And why not? They're picking the people they'll spend a buuuuunch of time with next year. The players who they'll do trust-falls with, get shushed by the director with (ahem), huddle in bus shelters in Chicago in mid-winter with (unless I can talk them into going in April), order Pizza at 3am with, go to Perkins after every show with...
So it's not particularly surprising that they have strong emotions around audition time. The kids who don't make it in might be disappointed, but they'd be absolutely blown away by how hard they're fought for in our post-callback session at Perkins. (Which tonight ended around 11pm.)
Things start off easy. We do one round of voting without any discussion just to see where we are. Tonight, after that vote, everyone got three minutes of uninterrupted time to talk (they actually did really well with that). Then vote two—after which they decided whether to stay at 11 members or go to 12. They landed on 12—then had to narrow it down to three new members from a group of 9 incredibly funny, talented people.
I should learn to videotape them at the end of callbacks, all saying, "We'd be great with ANY of these guys. We can't lose."
Because by around 10pm, they...um...completely forget that. Unanimous votes are few and far between. Typically, it's not even that current members are against one auditioner—they're just more for another.
Exit 16 isn't like a school play. You don't get a shot at the spring show if you don't make the fall musical—you're either in or you're out until next year. There aren't dozens of leading and supporting roles—so you can't be involved at all if you're not one of the players. And once you're in, you're in—so someone has to quit or graduate for a spot to open up.
The stakes are high. The emotions are higher. And at some point, I have to jump in and declare "majority rules." (Which, as you can imagine, makes me terribly popular.) Because at some point, you have to recognize that you're not going to win the rest of the group over, trust the decision of the majority—and try really, really hard not take it personally.
And I usually step in and say, "I've been doing this for an extremely long time," (by 11pm, not swearing is really hard) "and I can assure you this is the right decision. Trust the group. Trust me. Because I have, as I may have mentioned, been auditioning, training and directing improvisers since BEFORE YOU WERE BORN." (A humbling realization: If they don't agree, my opinion means absolutely ZIP. I'm just like a regular grown-up, suddenly.)
It probably doesn't get easier to know someone you really want in the group didn't make it. But by the last show of the year—where the new guys get on stage for the first time—it's exciting and official and real. By the first rehearsal, they're learning to trust each other. And by Chicago, the group feels like it's even stronger than it was the last year.
It's a lot of work to get there...but once you do, the result is this kind of passion.
Oh, AND...there was a tornado warning. At a little after 7:30, phones started ringing like crazy. Sirens were going off. And we were in the basement...where it was safe. Weirdest audition ever.