RE(nt)-Cap (Audition Process)

Posted: November 3, 2009 in Road to RENT
Tags: , , , , ,

Background: I contacted my senior year high school English teacher to edit a book that I wrote – a book I told my mother and my teacher I would never write as I had no interest in writing a book, a book that will be chronicled in the …and I slept on the kitchen floor category. Upon meeting up with her we discussed my current situation and what future endeavors I would like to pursue. With that she directed me to an actor she knew, who then directed me to the Wilmington Drama League (WDL), for which this post begins.

September 1 – 19, 2009

I feverishly stalked through the website. I found the audition for RENT and scanned the requirements.

Leave all inhibitions at the door

I mulled over the meaning. If that meant having to expose my southern regions to the world I would carry the door with me, enforcing an invisible frame of protection around my jewels.

Prepare 2 songs 16 bars each – One pop/rock song and One Broadway. Bring sheet music with piano accompaniment. Accompanist will be provided. 5 male leads, 3 female leads, 4 male ensemble and 5 female ensemble.

I hit a wall of confusion. One, I had no idea what sheet music was. I traced back to my three years in band and hoped that what we used to tickle the ears of family and friends was the same thing. Two, I didn’t know what a bar consisted of. Three, I needed two songs.

I cracked Google open like a freshly placed egg. I searched through its contents and found my revelations. I did have knowledge of sheet music – thank God for band twelve years ago – and I discovered that a bar consisted of the funky symbols that were imprisoned by the parallel vertical lines. I next took to the songs.

The pop song came easily – Ordinary People by John Legend. It was a song I recorded while taking a brief stint at voice lessons in New York while in graduate school. The voice lessons came from the heavy suggestion of my mother who feared for unsuspecting ears. It was a brief five months, once a week, that mostly consisted of singing previously recorded songs and mini-counseling sessions, but it boosted my confidence. That is what I truly needed at the time. Next I moved on to my Broadway selection.

Having limited knowledge of the theatre world, I turned to the few shows I had actually seen on DVD: Chicago, Hairspray and Grease. I wasn’t sure if Grease had made it to Broadway and the Cell Block Tango was the only song I remembered from Chicago. I tried, once, to watch RENT, the movie, but not knowing it was heavily encased with songs and being completely oblivious to the storyline, I fell asleep in about five hundred and twenty five seconds. So all I could do was try not to Stop the Beat with Hairspray.

After a tug-of-war with out of published singlet sheets, I broke down and bought the entire books for John Legend and Hairspray. I took them home to my uncle who tried to help my fumbling knowledge and boosted me into a realm of confidence I didn’t know existed. I counted out my bars, both longer than sixteen and taking place within the middle of the songs, and packed up my apprehensions. Auditions were quickly approaching and I was as ready as I knew how to be.

September 20, 2009

I arrived in a familiar part of Delaware, yet, completely oblivious to the theatre that was placed steps away from one of my favorite discount stores. In the passenger’s seat was my sister, who eagerly joined me, and helped ease some of the fear that continually stabbed me in the throat. We paced across the street and opened the door to an open arena full of chairs and anticipating hopefuls. My heart sunk as I turned to my sister:

“We have to audition in front of everyone!”

Calmly, she stated back:

“Boy you know you like crowds, you will be fine.”

She was right about one thing, a crowd was a playground for entertainment; however, this crowd was full of entertainers and they wouldn’t marvel in my antics the same way unsuspecting strangers did. I sunk deeper within myself.

As I filled out my information sheet, I looked around and noticed the camaraderie within the room. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and they blossomed upon approach, I was the only weed in the room. As I filled out my most to least desirable – Angel, Benny, Mark, Roger – I more confidently checked will take any part. Nevertheless, I figured it was better to shoot for the moon and land on a star, than to shoot for a cloud and drown in the ocean.

I turned in my card only to have to retrieve it due to my lack of continued information. As I read through the lines marking out the previous plays and roles I have had I clumsily wrote a big N/A through the section wishing I had never seen it. It highlighted my amateur status.

