“Mommy! It’s your show!” My daughters and I are at a play. My 7-year-old points to a picture of a giant Venus’ flytrap plant in the playbill with the words: “Little Shop of Horrors! Auditions soon!”
“You have to try out for Audrey!” my kids say in unison. They know I played this role in college, more than 20 years ago. They have heard me sing along with the lyrics in the car. In the musical, Audrey, a florist’s assistant, falls in love with her co-worker, Seymour, who has a bloodsucking plant that requires more and more food to satiate it.
“Mom, don’t be afraid to try new things,” my 6-year-old whispers as the lights go down in the theater.
I squeeze her hand, feeling triumphant in the parenting department: Surely when your kids repeat your own advice back to you, that’s some sort of level-up on the parenting ladder, right? But I also feel instantly terrified. Do I have to try out for Audrey? Will I be some kind of hypocrite if I don’t?
Over the past few months, I’ve been noticing that my daughters shy away from taking risks. They seem to have a fixed sense of what they feel they’re capable of. I was not like this as a child. I tried most things at least once and usually failed spectacularly. But now that I’ve grown up, I rarely try new things. I love my life and my role as mother, but every day is mostly the same.
Throughout the play, the prospect of auditioning makes my heart race with fear, but also something else: exhilaration? Could I try out for the show? I was in plays and musicals in high school and college, but I moved to Los Angeles almost two decades ago to be a writer, not an actor.
I look at my daughters, immersed in the show, their faces illuminated by the stage lights. As much as it scares me, I want my daughters to see me try new things to know that growth can come from fear. Some of the greatest adventures begin with a risk, I’ve told them. I could use a little adventure, too. But could I audition for the role of Audrey, now, in my 40s, 22 years after I played that role, having not sung or acted in decades?
On the way to the car, the answer rises up from my toes: YES.
The days of the week leading up to the audition blend together like a montage: I prepare Audrey’s ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green,” in which she sings of the idyllic future she wants, far from skid row.
I make a head shot with a selfie I took three years ago after I got a makeover at a mall cosmetics counter and had the good sense (and vanity) to take the photo of myself. I print it as an 8-by-10 at the drugstore, then staple a résumé to the back of it, listing the roles I played in college and high school. I don’t add that I’ve been a non-acting mom/writer for decades.
The day of the audition, I park my car in front of the theater, then text my husband.
Me: Driving here I sweated all the way through my shirt and had to stop at TJ Maxx for the first black top I could find.
Hubby: You’re gonna be great.
Me: You sure you don’t need me urgently for something right now? I could totally come home immediately.
Hubby: Break a leg, you can do this! I’m so proud of you. (champagne emoji)
Me: Ok. I’m going in. (prayer hands emoji)
I get out of my car, and head into the theater lobby.
It’s hard to tell the ages of the people at the audition because we’re all wearing so much makeup. I look just as young as they do, I tell myself, and feel momentarily proud of my regular exfoliation and moisturization rituals. Everybody else seems to know one another. I recognize two of them as actors in the play we saw a few weeks before.
I give my music to the pianist and realize I can’t feel my extremities. I’m suddenly parched, probably from all the sweating. “This is how I die,” I think to myself.
The pianist starts playing the introduction to my audition song, and just like that, I have officially drenched my second shirt of the day. My voice, barely a whisper in the space, comes out, surprising me. It is cracking with nerves, unintentionally turning from talking to singing back to talking again. But then I look around the not-very-big theater and remind myself why I’m doing this: to show my kids — more than that, to show myself — that I can.
My knees unlock a bit and my hands stop shaking. My voice relaxes as I ease into the song I’ve prepared. I fully inhabit this fragile character I loved playing all those years ago, telling her story of what she wants for her life: a matchbox of our own, somewhere that’s green. Audrey longs for everything I now have: I married my work-crush after a string of not-great boyfriends in my 20s. I have a home that I’ve lovingly fixed just so. I often cook like Betty Crocker. Audrey craves the very comforts and routines I have been trying to escape with my audition.
I finish singing and am not totally mortified with my performance. I text my husband once I’m back in the lobby. “It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t horrible. Added bonus: lost 40 pounds in water weight! Now just waiting for them to release all of us.”
The moment I start to feel the slightest bit of confidence, like I could get called back or even cast, I hear the stage manager announce: “Dance audition in five minutes, everybody.”
“I’m sorry, what dance audition?” I say aloud to no one in particular. The other actors are already changing into “movement” clothes and shoes. My tight pencil skirt and stilettos suddenly feel quite foolish.
I dig through my car, searching for any shoes more sensible than the heels I’m wearing. It’s the first time I’m grateful for my messy, mom-mobile of a car. I come up with two shoes that match enough to look like a pair of black wedges.
The choreographer has already begun teaching everyone: “Okay, after the fouetté turn, do two chaine turns, into an angsty, concave beggar’s pose.”
As other auditioners spin and twirl in the air and end in dramatic poses, I nearly back out of the room. I decide I have to see this through. I join them onstage, and it becomes very clear very quickly that I am surrounded by people in their early 20s, and I am very solidly in my 40s: constricted by my own exhaustion, layers of shapewear and my too-tight skirt (not to mention the mismatched wedges of slightly different heights). I look, at best, confused while I dance, and at worst, blind and unable to hear the instructions and the music. I walk through the dance portion and see one of the judges actually shake her head while looking at me.
When I get home, my daughters surround me. “How did it go, Mommy?”
I embrace this teachable moment, telling the truth:
“Did you get the part?” they ask. “Are you going to be Audrey?”
“I’ll find out in a couple of days if I’ve been called back.”
The girls run off to play. I pour a glass of wine.
I am not called back, which makes me sadder than I expect. And embarrassed. My daughters are crestfallen when they find out. “Then who got the part?” they ask me.
“I don’t know,” I say. “But you know what I realized?” I say, realizing it at that moment: “It’s someone else’s turn to play Audrey. There’s a group of actors at this theater who try out for every show and play any part they can get, and they keep at it because they love to sing and act. Those actors deserve to play the leads.”
They shrug. “Cool! What’s the next musical you’re trying out for?”
I laugh very hard. Then pride swells in my chest. The result isn’t important and probably won’t be what any of us remember from this experience. I put myself out there in a big, brave way, leading to more advice I will someday give my daughters:
Carrie Friedman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.