She gave the best audition of the day, and didn't get the part

And in this story, an amazing actor, young, fresh out of college, from the EPA, completely nails her audition such that we are laughing and applauding at the end... and she does not get the part.

Such is the heartbreaking life of an Actor on 42nd Street.

In the second day of our private auditions, we get to hear people sing my music - which is fantastic.

But it doesn't start out as fantastic. It starts out freaky. Scary. As in:  What the hell am I doing here and will my music measure up and what will they think?

I get an encouraging "love your music!" from our rehearsal pianist with a thumbs-up, which helps a lot.

"I bet you say that to all the composers," I respond. He shakes his head, looking flustered.

And so we hear actors sing my music, and because they've only had a day or so to learn it, we mostly only hear a page or two. And mostly it's good. As in, quite good. And I start to relax and enjoy the experience without worrying, endlessly, about whether my music is good enough or not. At least for now, at least for today, in this room with these actors, it's good enough.

And then this tall young actor enters the room. She came from the EPAs and was not at the top of our list but made the EPA cut (with about 12 other people), and she absolutely NAILS her song. She puts so much into it, not just singing the notes (after all, the purpose of them singing the song is to see how quickly they can pick up and adapt to new music - we are not really looking for a performance as such, just quality singing), but she really *sells* it. And she's so funny that we're laughing out loud by the end.

And what's amazing is that, somehow, she has done all of this in, basically a day. She received the music around 11am to noon the day before, and then had to perform it about 26 hours later, and somehow she was able to do all that and sell it so well.

I will remember that performance for the rest of my life. And we all grin at each other and we're like: That's it! She's got the part!

But then...

A few singers later, someone else comes in for the same role, also from the EPAs, and we're like: Oh! She's good! She's really good! She's funny and sexy and really, just perfect.

And she sings the song, and it's not as great as the first one, but it's pretty damn good.

So what do we do now?

Unfortunately, the show is not just one song. The character has several songs to do, and they have different purposes. And also the age of the character comes into play, and which actress is right for the maturity level / jadedness of the character. And finally, we're trying to create an ensemble. And so having too many actors of the same type doesn't work on stage. We want and need variety.

And so, we end up going with the second performer.

I just wish there were some way to reach out to that first singer and say:  "You nailed it. You were amazing. That was the best audition of anyone we saw (the best audition out of 230 auditions we saw during this entire two week process), and it wasn't even that close. And it put you at the top of the list, but it just didn't work out through no fault of your own, but just keep doing what you're doing and keep up that energy and it won't be long! You got what it takes!"

But then, I realize that she did, in fact, get something. She's now on our casting director's list, and she's now more likely to get called in than before. Also the director and the music director know of her and they will definitely have a lot of opportunities and so hopefully they'll remember her and suggest her for future roles.

So it's not all bad. 

But, oh man I wish we had a role for her in our cast. Who knows what the future will bring? Maybe we’ll reconnect at some point. I hope she comes to the show and stops by. I would love the opportunity to tell her how well she did and how close she came and just give her a word of encouragement.

Paul NelsonComment
Private Auditions - They Read Scenes

So, Private Auditions were arranged by our casting director. This was held over two days.

The first day is people that she knows who she feels are right for the roles. This is basically the same as Equity Principal Auditions (EPAs): We are all sitting behind a table, there’s a pianist to play accompaniment, the actor comes in and sings a song, etc. The difference in our private auditions are that: 1) We have more time [5-15 minutes per person] and 2) Everyone has come with a prepared scene which they read.

That means we also have a reader! The reader is brought in by the casting director and is an aspiring movie actress. She reads all of the other lines for the scenes so the Actor has someone to react to.

Notice how none of the creative staff are doing anything? Even though the music director could play the piano, he doesn’t (we hire a pianist). Even though the director could read the scene, he doesn’t (we hire a reader).

This is so that we can all focus entirely on the performance as audience members.

And we do. This time, we can ask for more things, the director can ask them to read a scene differently (“Let’s try it with this adjustment: Your character has just decided to quit which is a huge relief, they feel free for the first time in years, now try it again”). And then, somehow, they do the scene again, and it’s better, and you think to yourself: Holy crap, there is no way I could do that.

And that’s when you realize: These are professional performers. They are in an entirely different universe than you and me, and it’s amazing.