I sat back and waited for the auditions to begin.


A gentleman on the piano played a scale and instructed us on what he wanted us to do. I stared wide eyed at my sister as he, melodiously, cascaded through some unintelligible words and the room began to follow. I silently did the best I could as I fumbled through the exercise. I only caught up when he instructed us to stretch and take a nice long yawn. I felt my confidence tremble but I gripped it. I could not let them see me sweat.

Another gentleman instructed us on how the process would go and then he called the first name. I was glad I didn’t show up earlier as I could see the process in action. A young man took his place in front of the judges and the piano began to play.

He came in low and deep. I stared on being thankful that he seemed as nervous as I was. And then, as if the sun pierced through smothering black clouds, the heavens opened up and a sound came out like none I had ever expected. His voice was polished, perfected and harmonious. As he moved on my mouth fell open, just wide enough to place a pencil, and my eyes became dry due to a lack of blinking. I checked myself to see if I still could breathe.

I had previously concluded that I had to be in the top nine to make the cut. After hearing the young man’s voice, I was immediately in the number two position. Then the judges made it worse. They grabbed a song from the rock musical RENT, placed it in front of him and asked him to sing, right there, on the spot, with no previous practice – to my knowledge.

It was One Song, Glory and as I sat, wide-eyed, listening to him, it was definitely one song and glorious. We clapped, he exited the room and my confidence followed behind him.

Another gentleman went on, I was down another spot and by the time the 5th gentleman had survived the process, I was two people away from being a distant memory. With auditions also taking place the following night, I knew I was sure to be out. I turned to my sister:

“If I don’t sound as good as these people, please, let’s just leave now. It is okay. There are plenty of other things that I love to do. Please, just tell me!”

She looked me in the face, endearment in her eyes:

“It’s okay DD (my nephew changed my name), you are fine.”

I wanted to wrap myself up in her reassurance but before I could grasp it my name was called. Immediately, I retreated back into the words my mom had placed before me:

“NEVER, let them see you with your head down.”

As I strutted to the front of the room a judge interrupted my concentration:

“Jeremy Swift, Is that your real name, or a stage name? That is a great name.”

I assured her it was birth given, only to hear her lowly mutter:

“Sounds like a stripper’s name.”

I turned, while handing my music to the accompanist, and said:

“Well, if this doesn’t work out, I know what my next profession will be.”

I stood in front of the chopping block, cued the pianist and waited to start. He stopped. I looked at him and he started again. Then he stopped again. He was a bit confused.

As I watched the others go on, bringing 5 copies of each song, I ruffled through my pages repositioning where I wanted him to start. I picked a random place and hoped he understood. He didn’t, stating:

“I am waiting for you to come in.”

I walked over, looked at my newly made marks and stated:

“Oh, I just want you to start there, I’m not singing there.”

His fingers began to tickle the ivory keys so magnificently that I got lost in his beautiful embellishments, so lost that I started late.

I closed my eyes, and reached with my voice and hands. I picked one of the judges and sang to her. I looked in the crowd and quickly closed my eyes again, I didn’t want to bask in any disapproval. I got a glimpse of my sister, she was all smiles. I was feeling the song and then the piano stopped, only I hadn’t.

I couldn’t merely halt so I threw my voice into falsetto and embellished on my own, trying to match the beauty of the pianist. I waited to walk off as people clapped and a few smiled. Then, as I prepared to leave, a judge asked for my second song.

I wanted to bolt for the door. I quickly stated:

“Well, it’s more of a performance piece, but okay.”

They nodded. I knew my vocals weren’t the best on that piece, but what I did know was that I loved to dance. So as the beat to You Can’t Stop the Beat began, I danced my heart out.

I shook and shimmied, and later found out I did the twist, but excluded the mashed potatoes. I jumped in the air and ran my hands down my body, and when I couldn’t find anything else to do I did what came natural, I tossed my head back, threw my hands to the floor and brought my feet right side up – a back flip to end the song.

