Last summer, I had not yet been admitted to medical school. I was a lost soul, trying to find my big break. I tried acting. I took a class on it. During the class, I was shown a list of all the local auditions coming up. They were all lame. Except one.
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. It’s rock and roll music. It’s acting. It’s perfect. Auditions were to be held in January of 2013. I will be Buddy Holly.
It was not long after finding out about this show that I was accepted into medical school. I guess I wasn’t a lost soul anymore. But I was still playing Buddy Holly songs during my free time. I still wanted it.
In December, the theater released the details of the production. The rehearsal schedule was do-able with my work schedule and the show would run from late June until August 11th. School starts on September 16th.
The fantasy unrolled effortlessly.
I get the role of Buddy. Rehearsals fly by. The other cast members and I hit it off. We sing harmonies and play amazing songs.
The show starts. It’s a huge hit. Every night is sold out. Everyone wonders where this singer/actor came from. Some online articles come out about my performance. People ask to interview me. I’m humble and confident. People read the interview pieces and buy tickets for the show a few weeks in advance.
My parents fly out from Chicago to see me. I address them during the show, in character. I tell the audience to applaud Mr. and Mrs. Holley who flew out for this concert. The audience goes wild. I sing the next song. My mom cries at my moving performance.
The final show ends and I’m showered with flowers. The director says how excited she is to work with me again. I get business cards from the talent agents who managed to get last minute tickets because they kept hearing, “You have to see this kid.”
I respectfully tell the director, agents and cast members that I am retiring from showbiz. I’m going to pursue my dream of becoming a doctor. It was a pleasure to have worked with each and every one of you.
I wake up the next morning and it’s over. My girlfriend and I put our suitcases in the cab. We go to the airport and leave Honolulu forever. I become a doctor. I had a promising career as a performer, but I chose medicine.
…I’m sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, right. The show’s schedule would work out perfectly.
I practiced my Buddy Holly impression. I sang his songs and worked with friends on getting his phrasing perfectly. I put his trademark hiccup permanently into my voice. I learned his guitar solos note for note. I was ready.
The audition was at 5:30pm. I left work early. It was hot, but I put on jeans anyway and lugged my guitar over to the theater. I showed up at 5. I was the first one there. I filled out an audition form, stapled it to my resume and handed it to the lady at the desk. People started to come in. Everyone knew everyone else. I felt like an outsider.
My hands were shaking, but this is nothing new. Normally it takes me a song or two before I get comfortable and really open up. But I was only going to play a 2 minute and 15 second song. Suck it up, James!
The audition began. All of the auditionees were sitting in the theater seats. There weren’t very many. Ten to fifteen maybe. The director, musical director and choreographer were sitting at a table directly in front of the stage.
They called the first name. He walked from his seat to the director’s table and sat down. They talked for just a few minutes and he got up and walked away.
“James Munro,” they called out. I grabbed my guitar case and walked down to them and sat down. They were looking over my resume. “So I see that you have a lot of experience playing drums.”
“Umm, yes, but I’m here to audition for the role of Buddy,” I said. I always get shoved behind the drum kit. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to be the star of this show. They haven’t heard me do anything yet, and they already want me to play the drums.
They asked more questions about my resume. “I see that you’re a kickboxer?” the musical director asked.
I pointed my finger out at him and said, “Yeah, and don’t you forget it!” We all had a good chuckle.
They told me to get up on stage and get ready to perform a song for them. I climbed up the stairs onto the stage and opened my guitar case. I pulled out the guitar and quickly tuned using harmonics. The choreographer said, “Oh that sounds beautiful. It would put my kids to sleep.” I smiled. Tuning is the most annoying sound in the world.
I stood up, guitar in hand and looked out into the seats. The other auditionees were staring silently at me with folded hands and judging faces. I looked down at the director’s table.
“What song will you be performing for us?” asked the director.
“That’ll Be The Day. I’ve never played for such a silent group of people before,” I said.
She smiled, “Don’t worry, we’ll be jamming right along with you.”
I started the song. It was a little fast. I looked around. The auditionees were stone-faced. Just staring. It was weird. The director was smiling and bobbing her head. I didn’t make any mistakes on the guitar. I sang two vocal lines out of order towards the end, but all of the style and phrasing was good. I finished and received an obligatory golf clap.
They asked me to sit at the table with them for a moment. The director told me that I would certainly fit in as Buddy or any of the Crickets and said she’d like to see me at the callbacks. She told me I was free to go and I, unfortunately, didn’t get to see anyone else audition.
I was thrilled. I went home elated. The following night, the director emailed me a copy of the script. I read it. About four times. She emailed again a few days later telling me that the callback audition would be in three weeks. She said to bring my guitar and asked that I be ready to do some drumming.