And, because now everyone is doing the same scene - you see how they do it all differently! And this is really crazy, because you never in your life realized that this scene could accommodate so many different interpretations. And some of them are so not what you expected, or so creative in such fun ways, that you are just astonished.

And this is when you realize what an actor can bring to the role, and how, you the writer, has really just submitted, like, a pencil drawing of what the show is, a mere architectural blueprint, and now they are out there actually coloring it in with all sorts of emotion and reactions and, like, literally bringing it to life.

And, of course, some are not so great. Too straight, insufficiently creative, you can tell that they are not understanding the intent in the material and reacting in the same way. But then some are like, WOW, like really inhabiting the part.

And there I am, getting goosebumps and tearing up because it’s so good. And I am so embarrassed that I try and surreptitiously wipe them away without anyone noticing (and fooling no one, I bet).

And that’s what reading scenes are like.

Paul NelsonComment
Equity Principal Auditions are amazing

So, we just got through Equity Principal Auditions (EPAs) and it was a wonderful, exhausting, thrilling experience.

What’s crazy are the numbers. We heard auditions from nearly 175 singers! We started at 9:30 am on-the-dot and ended at 5:28pm, with a 1 hour lunch break. 7 hours of music. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 2.5 minutes per audition.

The monitor (who works for Actors Equity) brings in a batch of 10 hand-outs, one for each singer, with a headshot on the front and a résumé stapled to the back. People with more experience with theater probably found the handouts useful, but honestly I had a hard time parsing them (other than checking for dance experience - which we need for a couple of our actors) and also looking at the ratio of Musical Theater experience to Theater experience (since we're casting a musical, naturally we want people who have very good pipes).

As the day unfolds, one begins to get an inkling of just how amazingly hard it is to be an actor/singer in this world. Do you present something which shows your voice and your acting at its best? Or do you show something which is closer to the show or part that you are auditioning for? It's impossible to know which will be better.

So, we're sitting there in this fairly large room, and there are two tables at the back (because two NYMF shows are doing the EPAs at the same time) with three people at each table (on our table, it was both of the writers and the director, several actors came in and said, immediately, "Wow! So many people!").

There's a piano to the left (our left, sitting at the tables) with this awesome rehearsal pianist (Michael), who I swear is a MACHINE. Like a freakin' karaoke machine, he can play anything you put in front of him, and even better he does it with style. The jazzy parts are jazzy, the delicate parts are delicate, the swung parts are swung, and a lot of it is not easy. Strange harmonic ornaments and crazy fast running figures that take your breath away.

We gave him a standing ovation at the end.

Okay, so we're sitting there, with the pianist, and a stack of 10 résumés in front of us, and a singer walks in. There is very little time, so they say a nervous "hi" (and we say an encouraging "hi there!" back - or at least I hope it's encouraging) and then they quickly walk to the pianist, open a big notebook with all of their songs in plastic sleeves, and plunk it on the piano, and then proceed to point out where the pianist should start and end, what cuts he should take, and the tempo. Sometimes there's a bit of negotiation with the pianist, as "I need the first note" or "do you want me to play this intro? how much?" things like that, as well as "wait until I nod" at this part, and so on.

None of these notes are written down by the pianist, of course. He just REMEMBERS THEM ALL, and then PLAYS THEM FLAWLESSLY (at least 174 out of 175 times!), which is just bat ass crazy, crazy, crazy.

And then the actor walks to the middle of the room, looks at us with confidence, nods, and, like magic, starts singing.

And, amazingly, every one of the performances was GREAT. I mean, really. It's crazy how good the talent is in New York. All of these people, if they said at a party or something, "hey I have a song, would you like to hear it?" and then they would sing it, you would for sure say: "Wow, that was GREAT! You're really GOOD!" and you would mean it, because they really are all really, really that good.

But...

Okay, so they are auditioning for two very different shows, and so easily 80% of the actors were simply not the right type for our show. And by that I mean, they were not the right voice for the most appropriate part, or they were not the right personality or character for the most appropriate voice. 

I mean, yes, we do our very best to imagine the best character for them, and we do our best to stretch our imagination to encompass their (obviously gifted) skills, but most of the time there's just not a good fit.

And what do they sing? EVERYTHING.