People clapped, smiled and cheered. I grabbed my music, gave an appreciative thank you and hurried towards the door. I was wadding in the shallow pool of excitement while plunging, head first, into the deep end of embarrassment.


I was at war against myself for being so ill-prepared and, as I felt, out of my league. I chalked it all up to a learning experience and put the ordeal behind me. I did thoroughly enjoy the process and at least I had a bit of knowledge on what to do in the future. I would not let the mishap deter me from future tryouts. We all have to learn the process of our desires at some point.

On my way to the flea market with my mother and sister, I received a call. I didn’t recognize the number so, as usual, I didn’t answer it. I waited for it to fall to voicemail and I played the message for all to hear.

“Hey Jeremy this is…”

It was the director. He had called me for a callback. I was so excited that instead of saving the message I deleted it. I grumbled in my clumsiness but marveled in what came next.

He sent an e-mail for us to prepare Seasons of Love and dress to dance. Dancing was my specialty. I was ready this time.

September 26, 2009

Through the week I had to find the song and practice it as best as I could. I printed the lyrics off a website and listened to the music in the car as I sang along. It seemed simple enough, especially with repeated phrases. I knew I could do it.

Reading the sheet I saw some words that were not on the song. I guess the words were meant for the instrumental piece on the song I had. I figured they were either acted out or simply sang by one of the leads, so I didn’t bother to learn the part. I drove to the auditions and sat idly in the back waiting to be instructed.

The room was split into two groups and my group was off to learn the dance. I passed by the music director and smiled nervously. I made my way up the stairs, into an unfamiliar room surrounded by unrecognizable faces. The dance instructor advised us to pick a partner, someone we didn’t know, and I was comforted when a young girl asked to pair with me. From there it all went downhill.

The dance was overly provocative and I got further in those thirty minutes than I had ever gotten with myself. I was ashamed, embarrassed and intrigued all at the same time. I tossed my apprehensions out the window and released my body to do what it felt was natural. The instructor informed us that it was meant to see how uninhibited we were, and I could only imagine that I didn’t know myself, until that moment. We performed it on the stage for all the directors and then we took our place in front of the piano to sing.

As we gathered around to sing Seasons of Love as a group, I took a position to the far left.

Standing there with a sheet in front of my face, my memory trying to travel back to what the blackened line with an eight over it meant, and not knowing when to start, I waited for the rest to begin. They started and I lowly joined in. The song suddenly split in two and, as if they had all already been trained, the boys and girls grabbed a hold to their part. I gripped silence.

I fixed my eyes on a tall, dark-haired individual who seemed as if he knew what he was doing. I mimicked what he did and found myself learning the song as we sang through it. I forced as much information into my head as I could in that small amount of time and then the director split us into groups of four. I was also glad that we stopped right before the instrumental on my version, which is when I knew, for sure, was not for me.

As I made my way away from center stage, following the crowd, a voice startled me still:


I turned and looked.

“You are up.”

I hurried across the stage and placed myself next to the dude with the dark hair. I was glad he was in my group. I waited for further instructions.

“Jeremy, take the male solo and…”

I froze.

“Solo?” I thought, “What solo?”

I figured my folly. I thought the solo was for the lead. I didn’t know the solo, I didn’t practice a solo. I was drowning before I even hit the water.

The music started and I was at least confident enough to make it through the first section of the song. But when it split to the OOO’s and someone began to sing the female solo, I OOO’d, and tried to swallow the anxiety that crept up my throat.

My turn arrived.

I tried to grasp anything that could help me. I stared at the words and they all seemed to run together. I knew my time was coming up and I couldn’t just lip-sync through it. Seconds lurked and I remembered the Law and Order dude that left the series to do the movie. I saw his face, his black beanie and I tried to remember his voice.

It was time.