With about 5 days before the callbacks, I was getting anxious and emailed the director asking if there was something I was supposed to learn, or prepare for. She replied that the music director was supposed to email me with that information.
He finally did. I received an email with two songs: Not Fade Away and Rock Around with Ollie Vee. He included the drum charts and said that I was primarily being considered for the role of Jerry, the drummer. Whaaaaaat?
They heard me play a flawless and amazing rendition of That’ll Be The Day on guitar and then emailed me saying that I’m on the top of their list for the drummer. He said I could bring my guitar if I wanted. Ok? I assumed that they had an unbelievable candidate for the role of Buddy. Alright. I’d enjoy playing drums for a seriously amazing rock n roller.
Regardless, I learned the crap out of both of the songs on guitar and didn’t even pick up a drumstick other than to shove them in my bag for the audition.
I came to the theater for callbacks, went right to a seat and started people watching. Someone with a guitar came in and sat right in front of me and pulled out his guitar. He’s definitely auditioning for Buddy. We’ll call him Country Boy.
The judgments began immediately. I looked him up and down. Definitely has the Buddy Holly look. He smiled at me. I smiled back. Seemed nice enough. He had some off-brand guitar. I didn’t think I needed to be worried.
You can very often judge the skill of a guitarist by the quality of his instrument. There are many exceptions, of course, but if a guitarist has a cheap guitar you can feel safe betting that he isn’t very good.
The director called out the names on her list to make sure everyone was there. She called a name. They said, “Here!” or raised their hand. She marked the list and called the next name. She called everyone’s name except one person. We’ll call him Slick Greaseman. When she came to Slick’s name on the list, she looked up and said, “I know Slick is here!” and then moved on down the list.
Slick had tattoos down his arms and big, gauged earrings. Not very Buddy-like. He had bad posture, slick, greasy hair and sunken eyes. He was carrying a guitar, but he was all the way on the other side of the theater and I couldn’t tell if it was nice. I did see that it was a classical guitar, which didn’t give the impression that he was much of a rock and roller.
There were three Buddy candidates. Slick Greaseman, Country Boy and myself.
The audition began with a handful of nervous girls singing the Star Spangled Banner. I don’t think any of them knew the words. It made me realize that I don’t know the words either.
The acting began. Country boy went up on stage with another actor. Country was to read the role of Buddy and the other guy read the role of Hipockets Duncan. Country was nervous. His movements were robotic and forced.
During the scene, both actors said “Hip Ockets” but it’s actually pronounced “High Pockets”. This show is supposed to be a tribute to Buddy Holly, but I was starting to get the sense that no one in the theater knew anything about the guy. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who realized that the audition, February 2nd, fell on the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s last concert before dying in a plane crash that night.
They called Slick up to the stage to perform the same scene with the same other actor. The director commented that they were mispronouncing Hipockets’ name. Thank goodness.
Slick over-corrected his bad posture and stuck is chest way out. He had an arrogant delivery of his lines. He got a minor laugh out of the audience during his scene. Better than Country Boy, but I wasn’t blown away.
They called me up to perform the same scene, with the same other actor. I can’t really judge my performance. I felt comfortable. I wasn’t nervous. But I don’t know what I actually looked like. I did, however, get a big laugh during the scene where the other actors only got a small chuckle.
For the next 45 minutes, the audition carried on in a similar fashion. All of us went up on stage at different times and read different scenes with different actors. Some were better than others. I consistently got the biggest laughs during the Buddy scenes.
In one scene, they had me read one line in the role of Jerry, the drummer. My heart sunk a little bit. But then I went back to reading for Buddy again.
The acting portion was finished. We moved into the music. After a few people sang songs, the music director said, “Ok, let’s have the dueling Buddies come down.”
I was filled with confidence. I can’t promise that I was the best actor, but I definitely held my own. I felt extremely confident that there wasn’t another musician there that could match me. I’ve been playing guitar for about 15 years and many of those years were fueled by an obsession with early rock and roll.
Country Boy went first. I was certain he wasn’t going to impress me, but I was still holding my breath a bit. He played Not Fade Away. It took less than 2 bars for me to exhale and start breathing comfortably. He didn’t play any of the staccato rhythm that makes the song great. He struggled to switch from chord to chord. He was a beginner.
He awkwardly stopped halfway through and said, “That’s all I know.” They told him it was alright and asked that he play Rock Around With Ollie Vee. I stopped listening completely. It was cold in the theater and I started warming up my hands.
After he left the stage, the director said, “Whoever wants to go next…” I looked across the room at Slick and he gave me a condescending bow and hand gesture as if to say, “Go ahead.”
