The results of the poll are in and by an overwhelming margin of 78%, the people have said “No” to the double-blog approach”. This actually comes as a bit of a relief to me, since maintaining one blog is far easier to do than keeping up with two (or more). I apologize to the poets out there who were more than likely the ones who wanted to keep my works separate, but as Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes”, so I feel comfortable with keeping all of my pieces, be they poems, anecdotes, fictions, or just gibberish in one place.
Having said that, here’s a little story from my youth.
The Audition by Kathleen Mortensen
In Grade 12, when I learned that my high school was putting on the play, The Music Man, I was ecstatic. I love musicals. I was raised on them. My mother and I used to watch them together when they were on television. My parents often took me to see stage-productions at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto. I saw Camelot, Annie, Anne of Green Gables, Oklahoma! and A Chorus Line, to name just a few. I’d seen all the musicals on film, The Rodgers and Hammerstein greats, the Lerner and Lowe adaptations as well as the Bernstein/Sondheim collaboration of West Side Story. I knew my musicals.
I love watching Shirley Jones fall in love with Gordon MacRae in Carousel and Oklahoma!, and her role as Marion, the librarian, to Robert Preston’s fast-talking Professor Harold Hill is a delight from start to finish. So I was pretty excited that E.S.S. (my alma mater) was mounting a production of this rousing musical.
I had never been in a performance before – except for grade school Christmas productions, or as a choir member in my church, but I considered my voice to be quite clear and melodic and thought that acting would be a piece of cake. I decided to audition.
I wasn’t content to go for chorus girl or any minor role; I was throwing my chips in on the lead. I wanted all the glory that the top-billed received night after night to throngs of people and the roar of the crowd. (Well, at least a round of applause and some handshakes after the show would suffice.)
I was already fantasizing about being in Harold Hills strong arms and singing sweet duets.
From that day forward, I embodied the character of Marion Paroo. She was supposed to reveal an Irish brogue whenever she got angry. My father is from Belfast, I grew up surrounded by that brogue and I could mimic it expertly.
My mother was pleased that I was getting involved in the school play. She became my mentor and my coach. She borrowed the soundtrack album from my aunt Kay and I taped it on a cassette to play in a flat Panasonic recorder with plug-in mic that I could carry around with me. Most of the time, however, I used the stereo in the finished basement room. After school, I would head downstairs to our family room, turn on the Dual turntable stand in the middle of the room and practice stretching my jaw muscles until they ached. My “coach” said if I was to be heard from a stage, I had to open my mouth wide. I could have shoved a loaf of bread in there after all the calisthenics.
My dad was a member of our church choir at the time. He liked to follow the example of the opera singer, The Great Caruso and take a shot of whiskey before a rehearsal. Daddy felt if it was good enough for Enrico, it was good enough for him too. When I began my daily drills, I tried it too. I’m not sure if it made my voice any better. When I missed a note, it just made me crack up. I stopped “hitting the bar “ before practice.
I had two months to prepare for the big audition. At 3:30 p.m. every day I would go to my makeshift music studio and sing along with Marion. My voice got stronger, I could reach the really high notes with only a little strain and when I sang, the whole house could hear me. My cat, Atocha, would sit on the back of the gold, naugahyde recliner in the family room and protest with great howls whenever I started to sing.
After dinner, I would take my tape recorder and go into my bedroom, close the door and sing in front of the square mirror attached to my dresser. I had to back right up to the wall to allow for my head as I sang and gestured like a stern librarian.
All of my friends knew that I was going for the lead role. My best friend Lauren was auditioning for the part of the Mayor’s oldest daughter. Like a true friend, she encouraged me to go for it.
The competition was tough. Ms. Carter, the Drama Club director had her favourites and I was a total unknown, having just switched from the Catholic all-girls’ school I attended to the public high school.
When I handed in my audition form and picture, her bulbous, brown eyes peered at me from beneath her long bangs that swept the top of her lashes and said, “I haven’t seen you before. Are you in one of my classes?”
“Hmm. No.”, I replied. “But I do love musicals and I can sing.” She looked me up and down, grimaced and tossed my audition on the pile on her desk, waving me out with, “I guess we’ll soon see.”
Nobody said anything, but after a few weeks I knew that my family had had enough of the score from The Music Man. It was no co-incidence that my dad was doing yard work, my sister was out playing and my mom was out talking to her friend next door every time I practiced. I never tired of the songs. At school I constantly hummed and whistled them. I became so caught up in the entire play that I even sang the Harold Hill parts and the songs performed by the barbershop quartet in the cast.
