by Lorraine (Holscher) Sarek.
April 1959. It was a very nasty snow/sleet/rainy day. I walked from the Y to the Radio City Music Hall stage door, stood outside staring with a totally blank mind. I couldn't move and I couldn't talk. Who knows how long I stood there looking absolutely stupid. I remember the white feather hat I was wearing looked like a chicken that had been killed several times and left to be disposed of. What a mess.
Somehow I managed to get inside, up the elevator, to the back room of the huge rehearsal hall, changed into my leotards and taps, and then sat up against the wall on the notorious benches. About fifty others were there waiting for Russell [Markert] and Emily [Sherman] to start.
They introduced themselves, gave us instructions, i.e., three steps of a tap routine that you know, a set of eight each controlled kicks, right and left, a set of eight fan kicks, right and left. A ballet exercise with turns plus a modern jazz step or two.
They called out a name but no one got up. I'm thinking where the heck is that girl? I was sure they'd begin with someone whose name started with an A or B, but my name started with an H, They called out the name three more times and guess who it was? You got it - Me! Yipes!
I went through the audition in about ten minutes. Russell and Emily asked me to wait, had a small discussion, sat me down in front of the both of them and said I was accepted – go home and wait for a telegram as to when rehearsals start. Russell had one correction:
"Lorraine, it would be nice if you would stop biting your nails by the time you come to rehearsal." "Next girl!"
I ran all the way back to the Y where Mom was waiting. Little did I know that in May I would be doing the Kodak Number as my first professional dancing job, and with the fabulous Radio City Music Hall Rockettes!
A little footnote: After many years and at the age of 35, I discovered that I had been born with a hearing impairment. Amazing what dancers can overcome when the desire is there. —
In 1947, a fellow Graham dancer, Mark Ryder, told me he'd been hired for the summer by Taimament, a famed Catskills resort, and that they needed one more man. It was my first audition. Choreographer, Rod Alexander, kept eliminating until it was down to me and a guy in tailored Spanish pants. He was slicker but I was sure I was better. Producer, Max Liebman, chose him.
From then on I auditioned with attitude. It wasn't conscious, yet looking back I know it showed, and that some choreographers hated it, Michael Kidd, for one. I don't blame him. The last thing a choreographer needs is a dancer with attitude.
"Stop burning wood!" Jack Cole would scream when a dancer, instead of instantly executing a step or at least trying to, looked puzzled. Jack read it as, "You expect me to do that lousy step?"
When Ronald Field and I were in Kismet, as a lark we took an audition together. Ronnie, a lightning study, was first across, every move spot-on, a tricky combination ending with a grand jeté. But he emitted a subtle message: "So-what-else-is-new?"
I'd practiced a dozen times before I took my turn, danced as though it was the greatest combination ever invented, ending with a mighty leap. The choreographer called me over.
"What did he say to you?" asked Ronnie.
"He asked where I've danced."
"But why?" Ronnie meant, "Why you and not me?"
He wasn't yet choreographing and hadn't thought about the unspoken choreographer-dancer dialogue. His dancing had revealed that he was a lightning study but that he didn't think much of the moves, mine that I was challenged but would get the moves, and liked them.
Choreographers begin as dancers and at some point work with choreographers they don't respect. When facing Agnes DeMille, Merce Cunningham simply withdrew. Paul Taylor danced full out in Arabian Nights but couldn't hide his underlying attitude – boredom. Rod Alexander dubbed him "the absent one."
Most choreographers need and all should get wholehearted support. Herb Ross gave it to Pauline Koner when she was choreographing an early TV Through the Looking Glass and he was dancing the Knave of Hearts. When Joe Layton was in the chorus of Cinderella, he quietly did his job when the desperate choreographer, Jonathan Lucas, was wildly struggling to find moves, although at least one other dancer didn't hide his contempt.
Early in his career, Ronald Field realized that his ability to compose intricate combinations in his head plus a steel trap kinetic memory rendered him immune to dancers' attitudes. Yet Rita O'Connor, who worked with him often, says he usually picked out one unlucky dancer to be cruel to, a sign of his own inner demons.