I hopped up on stage and they asked me to play Rock Around With Ollie Vee. I said, “I don’t have all of the words memorized, so I’m just going to play the first section, is that ok?” They didn’t mind.
The song starts with a little lead guitar part and goes into a bluesy riff. I played it perfectly, note for note. I saw everyone in the seats perk up. I sang the first verse and the first chorus and ended smoothly.
The music director said, “Wow. Ok. Great. Can you play Not Fade Away?”
I immediately began. I’ve been playing this song for ages. I know every word and every guitar note back and forth. The music director stopped me during the solo section and kind of laughed and said, “Alright, I think that’s all we need!”
I walked off stage and the director motioned for me to come close to her. I leaned in and she whispered, “Would you be willing to dye your hair?”
“Of course,” I responded. Oh, I got this.
Slick went up next. He started with Ollie Vee. He did not play the opening solo. He did not play the bluesy riff. He played sloppy open chords and sang with a pretty boy voice. He knew less of the words than I did. I don’t think he’s ever heard Buddy Holly in his life.
His rendition of Not Fade Away was equally disappointing. He didn’t play any of the guitar parts that make these songs great. It was a bad open mic performance.
Now the directors wanted to bring a few musicians up at the same time to perform together. The music director said, “James, didn’t we talk about you possibly playing the drums?”
I noticed a change of tone from the email that said, “You are primarily being considered for the drummer” to now when he talks about a possibility that I might play some drums. Whatever. I nodded, grabbed my sticks and walked to the stage.
I played drums and Country Boy played guitar and sang. He’s obviously never been in a band before. I had to count us in. He couldn’t do it.
They had Slick come up. He was much better than Country Boy, but so sloppy. He was not playing rock and roll. I did not hear any Buddy Holly at all in his playing.
I sat down and they had another drummer play with Slick and Country Boy. The drummer was good, but he was playing really loudly and couldn’t play quieter after the director asked him to. A sign of inexperience.
I played with the drummer next. We were easily the best sounding duo of the audition. We had chemistry. We played off of each other. It was fun.
The audition was over. The director said to everyone, “You’ll hear from us very soon. Thanks for your time!”
I shook hands with the drummer, thanked the directors and walked to my car thinking, they’d be idiots if they didn’t cast me as Buddy.
Two days later, I had a voicemail on my phone. It said, “Hi, James. This is the Director from the Theater. I’m calling to cast you in the role of Jerry. Please call me back to let me know if you’ll accept this. I sure hope you do! Thanks!”
I was furious. Slick Greaseman got the part. He sucks at guitar and they want me to back him up on the drums? No freaking way. I was wondering whose nephew he was.
I called the director back and said, “I’m going to have to pass on the role of Jerry. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.”
“Oh no!” she said, “We all thought you were so great!”
“Yeah, well, thanks for that. Good luck with everything,” I said and we hung up.
She emailed later that day and told me that as Jerry, I would get paid $1000 and asked if that would change my mind. I responded by saying that it wasn’t about money, it was that I wouldn’t play drums behind a sub-par guitarist.
If you’re reading this and have been thinking that it sounds like I was being a huge jerk, I agree with you. My furious rage lasted for about 5 days. Then I finally saw it. What a jerk! I did not get into music to be better than other people. I certainly didn’t stay inside all of my childhood and practice so I could belittle and judge less experienced musicians.
I don’t know why he got the part instead of me, but I hate myself for judging him so harshly. He’ll do fine, I’m sure. He’ll learn the guitar parts. He’s good enough. I just wanted to play Buddy Holly songs in front of a receptive audience. I convinced myself that I deserved it and he didn’t.
I’m an idiot. That kid has probably been in tons of shows at that theater. And who am I to say that I deserve the role more than him. I feel awful.
I keep replaying the first moment that I saw Country Boy and I wish I could take back all those judgmental thoughts. He was probably so nervous. I bet he almost didn’t come to the callbacks, but he forced himself to. And when he showed up, instead of encouraging him, wishing him luck and paying attention while he performed, I judged him. I ignored him when I decided he wasn’t good enough to beat me. I convinced myself that I was better than him.
I hate who I became during that entire audition process. I let myself take my deep, intimate passion for music and turn it into a competition that I had to win. “This would be fun. I could do this” turned into “I’m better than everyone else, I deserve this. They’re stupid if they don’t pick me.”
I love music. I love playing it, listening to it. I love seeing other people playing it. Mostly everything in life is a competition and music was supposed to be my escape from that, my release. I let my ego step in front of my passion for music and it ruined the whole experience for me.
I’ve learned lessons from all of my audition experiences. My unfortunate lesson from this one is that I can be a dick.
I had no right to be angry, but I was definitely upset. I would’ve made a good Buddy Holly.