Previous installments of Exchange Student can be found here.
I sat in the third row by myself, my elbows propped on the arms of the chair, my back stiff as my grandmother had taught me. The woman with the piercings snapped her gum and slumped in the front row, wearing a black tank top despite the chill, showing an array of tattoos on her upper arms and shoulders. She’d been texting constantly since returning from her “break” immediately after her audition.
The auditions were not what I expected. They said to allot a three-hour block of time, and the reasoning immediately became clear as some were told to stay and others to leave after performing. The director and his assistants were decisive and thorough, brooking no argument. They’d make their decision this afternoon. The director’s name was Henry Aldridge, evidently an up-and-comer who treated these shows as a practice ground for himself and the cast he chose.
I made it through the first round as did about ten other women. Most of them ran out immediately after being told to stay around, and when they returned their cheeks were rosey. They seemed less nervous, bubbly, the result of a quick drink or something else. On the second round, while they may have been more confident, the net result of whatever they had indulged in, to my eye, undoubtedly affected their performance.
I observed everything around me. At home, I’d only performed one audition unconnected with school. Although I’d been nervous, it was easy, with one callback a few days later and the part was mine. I had never witnessed a process like the one before me and had no way of knowing if this was typical or not. It just was.
The woman with the piercings, “Charlotte, call me Charley,” stood on stage. Her manner, like the others who had darted out after being told to stay for the second round, was more relaxed, but she gave Laura an edge and slight rebelliousness that she hadn’t given in the first audition and which was at odds with the character of selfless, gentle Laura. At the end of her scene, the director asked her to stay.
There was one more girl before me and I was the last. I closed my eyes, meditated, breathed in deeply and visualized myself and my character and my goal as I was taught to do. When I was done, my name was called and I performed as if I were Laura, suspended in a reality which didn’t exist, one of my own creation. My voice projected, but was smoothed by the inflection of my accent so that I seemed frail, my movements as unhurried as southern American summer days.
After my last word, I stood there, feeling the tightly wound emotion I held inside begin to release.
“We’ve found our Laura,” the director said.
I gave in to a smile, but otherwise refrained from demonstrating too much emotion. When I looked beyond the director, I saw Eddie standing there, narrowed eyes on me. His audition had been this morning and I knew he had won the part of Jim, the Gentleman Caller. We held each other’s eyes long enough for me to know that it was not an accident. Charley, who was assigned to be the understudy for Laura, shrugged into her leather jacket, looped her arm through Eddie’s and dragged him out of the theater.
A feeling of anticipation washed over me, not only regarding the play, which was monumental enough, but the fact that despite the animosity Eddie now felt for me, I was nonetheless intrigued. I felt very much like the moth drawing far too close to the burning flame.
“Thus hath the candle singd the moath.”