Onstage & Backstage: Closing Disaster! and Disastrous Auditions When You’re Over 70

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: Closing Disaster! and Disastrous Auditions When You’re Over 70 This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Disaster! closes on Broadway (but there’s still good news). Plus, confessions from a “Professional Auditioner” (a.k.a. Seth’s mom).
Closing day at <i>Disaster!</i>
Closing day at Disaster!

Disaster wound up ending earlier than our planned July 3rd closing date, but we’re all so thrilled we got the show licensed through MTI! That means it can be done all over the place. And we’re making a CD of the show next Monday! So exciting!!

The closing performance wound up being like an opening night: The audience was crazy, and everyone onstage had so much fun. And the most amazing thing happened: Somehow we got permission to film Jennifer Simard’s performance and stream it on the web! Literally the first time it’s ever happened on Broadway. I still don’t know how it was allowed, but the Playbill Facebook page (Yay Playbill!) live-streamed “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and the video lives on their Facebook page! I just checked and there are now more than 150,000 views. It’s so incredible! You can watch it here:

Jennifer Simard got a Tony nomination last week, and it felt like the most perfect one for our show to get for so many reasons. First of all, one of the reasons she got the role in the first place is because she’s such a supportive friend. Back in 2013, my husband’s play Unbroken Circle was playing off-Broadway. Jennifer Simard came to see it right around the time Anika Larsen got cast in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and was about to leave the Unbroken Circle run. Because we saw Jennifer in the audience, we asked her to replace Anika, and she was fantastic.

Anika had also originated the role of the Nun in Disaster! when it was at the Triad and by the time we were transferring off-Broadway, she was in rehearsals for Beautiful. Because Jennifer had replaced Anika in Unbroken Circle, I thought of her also doing Anika’s role in Disaster! Jenn had seen it at the Triad and she was so excited to be offered the role. My point is, when you’re in “the biz” you always have friends doing shows and it’s hard to go see everything. But Jennifer made the effort to see Unbroken Circle, and it’s what eventually led to her very first Tony nomination!

Another reason why the nomination is so amazing is because it feels so shared between me, Jack, Jennifer and James. Jack and I created the role so, of course, we feel so proud, but then Jennifer took things that were not supposed to be funny at all and made them hilarious.

For instance, when Shirley (Faith Prince) suspects that the nun might have a gambling addiction and asks about it, the nun defensively says “What do you mean? I’ve always wanted to be a nun, and I’ve always loved Jesus.” Jennifer decided that Sister Mary is so bad at being a nun that she actually doesn’t know how to pronounce Jesus’ name and, therefore, pronounces it phoenetically. She told me that Sister Mary thinks, “Well, I know the word ‘us’ so I’m going to assume it’s pronounced ‘Jes-us.’”

Of course, the audience doesn’t know her subtext, but every time she said that line it got a huge laugh…and it’s literally not a funny line! And finally, as I wrote in a column a few weeks ago, James is the one who suggested that her song be “Never Can Say Goodbye.” When the nominations were announced, Jennifer (whose middle name is Jean) texted us right away and wrote : My initials are JJS and today they stand for Jack, James and Seth.”

SO SWEET! The coolest thing is a Twitter campaign was begun to get Jennifer a slot performing on the Tony Awards! All these people who’ve seen the show and loved Jennifer (like Audra MacDonald and Laura Benanti!) are tweeting @TheTonyAwards and hashtagging #PutSimardOn and it might actually make it happen!

Last week, my mom turned 84, and—as I’m fond of saying—she’s “still got it!” I thought I’d share her hilarious essay about what it’s been like for her to start auditioning for things when she was in her 70s. She wrote this essay about her various auditions…all of which ended in a resounding “no.” Enjoy and peace out!

ACTING, AUDITIONS AND ARTHRITIS

By Sally Sheerin Rudetsky

When I was in my early seventies, I was asked by two agents if I’d be interested in trying out for commercials. The reasons for this remain obscure. The following are descriptions of some of my auditions during what appears to be a short-lived career as a Professional Auditioner:

1. TV PROMO
I was called in for two commercials for Dave Chapelle’s show. My son Seth is an actor, and he told me I’d have to fill out the card given at all auditions asking “Name, address, contact info etc..” Hmmm…. “Height” and “weight” were a problem, so I listed myself as taller and thinner, since I didn’t see any scales or tape measures nearby to verify. Since then, I have grown progressively taller and skinnier. Now I leave it blank.

