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A Really Long and Awkward Story featuring Madonna, B.O. and Me

This may come of no surprise to someone who shares her life on the World Wide Web, but as a youngster, I loved being center stage and dreamed of becoming an actress.

In grade school, I was cast in a riveting role as Rosalyn Carter and had a few small singing solos in the glee club. I auditioned for the Children’s Lyric Opera by covering Oscar the Grouch’s song “I Love Trash.”  For some odd reason, I didn’t make the cut. The following year, I tried again by belting out a really off-key version of “The Sun will Come Out Tomorrow” and was pretty much blacklisted.

At my all-girls Catholic high school, I tried out for the plays and landed my first role as Annie Oakley’s kid sister thanks to my stunted growth.  My mom had to run me around the mall to find a pair of cowboy boots required for my five minutes on stage. I still feel guilty about how expensive they were.

While the rest of my BFFs were on the basketball team, Student Council or honors track, I had my underground Play People posse. We imported boys from other schools who were usually brothers or friends of girls in the cast.  I even had a secret “play boyfriend.” We were cast as boyfriend/girlfriend and decided to embrace the whole method-acting thing.

I didn’t tell my closest friends about him, because he was pretty dorky and our only date was going to some martial arts movie where I fell asleep. After the play ended, he had his sister sneak a homemade present into my locker with a note that said: “I love you.” I got weirded out and broke up with him.

As the high school years went by, I got bigger roles and forced my Cool Friends to attend each show. My ego obviously got bigger too, because I hinted/insisted that they bring me flowers, because that is just what you do in the theatre. God bless them. They showed up with flowers (and sometimes a little drunk) and surprisingly, didn’t shove them up my ass. And are still my besties today.

The Peak of My Theatrical Career | Alice in Wonderland, 1985

Senior year, I landed the lead in Alice in Wonderland. (Again, not sure if it was on talent or the fact that I am very short.) Our director pulled me aside one day and asked what I was going to study in college. I told her that I was thinking about Communications and she dramatically replied, “That’s a cop-out for theatre.”

At that very moment, I decided that if she believed in me, I was going to become a theatre major! After all, if I can make it in my sheltered, all-girls school where being in plays is the equivalent of wearing the JC Penney fox instead of an Izod on your school blouse — I can make it anywhere!

I researched college theatre programs and applied to several schools. Two invited me to audition. The first one was for SMU, so they came to Chicago and held auditions at a small conference room at a hotel.

It was me, a teacher dude from the drama department and a video camera. Alone.

I performed my monologue and sang a campy show tune.

“Okay, those were fine, but doesn’t really show much of a range in regards to character,” he responded. “Do you have anything that is not so cutesy? More edgy?”

Huh? I think to myself.  That’s all I got, mister. I’m cute.

He suggests, “Can you sing and act something else? Maybe draw something from one of your favorite rock stars?”

My mind goes blank. It’s 1985. The only person I can think of is Madonna.

I break into the most horrific version of “You Must be My Lucky Star” and awkwardly prance and dance around the front of the room to prove my dynamic acting talents. I don’t know the words, so I just keep screeching out:

“Starlight, star bright
First star I see tonight
Starlight, star bright
Make everything all right”

The entire time, I am trying to force my Minnie Mouse voice to become sultry, proving that I can be cast for a wide range of parts. I sound like a transvestite.

When the whole train wreck was over, the poor man could barely look me in the eye as he gave me the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” rundown.

I am next to positive that the rejection letter was under the windshield wiper by the time my dad and I got back to the car.

(To this day, my high school friends threaten to get their hands on that audition tape. They are insisting that the story unfolded that I sang “Like a Virgin.” I am sticking to “Lucky Star.”)

My next audition didn’t fare too well either. I’m sure the Nice Try letter was Fed-exed to my house.

I finally got into a college theatre program because THEY DIDN’T HAVE AUDITIONS!

Right when I started school, I was thrilled to find out that they were casting for the play “Alice in Wonderland.” Hello? I was just Alice last year — I was a shoe in!

Not.

The Theatre Major Kids were super talented and lived, breathed and drank theatre. I, on the other hand, drank Everclear punch at frat houses and was cast as a Card. Not just any card. A dancing Spade.

It was an eye-opening experience. Turns out that these play people were extremely close, touchy and liked to give neck rubs. There weren’t any crazy orgies going on – most of the fellas were gay and fabulous —but the invasion of personal space gave me the jeebies. Blame it on 12 years with the nuns, but I was uncomfortable. And I just wasn’t into memorizing Shakespeare or building sets. I just liked to be the star and getting flowers.

