It was last week that I heard about San Diego City Colleges production of In The Heights – one of my favorite shows! I took my sister Raelene to see the Broadway tour a couple of years ago, and also saw The Rep’s version last summer. From the beginning I fell in love with the character of Vanessa. I’ve always thought she would be so fun to play; she is sassy, sexy, and has a huge dance number that closes the first act! So when I heard about auditions I was so elated, and emailed the director about getting an audition time (because I couldn’t make normal auditions).
So on Monday night I checked in, grabbed a name tag and a libretto and sat down by the piano. There were about 25 girls and 15 guys gathered in front of the directors on a small stage. The way the ran auditions (or callbacks?) was very interesting. They taught us a part, in this case a section of Breathe (Nina’s Song), and anyone who wanted to sing was allowed to try. I’m used to more control by the directors, picking who they wanted to hear, but this way was so fun! It felt collaborative and really encouraging instead of intimidating. Everyone was so friendly and easy to talk to – unlike any audition I had ever been to. I worked up enough courage to sing and stood up to go. Perhaps the acoustics were great in that theater but I was feeling it, and I did great! I sang the section, they wrote down my name (I’m sure they weren’t expecting much since I hadn’t been at the first audition) and I sat back down.
The boys sang for Usnavi and Benny, and we sang a small section for Vanessa from 96,000. Then some sang Calor for Abuela Claudia. I sat that one out because I wasn’t the best at that song and I didn’t want to risk it! We were done after that, they sent us home and then told us to come back on Wednesday.
Fast forward two days later, we started stretching on the stage and learned a short hip hop section. We performed that, and then did some salsa dancing. I’ve never really done salsa but I know how to move so I went with the flow and smiled my way through! Dancing is my forte so I felt like I could really let loose and shine in this phase of the audition. The choreographer even whispered that I had a great smile as she wrote my name down 😀
Afterwards, we all sat on the stage and took turns reading from the script, again in the whoever-runs-up-the-fastest-gets-to-try style. This is the part where I felt I screwed up, I was so nervous to read for the part of Nina that I waited too long, and by the time I was about to jump up and go – they moved on to another scene! Dangit! This next time they called me up on stage to read, but not for Nina or Vanessa, it was for the part of Carla – the ditsy comedic relief of the show. And if you know me, I’m not really funny. Haha, anyway, I gave it a try of course! It was fun, but I was really worried that I hadn’t had a chance to read for Nina or Vanessa. I mean, does that mean they weren’t considering me for one of those roles? The directors said they just wanted to see people read in general, not for a specific part but they never really mean it. Do they?
After that they made some cuts. They kept about ten girls to sing the exact same sections that we sang the first night, and then we were done, told to come back on Thursday once again.
I drove home so confused and so worried! I hadn’t read for the part I wanted and it was no one’s fault but my own. In every show I’ve ever been in, if you don’t read for the part you never get it. I ended up meeting my friend Toni to work out at the gym to blow of some steam. We had just finished making a fool out of ourselves on the bench press when I picked up her bag to move machines. My phone was ringing! And it was from a number I didn’t know!
When I answered, the assistant director informed me that they had cast me as Vanessa!! I was so shocked and elated that I started jumping up and down in the gym! I was on cloud 9 and it didn’t matter how many guys stared at two silly girls disrupting their workout – I did it! I remember asking him if he was joking to which he laughed and congratulated me before he hung up the phone.
I had landed the part that I really wanted! The biggest part of my life to be honest! I immediately texted my family and friends the good news but then had to continue my work out before the gym closed. (Side note – this LA fitness three day pass is totally not going to work out. What gym closes at 11?? I want to go to the gym when I’m wide awake and can’t find anything else to do!)
Karen Olivo as Vanessa
Okay. Back to being excited. I’m looking forward to the show and at the same time really nervous to live up to how I sang at auditions. Although I do believe that this was well deserved and totally what I needed. I haven’t had a lead role since high school and haven’t even been on stage since 2010. Ever since I went to New York (blog posts to come) my need to be on stage has been insatiable. There’s a big word for ya 😉
At the same time there’s a small tinge of sadness. I mean, for every girl that gets the part there’s always 20 more that didn’t. And I’ve been that girl so many times, it’s a little hard to be super excited while realizing that. I’ve only been able to say those words a couple of times in my life,
I got the part!
And believe me I’ve been in A LOT of shows.
When was the last time you were so ecstatic that you “got the part?” Leave a comment below!