Under “organizations” I saw others listing SAG, Equity, etc….these were all unions to which I did not belong. But I belonged to others. I wrote the acronyms for the union psychology and educational groups of which I’m a member (APDA, CSA, APA…).

Under “Special Skills” I wrote Interacts well with children, Leader and motivator in group dynamics and since I have difficulty memorizing… improv. I could have also listed my ability to recite the opening lines of Chaucer’s Beowulf in olde English, but preferred to remain humble.

The role: The grandmother in Dave Chapelle’s stand-in family.
I’m seated next to someone auditioning to be my great-grandson. I was to be silent and eating while they engaged in funny dialogue. At the end, ‘Dave Chapelle’ asks me “What do you think, Grandma?” to which I was to respond “Pass the f-ing potatoes.” I thought it would be funnier if I “stole” food from my grandson’s plate during their conversation. I was so busy doing this that I did not come in on time for my line. The director told me to stop whatever I was doing with my grandson’s plate and just concentrate on my own food. I decided to “cut” food on my plate (English-style; changing fork and knife hand) and paid no attention to the dialogue. I again missed my line cue. The director stared at me, told the others to go for the next commercial audition and said to me “Thank you so much for coming in”. Back to Long Island (which will henceforth be abbreviated BTLI).

2. DEODORANT COMMERCIAL
The role: An elderly woman getting onto a parkway and slowly driving in front of a car with two construction worker-types
I added what I considered to be a script improvement and spent some time enacting getting on the parkway while continually “checking” the side-view mirror. I never actually got on the parkway because the director stopped me and asked what I was doing. I explained that my friends who did not drive as well as I always approach parkways like this. He stared at me (why do they always stare at me?) and said, “Just get on the parkway.” Then I was stopped again (!) and told to just drive and wave my hand for them to pass me. I thought it would be more humorous to do a “Queen Elizabeth” royal wave. The director stopped me (very annoying) and said “Thank you.” BTLI.

3. COMPUTER/OFFICE SUPPLY STORE COMMERCIAL.
The role: Office manager who helps an employee with computer trouble by saying “You should try this with just a touch of your finger.”
I didn’t read to the bottom of the script. When I was called into the audition, I discovered my part was actually at the bottom of the page and was that of a fairy with a wand (imaginary at the audition). I was to say a word or two and push a button (also imaginary). I did this several times walking at different paces across the room holding the ‘wand’ in my right hand while I said different things given to me by the director (e.g. “Button, button!”) I thought they made no sense and indicated so with my facial expressions and line reading. I was given a long, hard look and told to say nothing and just cross the room like a fairy would. I twirled across the room in circles (decided it was more fairy-like than walking) got dizzy and had a problem switching hands to the hit the button. “Thank you.” BTLI

4. PERFUME COMMERCIAL
The role: Apparently a passerby
A young handsome man walks by a woman (wearing the perfume) and stops, turns around, comes close to her and smiles. Again, I did not read the whole page (scripts are too long). The director said “Action,” and as the actor (about 25 years old) approached me, I slowed down and smiled seductively. The director stopped me (!!) and said I was supposed to be a passerby and that they were auditioning the young actor and actress for these roles separately. How was I supposed to know? I think the director was miffed, as I was, but he trumped me by saying, “Thank you.” BTLI

5. D.Q. COMMERCIAL
The role: A wife and customer
This was a commercial for Dairy Queen about an older couple celebrating their anniversary. The script referred to the store as “D.Q.” I spoke to one of the casting people and said that no one my age would abbreviate it to “D.Q.” She told me to follow the script (which, of course, due to memorization problems and hubris, I did not). There was an array of men sitting in the lobby who were auditioning and the casting director points out the one who’d be with me at the audition, playing my husband. I caught his eye, and he glared at me. I then sat next to him while he ignored me and continued to study the script. When I finally spoke to him he immediately looked up, cut me off and loudly said “SHHHHHHH!” I subtly approached the casting director and reported him as being hostile. I told her point blank that I could not work with him. Of course, we were called in together. I snubbed him and started straight at the camera. He then forgot one of his lines which happened to be my cue. There was first silence when I couldn’t think of anything to say and then I began to laugh hysterically. The director said to both of us “Thank you”. BTLI

