next thing I remember is walking out of the Kreeger with another glassy-eyed troop marching in to take our place. I have a vague memory of the monologue going pretty well, but I am not called back for another selection. I leave Arena with a light step and overhear a woman ask why she puts herself through such torture. I smile, give her a wink and walk off into the bright sunlight.