I came in low and weak. I fumbled and stuttered over a few words and then I remembered his voice. I knew he belted the end so, going from low, my voice started to grow. Suddenly my lungs were filled with air and the arena with a bellowing bullhorn. I seemed to have startled the music director as he brought my stance to an end.

I shivered silent. I scurried off to the side.

I retreated, in a seated position, in the corner, and watched the other groups do their rendition. By the time the last group went on, consisting of only two people, I had learned the solo and was about to readily volunteer to join in. I wanted a second chance.

The director called my name to join the group; however, he gave the solo to another. No matter, I took it as my second chance to stand on my own. I sang through the song with pride and supported the soloist with my background. And by the time he brought us together as a group to sing it with dynamics and feelings, I was over the top confident and thoroughly enjoying myself.

I left that day proud that I had made it through and okay with the learning experience. I knew there was little to no way that I would be called back as the other individuals were superb, by my standards, in their knowledge and execution. I chalked it all up to a learning experience.

I left proud that I had taken this leap and decided to educate myself on the theatre world in order to do better with future auditions. I replayed my follies for my mother and sister, and put the day behind me. I smiled that night and put Monday out of my mind, knowing I was probably not going to make the cut.

As Monday rolled around I couldn’t help but wait by the phone. Around 12pm I gave up my hopes, worked myself through the rejection and joined my mother in television watching, leaving no hints of my low, yet, slowly rising feelings. I was okay.

It was okay.

Around 4:30pm I walked back into my room and saw a flashing light on my cell phone. I checked the number and didn’t recognize it. I cracked the voicemail and heard a familiar voice.

“Jeremy, we would love to have you, if you would, as part of the ensemble for RENT!”

My stomach slapped me in the throat. I quickly dialed the number back before he could change his mind.

“Hey, this is Jeremy, Um, YES, YES, YES, YES AND YES!”

I ran into my mother’s room and gave her the news. She looked serene. She smirked, shook her head and stated:

“I knew they would call you. I would have been surprised if they didn’t.”

I looked at her puzzled. What did she see that I didn’t? I responded.


She replied.

“I just would’ve been surprised had they not called, that’s all,”

I searched for an answer with my eyes but found none. I took a seat and allowed my heart to explode with every beat.

I was going to be in RENT!

But, um, what is an ensemble?


“God grant me the ability
to reject the things about me
that are not true,
the humility to accept
the things that are,
and the discernment
to know the difference.” ~ Billy Joe Vaughn

  1. Donna-Marie Figueroa-Price says:

    BRAVO!!!! You have always been a star!! You’ve feed off crowds & challenges!! Your confidence (or sometimes covering of your lack of) is inspiring!! You have done SOO much that its wonderful to know you’re still just humble Jeremy Michael Swift!!! lol You have YET to complete all the good you are meant to do in this lifetime!!! Even though we haven’t talked everyday, I think of you often & when in a bind I think, ‘what would Michael do??!?’ then I think…take his clothes off & dance w/his toungue out!! lol it is true though! But the thing is take life by the horns, you just jump in & if they like it, they like it! If not…then you go onto the next venture!!! Don’t be shocked when others believe in you & KNOW you’re wonderful!! Besides…who doesn’t like a stripper!!!! lol

  2. Stumpy says:

    I am so angry with you. I clicked on the link to your blog just to take a look. Despite the facts that it is midnight and I have to wake up in a few hours for work, I couldn’t stop reading your entry until its end. Great narration! Love the conclusion. Congrats on the gig. Xoxo

  3. Your are an awsome writer Congrat’s on Joining the “RENT” culture I was new to the movement a few years back and I’m sure your going to enjoy being a part of the show and the new people you will meet along the way. Please post dates and locations of your shows I would love to come and check it out

  4. yaneash 'yardy' Donaldson says:

    U were meant for this! Love and miss you!

  5. laura martin says:

    It is in ur blood. U come from a family of trailblazers, ur mama, her mama, aunt viola, cuz jr. U were born to perform on stage and on paper w pen. much luv, CJ

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