6. DETERGENT COMMERCIAL
The role: A woman doing the laundry
No lines, thank goodness. Told to take clothes off a clothesline and then smell them to show how fresh and wonderfully smelling they were. Tried Actor’s Studio approach and went back to my childhood when clothes were pulled in through a window that had a clothesline attached to opposite apartment. I slowly kept pulling imaginary line (which I decided should be a long one) with lots of clothes. Then picked up imaginary shirt, put it to nose and smiled happily. I was not told to stop and so continued—rubbed face with it, rubbed arms with it, and finally, looked sexually aroused (or so I thought). I stopped at this point, having run out of faces. Director looked at me with astonishment and said “Can’t you just act like a normal person?” While trying a second time, and in the midst of still pulling, he said “Thank you.” BTLI

7. COMMERCIAL FOR COOKIES
The role: A grandma
I was supposed to start the commercial out of camera range and then suddenly appear next a girl on the bench (like a fairy would) to her while simultaneously saying my line. I had to stay far away to really be out of the picture and was too short-legged to get quickly into the shot. I wound up having to leap from where I was (saying the line mid-air) and was told to take it up a notch. I was leaping and yelling, and I got a callback! On the train going in for callback I practiced my line (having memorized it after all those tries) adding word “really” to it (Sounded better). At the callback, I did my cross-room leap again but this time was told (by a different director than the first time) to tone down the line… and to say it as written. Tried to tone it down (although I though the first director was on the money with the reading) and continued to leap (it was taxing), but kept word “really” in the line (artistic license). The director stopped me and shouted “You are not li-ste-ning! You…you….you…you’re LIKE A CANCER!” I laughed, and he silently indicated I should leave. He did not say “Thank you.” BTLI

8. PRINT AD 1
I was told to look at the camera with my ‘normal’ look. Unfortunately, it’s a really scary glare. Looking frightened, the casting director then suggested I give a small smile. Glared and gave a rictus-like grin. I was then asked to try a big smile. I smirked. “Thank you” BTLI

9. PRINT AD 2
Asked to do following:
“Smiling” - I did OK. I had practiced in the mirror at home.
“Loving” - (Could not do. Sort of stared.)
“Concentrating” – Signature glare
Thank you.” BTLI

10. STORE COMMERCIAL
The role: A woman surprised by the new eyeglass section at a department store
Read the script (of course, not to the bottom of the page) and thought I was perfect for the role of a wealthy snobbish Park Avenue-type matron with her Chihuahua under her arm, walking through the glass doors of the store. I was to be surprised to see signs noting the new department. I went to the bathroom mirror and practiced various snobbish, upperclass looks and different ways of holding the dog and walking. My role turned out to be that of a dowdy-type woman, seated with back to husband, trying a pair of glasses on while looking in mirror then turning around and feeling young and sexy. I spent a lot of time ‘choosing’ glasses and looking in mirror (reality-type acting) and then turned around with what I hoped was a sexy look (no doubt my signature glare). “Thank you!” BTLI

11. WEBSITE COMMERCIAL
The role: A “funny, with-it Seinfeld type” older woman
I wore my blonde wig and dressed in what I considered a “with-it” outfit. A black leather-belted sweater, black a-line wool skirt, off-black sheer stockings and black low-heeled shoes). It turned out that the role was that of a grandmother who sits and crochets outfits for her teenage grandson. “Thank you very much.” Humph. I should have worn my short grey wig, although my younger daughter hid it when I visited her in Virginia saying that it made me look like Martha Washington.

12. ELECTRONICS COMMERCIAL
The role: A mom
I was asked if I knew how to work a video camera. I answered “yes” although I can barely use a regular camera. Out of laziness, I say “yes” to all questions such as “Do you know so and so?” or “Have you ever been to ____?” or “Did you see that new show?” which always gets me into trouble. (I can no longer see my internist from January to April since I agreed when he asked me if I spend the winter in Florida.)

I was to be videotaping my teenage son while he danced to music. I held the camera up to my eye as if I were looking through a Vivitar (the only kind I know how to use…barely) and I danced around the room to the music (to add a little spice and creativity)
Silence.
BTLI

In conclusion, I am currently at liberty as a Professional Auditioner. Available for commercials, print, movies, Army recruitment films etc. Is there and Indie Ad Agency account executive out there ready to value my special abilities? Anybody?

As my son Seth would say: Nobody.

Sally Sheerin Rudetsky is a 1952 graduate of Hunter College with a B.A. in English (useless) and counseling from Yeshiva University. She’s taken graduate courses in psychology, anthropology, German literature (though she is Jewish) and can sing folk songs while playing chords on the guitar. (Remember The Weavers? Peter, Paul and Mary?? Pete Seeger??? Any of them????????) She retired in 1991 from everything she did for money and now has none. Presently, she is continuing her lifelong work as a daily life and career critic of Seth Rudetsky.