We got Sondheim (Follies, Sunday in the Park), Cole Porter (Anything Goes, Can Can), Jason Robert Brown (including a bit from the Bridges of Madison County), Elf (several), Chicago, Ryan Scott Oliver, Joe Iconis, Pajama Game, Jerome Kern, Adelaide's Lament (Guys and Dolls), Kleban, and like, literally a hundred things I had never heard of before. What's astonishing is how little repetition there was. Maybe two songs were repeated the whole time, and one was maybe repeated twice. That's it, out of 175 songs, all but 5 were UNIQUE. Crazy! Amazing!

And Mozart. YES MOZART.

My favorite moment of the day, we asked this amazing singer with this crazy big voice for something additional, more comedic.

This would happen, on occasion, if the actor did something X and either we were not sure about their voice or if we wanted to verify they were right for a particular part, we would ask for Y. Typical requests for Y included:  "Could you sing something contrasting?" or "something more in your legit voice" or "something comedic" or "could you sing that again, but more intimate" or "do you have anything that's more Evil?" (yes, that was me, to all of the singers, I apologize, asking someone to sing something evil is, in itself, evil)

NOTE TO SINGERS:  If you didn't get such a request, it did not necessarily mean you didn't make it on the 'yes' pile. It just meant that your initial presentation told us everything we needed to know.

So back to the Mozart. Yes, the singer was awesome, but we wanted something more comedic.

"Uh, I was just at opera lessons," he apologized, "so I only, uh, have my opera book with me. Maybe... something in Italian? Would that be okay?"

"Sure!" we said.

And so, there he was, singing Mozart in Italian to us, and the pianist handled it with aplomb and it was GLORIOUS.

Not the only glorious moment, of course, but one of the most unusually glorious moments in a day full of glorious moments.

And so they would sing a song. Since this is musical theater, there was always a lot of acting involved, mix of acted and belted strong notes, sometimes more acting, sometime more straight-up singing. A couple of actors started by siting down on a chair, a few did a few dance steps. Singers were dressed in jeans with T-shirts artfully tucked, or short dresses, or dress shirts, or plain black T-shirts with leather skirts. Sometimes the hair was carefully arranged, once the hair was used as a prop (for "It's Hot Up Here", from Sunday in the Park With George).

And there were moments. Tears. Goosebumps. (but then, I'm a softie, so...)

And when they were done, they would fetch their book, we'd say "thank you" about a half dozen times, and then they would be gone.

Once they were safely out of the room, we would hold up their hand-out and glance at each other and collectively make a split decision: "No", "Maybe", "Yes", sometimes with a few words of why or why not.

When all was said and done, there were probably 12-15 'yes', 10 'maybe', and all of the rest were 'no' (sadly). 

For me this is less about the quality of the group (although, there were certainly differences in quality, of course), but more about the amazingly wide variety of personalities and characters which you see on the stage and which actors inhabit and are appropriate for. The world of humans is a big, big place, and how could one expect for this random sampling of 175 actors coming in to audition for us to overlap the 11 roles we have in our show to any great degree? Considering there are billions of unique personalities in the world?

And so now the director has the 15 'yeses' in his briefcase. Next week we have two days of private auditions. It is certainly not a guarantee that our 15 yeses will all get a call back, and so the list will likely be culled even further.

This is a brutal, brutal business.

If only it weren't so amazing, then we could all give it up and be none the poorer. But because we love it all so much, and those moments when someone is auditioning for you and they look you in the eyes and it feels like they are reaching into your soul, and who cares if it's just happens to be the right song by the right person at just the right time, it's just so incredible and you think:  Wow, the world is a better place because of this.

Paul NelsonComment
Hiring the Creative Staff - Not for the faint of heart

If you don’t like interviewing people (like me), then perhaps you should not be in show business.

This is not something that I anticipated. As both writers and producers, we are interviewing *everyone*. General managers, directors, choreographers, set designers, casting director, music director, public relations… the list goes on and on. It’s an exhausting and humbling process. What questions do you ask? How do you interview a choreographer when you know nothing about dance?

Fortunately, it’s not just us, the writers. Craig (our director) takes the lead and is SUPER engaged, and for that we thank him immensely.

But still, we want to make the right choices for our show. And so you review set design drawings, watch choreography reels, read show reviews, call up friends who have worked with the candidate… all in a (hopefully not futile!) attempt to predict the future.