So I switched to Communications.

The performing bug laid dormant as I came to the realization that I really can’t sing, dance (sober) or do jazz hands. Plus, the older you get, the more you realize that there are some real judgmental A-holes out there ready to fill you with self-doubt.

Then along came the opportunity to be in the show “Listen to Your Mother” which is composed of live readings by local online writers.

I talked myself into giving it a try. My story is from the heart and I can’t stumble over any big words because I wrote it myself with the vocab of a third-grader.

But there is one thing: I have to audition.

The directors send an email out announcing the audition date and there are a limited spots available. I finally get the courage to shoot back an email to find out that the last spot was just filled and that I would be on the waitlist.

I was a little relieved. A little disappointed. And took it as a sign that my stage days were over.

Then I got another email saying that they cancelled a bathroom break and that I had a spot! I took it as a sign that I better get off the shitter and do something with my stories.

I was very calm about the whole process until an hour before my audition. Then I became a wreck about getting to the audition on time and started to sweat. Profusely. It didn’t help that it was a balmy day and I was wearing my long winter coat.

I do a pit test in the car and discovered that I stink. Bad.

I get to the meeting place 15 minutes early and try to collect and sniff myself.

Thankfully, the three women who were casting the show were incredibly kind and laid back, putting me at ease as I tried to shake their hands without lifting my armpits.

It was just us in a big room. No video camera. Only encouraging faces and open ears ready to hear the story chosen by my readers.

I started out nervously, but each time I looked up and made eye contact, I was reassured with smiles and nods that I was doing okay. They politely chuckled at the right places. My confidence grew even when I read sentences that choked me up. I did it. And I did the very best that I could do.

It was in their hands. They had the hard task of choosing the right stories to make one cohesive, compelling show.

And guess what?

You must be my lucky star — I made it!

___________________________
The Listen to Your Mother Show is taking place in Austin, Chicago, DC, Madison, NYC, NW Arkansas, NW Indiana, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Spokane, WA.

I am humbled and thrilled to be among Chicago cast performing on Sunday, May 6. (Click here for the cast list that includes my wing man Stacey!)

More details to come. Bring flowers!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.mom-mom-mom.com/2012/03/02/listen-to-your-mother-chicago/

14 comments

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  1. Mary Wiener

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is totally cool and awesome!!!!! I want to see it. O, I loved the story above, too, but man, now we know where Missy gets it! Not that I was questioning, really, but she’s so inventive and creative and unique and either Tom was hiding his true colors or it was you! And it is you! I can’t wait to see it. I’ll bring flowers, are dusty silks acceptable?

    1. Karen

      Yes, dusty silks will fit right in over here! Tom definitely brings plenty of “personality” to the gene pool. I bring plenty of flops.

  2. tracey

    This is so sweet. And I totally understand. I was a high school theater kid, too. Never “did anything” with it beyond being a judge for the past 2 decades of other high school kids. So I was totally qualified to co-produce LTYM, dontcha think? :) You are bringing a funny and tender moment to the show. We can’t wait to get to rehearsals!

    1. Karen

      Really looking forward to working with you and Melisa! Beyond excited and humbled to be a part of this show.

  3. Ronnie Ashline

    You are awesome!

  4. Maureen

    I’ll show up sober to this one ; )
    Break a leg! It’s early to say that, but I can’t say anything else!!

  5. Karen

    That is so awesome!!! Guess you’re just a late bloomer! We’ll have to get a group to go to the show – just make sure to wear deodorant!

    1. Karen

      Hmm… being a late bloomer could explain my chest size!

  6. ChrisE

    Awesome! You should be perfect for that! Relax and kick it out!

  7. Nicole

    Congrats! What a wonderful opportunity, and also, had no idea you were a theatre geek in school! I agree with Mary – now we know where Eileen gets her creativity!

    1. Karen

      Haha – After knowing me all of these years, I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe that I kept anything secret! I can’t lie, I was sick to my stomach as I was writing about that legendary Madonna audition. Not only was I a theatre geek, but an untalented one!

  8. Melisa

    For the record, I didn’t smell anything.
    Welcome aboard! I’m looking forward to getting to know you, and can’t wait to watch you share your story on stage! (Will you wear your Alice in Wonderland costume? That would be fun.)

    1. Karen

      Whew — I promise to wear something a little more breathable to the show! Thanks again for the opportunity.
      And hell yeah, I’ll wear that costume — it’s very figure flattering!

  9. LisaM

    Aaaahhhh, you made it!!! You and Sam are both my heroes!!

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