Many, if not most choreographers use auditions to scope out dancers' attitudes, knowing that among those hired one, at least, will be watching, bug-eyed, eager to grab their job and maybe do it better. Donald Saddler respected his dancers and took pleasure in their successes. Yet when he heard that one or another was doing choreography, he'd laughingly say,
"They're taking the bread out of our mouths!"—Stuart Hodes
Thank You! (Now Get Lost)
The reality of auditions is rejection. If you can't take it, find another line of work. I used to say to myself: "I won't work for any choreographer dumb enough to reject me." When in Once Upon A Mattress I mentioned it to Carroll Burnett who said: "I look out front and say to myself, ‘They're all sitting on the toilet!'"
Auditions came in three basic flavors:
1) The Melee: Fifty to a hundred dancers crowded around trying to pick up the steps then did them in groups of six to ten. Some got, "Thank you," meaning "No, thank you," some, "Stay." A rejected dancer sometimes made a lightning costume change then tried again. At worst another rejection and even if recognized, sheer chutzpah might make them think again.
2) The Military. Each dancer got a number, was admitted in a group of five or ten, out of which one or two were kept for the second round.
3) The Funnel. All dancers saw a simple combination, basic waltz (Eugene Loring, Frank Westbrook), alternating leaps and skips (Jerome Robbins), madly eccentric (Michael Kidd), did it one at a time across the stage, to receive "Stay," or the dreaded "Thank you."
I first auditioned for Jerome Robbins for Call Me Madam, 1952, told, "come back in a year," and I did, in 1953 for Two's Company. I got a contract with a three-day clause and was fired at the end of the second day. Again, "Come back in a year."
"Thank you Mr. Robbins, but if you want me, just call."
He called in 1964 for Fiddler on the Roof By then, I was a veteran and knew that shows meant more to me than just paying rent. I told Robbins I wanted a role but he said all roles would be cast after rehearsals began. I declined.
The best "audition" I ever gave was performing a duet I'd made with Alice Teirstein. Playwright, Wendy Wasserstein, saw it and wrote in her book, Shiksa Goddess. (Knopf, 1992, p 57).
I loved the Dancers over 40. Especially a waltz danced by Stuart Hodes and Alice Tierstein. Hodes was Martha Graham's partner in the 1950s. His face is amazing and his dancing was elegant and joyous. Nick and I want to cast him in our film. A star is born. Schwab's drugstore at Dancers over 40.
I don't understand the last two sentences and wish she and Nick had cast me in their film. But I consider it my most successful audition.— Stuart Hodes
You Never Say No
It's an unspoken rule; at auditions you never say, "No."
By the Beautiful Sea: "Can you walk on stilts?"
"Of course." I only fell off regularly the first week
Sophie!: "Can you juggle?"
"Sure!" People learned to give me and my flying rings a wide berth.
When Paul Taylor auditioned for Peter Pan, Jerome Robbins announced, "Warm up your backs, you're doing back hand springs." Paul asked someone what a back handspring was, managed to do one for Robbins. In his first performance he crashed into the set and broke his nose.
The Esther Williams Aquaspectacle had a water ballet, women and men told not to take the dance audition if they couldn't swim. I'd been a high school swimmer and assisted the aqua-choreographer at the swimming audition which was after the dancing.
You don't have to swim really well to be in a water ballet so it began with five dancers at a time swimming the width of the pool, about 8 yards, eliminating those whose only stroke was the dog paddle. A group dove in and started across except one, who flailed away struggling to keep his head above water. My lifeguard training kicked in, I dove over, and pulled him out.
‘Didn't you hear the choreographer say you had to be able to swim?"
Gasping and coughing, "Yes."
"Then why did you take the audition?"
"Do you ever say ‘No' at an audition?"— Stuart Hodes
No Micky Hargitay
The Latin Quarter, NYC. 1958. (Photo, left: Micky Hargitay) The men's audition was on the circular stage of the Latin Quarter, a landmark nightclub whose clientele were mostly middle aged tourists.