I suppose that if we just get nice, collaborative people then everything will be OK. Nice, but not too nice (because we all know that a show where everyone is always agreeing on everything will be terrible). Professionals. With respect. Ideally, with proof that they’ve done a show like “Black Hole Wedding” before. Something zany, satirical, funny.

And then you say ‘let’s hire them’ and your heart skips a beat.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Paul NelsonComment
Making the Black Hole - Part 1: We explore lighting

So, hey, this is Paul Nelson, the composer for Black Hole Wedding, and yes, I’m a nerd and I love to program. And so, naturally, I started to wonder how I could jazz up the Black Hole with some fun lighting effects, and, even better, maybe I could synchronize the lights to the music?

After all, who hasn’t always wanted to make their own Christmas Light Display synchronized with music?

Okay, so the thought is that I’ll create a big ring of LED lights which surround the black hole

And so, after some research, I bought a 5-meter strip of Adafruit Neopixel LEDs and connected it up to my Raspberry Pi, which I had previously used to implement a game show control system for a “College Bowl” at my group’s annual kickoff. Of course, there was some additional research, how to wire the whole thing up? I bought the recommended 5v-10amp power supply (also sold by Adafruit) and a 74AHCT125 buffer (to convert from the 3.3V from the Pi to the 5V required by the LED strip), but then… amazingly… it worked FIRST TIME.

OMG.

I mean, I fired up my Pi, downloaded the necessary utilities using PIP, then wrote a simple program:

pixels[0] = (255, 0, 0)

AND THE FIRST LED LIT UP AS RED!!

This was, of course, very cool.

After that, there was no limit. I started writing programs to explore all of the different effects I could achieve with the lights. You can see my results with this special video playlist.

SO MUCH FUN!!

Paul NelsonComment
Has there ever been a good musical about science?

Please let me know if you can think of one!

Of course there are lots of Science Fiction musicals, including Be More Chill, on Broadway right now. When I went looking on-line for “Science Musicals” I got things like “Young Frankenstein” and “Jekyll & Hyde”, which I don’t think that anyone born after 1900 would call “science” anymore, or things that were not science at all, like Extra Sensory Perception. Seriously?

Of course there is “Nerds” (the Musical Dot Comedy), which I actually saw at NYMF (2005) during it’s original run, and which I thought was absolutely hysterical. And then “Numbers Nerds”, also at NYMF (2017), which is really about math, but since, you know, math and science are really the same thing, I think it counts.

And now Black Hole Wedding! At NYMF! Our show is satire, but the science it contains is real (or as real as we can make it), as we hope to demonstrate in the near future.

So maybe NYMF is really the New York Theater Music Festival… for Science!

Paul

Paul NelsonComment
We are assembling the creative team!

Musicals are the most creative art form. Having a collaborator is like having a “work spouse” before the term was invented.

And now we need to expand the family to include general managers, a director and an entire design team (sets, lights, sound, costumes). If this sounds scary, it’s because it is. I mean, what if you get it wrong and your director wants to turn your light, upbeat musical comedy into Wuthering Heights? The whole process is fraught with worry. It is also distressing like dating. It makes me want to create a tinder app for theater. Swipe right: here’s our script and songs. Swipe left, sorry, I just recently got in a long term relationship with another show..

But there are moments. After all, we talk a lot about the show with lots of people, and this really helps. Small nuggets pop out, like how the ending might be strengthened, or how better to talk about the show.

”It’s ‘How to Succeed in Business’ for renewable energy nerds.” Is my favorite one liner so far.

So the hunt continues. We’ll let you know as soon as we get two swipe rights!

Paul NelsonComment
Welcome to our new web site!

Hey Everyone:

Katherine and I would like to invite you to our new web site: BlackHoleWedding.com ! Since we were recently accepted at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF), we are finally getting serious about creating a presence for ourselves on-line.

Our goal for this Web Site is to communicate show information, show times & dates, other events and to blog about our experiences.

In addition, we hope to be using this platform and NYMF as well to highlight all of the great research on Green New Energy technologies which are changing the world, several of which are actually in our show!

Enjoy browsing though this site and please bear with us as we get the site up and running.

Paul

Paul NelsonComment