I chose a particularly difficult part of the script to recite, hoping to impress the judges and prove myself once and for all. It was a conversation between Marion and her obstinate Irish mother which took place as Marion was teaching a piano lesson. Both parts were sung. This demonstrated the voice, the brogue, personality and tremendous breathing skills.
It started out slowly and accelerated to a rapid banter, back and forth between the two characters. By the time it ended I was nearly purple. I figured if I could master this unusual duet (singing both roles), Ms. Carter would have no doubts that I was the perfect candidate for the lead.
February 5, 1979 auditions began. By Monday, the 4th, I had no fingernails and my stomach ulcer was kicking up. I still had not signed up for a time-slot. I passed the schedule every day, but couldn’t build up the nerve to sign my name. On Tuesday morning when I had a spare period and there was no one around, I finally mustered up the guts to write my name down for the 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday the 6th time-slot.
The next day I came down with the flu.
It began with a scratchy throat and throbbing muscle pain. Wednesday morning, I crossed my name off the schedule and moved it to Friday at 3:30. I spent the day putting up my hand to answer questions in class and then forgetting what the question was. I drew blanks while talking to people. I walked around like a zombie murmuring, “Mama, a man with a suitcase has been following me all over town.”
I went home to nurse my illness. I spent the whole day in bed, eating oranges and drinking tea with honey. I had a fever of 102 and slept fitfully that night, but I was determined to go to school the next morning.
Friday morning came and I had eaten very little and was a bit shaky. My eyes looked (to coin a phrase of my Cape Breton mother) like “two burnt holes in a blanket”. I was beat. To make matters worse, my throat was raw and I was popping “Halls” mentho-lyptus cough candies by the handful.
Auditions were being held in a studio at the back of the cafeteria. We were told to wait in the Theatre Arts room next door where we would be contacted when it was our time. Lauren had auditioned the day before. She had been asked to do a dance. Lauren was a cheerleader and a baton twirler. I was an expert at skipping—by myself.
We sat in the room with the other kids who were trying out. A boy and girl were practicing “All or Nothing” from Oklahoma! Maureen Grant was singing “Goodnight My Someone”. She had been in last year’s play as part of the chorus. I didn’t give her a second thought. My main competition was a friend, who was not the Shirley Jones/librarian type at all. She stood about 6 feet tall and had bobbed, pale blonde hair.
I decided to look more like a bookworm. I put my long hair in a bun, wore a straight, wool, mid-calf skirt and buttoned my shirt right up to the neck. My throat felt raw as I swallowed to accommodate the tight collar.
I chose the song, “Will I Ever Tell You”. Every verse I had to reach two extremely high notes. My Granny, who was visiting from out east, referred to these as my “bugaboos”. I had really conquered them and was very pleased with myself. I hadn’t counted on the flu.
After what seemed like hours, I was next. I begged Lauren to come into the room with me. My forehead was very hot and my palms were competing with my armpits for sweat.
We entered the studio. It was empty but for a desk, a piano and a couch for the four judges, two male and two female. I felt like the Cowardly Lion approaching the Wizard of Oz. Lauren blended into the wall and I was alone.
Carter handed me a copy of the script. Perhaps I was imagining the smug look on her face. She told the pianist to start. I began on the wrong note. My brogue faded and my breath came in spurts. All my practice was shot. When that embarrassment was through, I faced the judges. One of them was Ms. Carter’s former pet who had graduated last year. Surprisingly, she seemed sympathetic. I focused on her.
The piano-teacher segment had killed what little voice I had. I managed my way through “Will I Ever Tell You?”, but my “bugaboos” were out to get me. Each high note squealed and then cracked; caterwauling cats sound more in tune.
Humiliated, I started packing up to leave. It wasn’t over. They had to bring me even lower. The French teacher, Miss Painchaud, put on the stereo. She did a few steps and some silly twirls. It looked simple enough. The long skirt was a bad idea. Every step, I was stymied at the calf and nearly lost my balance twice. After the fourth attempt, Ms. Carter intoned, “That’s fine, Kathleen. Thank you so much for coming.”
I couldn’t get out of that room fast enough. Outside, Lauren couldn’t even look at me. I doubled over in fits of hysterical laughter that soon turned into hacking coughs.
When Maureen Grant was proclaimed the lead, Marion Paroo, and I didn’t even get a call back for stage hand, it came as no surprise. I did not cry. I went home, silently trudged down the stairs and switched on the stereo. I picked up the record and slipped it carefully from its protective sleeve. As I placed it on the turntable the old feeling of excitement returned. I sat down and waited for those first notes, the red and green album cover resting in my lap. Talking Heads: 77. I have some pride.