Choreographer, Donn Arden, gave a simple combination in the free-swinging tap/soft-shoe style that was jazz dance before Jack Cole and Katherine Dunham revved it up toward the steamy challenging form it is today.
Some fifty men had been winnowed down to a dozen whereupon Arden
told us we were going to improvise. Improvise? A flicker of indignation swept through the group. Sometimes I welcomed improvising but Donn Arden was all-out commercial. Couldn't he think up his own steps? Was he going moderne, arty?
We were called up individually. The four or five before me simply strung classroom steps together. I armed myself with a thought and took it from there: "Up your ass, Donn Arden!" He seemed to like it.
But before being hired, he asked me to remove my shirt.
"I'm no Micky Hargitay," I muttered, referring to the 1955 Mr. Universe in Mae West's Las Vegas show who was about to marry Jayne Mansfield.
"If I wanted Micky Hargitay, I'd get Micky Hargitay," growled Arden.—Stuart Hodes (Photo, right: 'No Micky Hargitay' and Lisa Rose, backstage, Latin Quarter)
Body and Mind Games
In the 1950s and 60s, classical dancers flocked to auditions by Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, and Eugene Loring, modern dancers to Helen Tamiris, Hanya Holm, and Anna Sokolow, and when jazz began edging out ballet and modern, took jazz classes to be ready for Jack Cole, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, and Ronald Field. Peter Gennaro's jazz class was crowded with dancers who sensed he'd be hiring one day.
Audition notices were posted at Actors' Equity, appeared in Backstage, and Actors Cues, and news of auditions could be picked up in dance classes. I went to every audition, considering each a sort of free dance class.
Choreographer, Rod Alexander, actually gave an audition as a dance class, charging the going rate (four dollars), standing by the door and taking the cash himself. I took his class and a few days later got a call to be in Satins and Spurs, a TV special starring Betty Hutton.
Equity hated that sort of thing, considering it no more than a way to make dancers pay to audition. But Rod Alexander gave a strong hour-and-a-half class in the jazz style he'd learned from Jack Cole, demonstrating clearly, making corrections, giving every dancer a chance to learn the moves, a good class even if it didn't lead to a job. Not that Equity was wrong because Alexander was an exception. Even today one can spot ads from sleazy frauds promising stardom to every stumble-footed dreamer they can lure into their junk classes.
For his L'il Abner audition, Michael Kidd began with an eccentric move all pumping knees and jerking torso, easy to learn, not so easy to do. I tore into it, once across the long diagonal only to get a "Thank you," which meant "No thank you."
I knew I'd done it well but sometimes a dancer and a choreographer just don't click. Three years later I went to Kidd's audition for Destry Rides Again, and sensing the same animus, decided to go first, which few prefer to do. Kidd had the first twenty dancers do the move, lined them up across the stage, peered at me on the far right and as he drew his breath I picked up my dance bag. The other gypsies laughed, taking it as a sign that I knew I was about to hear "Thank you," Kidd hesitated, then said, "Stay." After the next combination I got my "Thank you," yet savored my first-round victory in what had become a curious mind game.— Stuart Hodes
The Birth of a Chorus Gypsy
(Photo: Paint Your Wagon; Center: Ilona Murai and Stuart Hodes)
"You!" Agnes DeMille pointed her entire arm at me. "Forget classical. Can you kick over your head?" I let go a series of bent-legged punts.
"You see?" she said, turning to director, Daniel Mann, who sat beside her.
It was the "open call" for non-Equity dancers and among the swarm of classically trained men in tights, I was a modern dancer in short pants.. When DeMille had asked for kicks, I copied the others with careful chest-high batments. After my punts she asked me to the final call and eventually I got a Chorus Equity "pink contract," six weeks of rehearsal at $28 a week, and when Paint Your Wagon opened, $70.
Wagon ran nine months, not really a hit, but my first regular salary for dancing. I considered myself a "Martha Graham dancer" and "commercial dancing" in Broadway musicals was to pay the rent. After Wagon closed, it was more auditions but at least I had a union card that got me into first calls for union members only.—Stuart Hodes