My Hamilton Audition Experience

This is probably the most personal blog I have ever written. Up until this point they were probably, if I’m being completely honest and objective about myself, valuable but superficial slight scratches beneath the surface of me. I wasn’t going to write it. I wasn’t going to write it because I was embarrassed and maybe even ashamed of myself. But I have now had the time to deal with it, flush it out, think it over, and begin to move on.

As artist we put ourselves out there all the time. Completely vulnerable and naked for the world to see. A pride-less plea for acceptance and validation in order to work. These events where this heartbreaking thing happens is called auditions. We go into a room with maybe three minutes to prove to people we deserve a job. People on the outside really take for granted the courage and humility it takes for an artist to go into a room and audition. People will see actors on the stage and say “I can do that”. As much as I hate to say it, sometimes it is true. Depending on the show, sometimes you could get up there and do it. But so much of our work happens in everything that takes place before we get to get up on stage and “just do it”. It starts with our training and often moves to either the audition or the building of relationships it takes to acquire those auditions. It takes SO much to get into the room sometimes people on the outside wouldn’t even believe it. You can’t just walk up to said theater or movie studio and say, “Hey I heard you guys were doing a green lantern movie, I look like I could be the green lantern, let me audition.” Nope not at all. By the time the average person hears about a movie or play it’s already cast. Then we move into all the rigmarole of booking the role. Then the rehearsals. After that we go through a period of time, a week know in the business as hell week. Then and only then after all of that do we get to get up and as casual audience member say, “Just do it”. But still, we do it probably at least once a week; gather up all the strength and confidence necessary to go into a room and audition for that chance to do it. Just to hear no the majority of the time. Morris Chestnut once told me that for every role he gets, there are a 100 he didn’t get that we don’t even know about. That gives him a 1% chance of booking. The odds are even lower for a person without a name and/or the credits. Having the gumption to work in this profession and go and audition over and over again is an accomplishment that should be applauded in itself. I said all that to say, acting is hard, and auditioning is harder.

With this in mind, I still do it. Because I have to. Art truly is life for me. And a life without the art, is a life not worth living.

There is a show going on right now that I am extremely fond of, and happens to be having auditions. This show is Hamilton. They were having auditions in Los Angeles, and in true spirit of the show, I just had to go. I couldn’t throw away my shot. The one way to make sure I didn’t was to audition. So I did. I booked a flight, flew across the country and auditioned for this show that is so dear to my heart in so many different ways. I know all the rules about auditions; how to treat them, how to feel about them, how to move on from them. But I couldn’t help it this time. I wanted it so bad. I had to have it. I went.

I missed my flight the first day I was supposed to fly out. I rescheduled for the next day, because of course, I planned for everything. The company messed up my flight and I now had a long layover and didn’t arrive until the night before the audition. I still woke up early, went down, took my spot in line and begin waiting. I signed my name on the unofficial list and I was number 147. At some point during the waiting period the wonderful people from Telsey told us we were all standing at the wrong door. So I ran around to the correct door and stood directly in front of it, jumping through caution tape and a torn up sidewalk. I had no problem honoring the list, but a lot of time casting people will come out and say bump that list and just in case they did I wanted to be position. Once we realized we were now out of order a guy in line stood up and asked if everybody agreed to honor the list. We all said yeah. He then told us all to move and get in line all over again based on where we were on the “unofficial” list. It was hot. I found a spot in the shade. I was right in front of the door. What if they don’t honor the list? Then I heard the spirit Hamilton/Lin say “Johnathon, do not throw away your shot”. So I didn’t move.

We waiting for about 5 hours before the door opened. In our waiting, we sang, we laughed, we danced, we rapped, we reminisced about our experiences as artist of color and how similar they are no matter what part of the earth we came in from. It was beautiful.

As it got closer to the time the air started to get thicker, tenser, and less fun. Less laughing, and playing, it was time to lock in. It was time to focus. It was time to go to work. The door opened. The people in line said here, we started a list, the director from Telsey said, “We don’t honor list, first come, first serve. Hand me your headshot and resume and you will get a number”. I was in place. I was third. There were 700+ people there. I sat down, popped in my headphones, got my meditation music going, and started humming. I was ready. I trained, I warmed up, and I had on the right things. I was ready.

They separated us into different rooms to get through everyone quickly, so there was no accompanist. We had to get down to it and sing this thing acapella. I went in, my song went great. They didn’t ask me for a call-back in the room, but I was confident I would get an email later in the day asking to be seen tomorrow. As it got later and later, I never lost any confidence. I knew it would come. It was about 8:30 at night and I ran into a friend who auditioned. I asked, did you hear anything? He replied “Yeah, I go in tomorrow at 10:30am”

In that moment my heart sank. I was destroyed.

I didn’t know what happened. I thought it was destiny. I thought it was for me. I knew it. I prayed. I meditated. I fasted. I had faith. An unwavering faith. I really believed. It was my first time not getting at least a call-back this year, regardless of where I auditioned.

I reminded myself that it wasn’t me. There are a million things that go into a casting decision. But then I said, but I don’t want to excuse myself. Maybe I just need to go back to the drawing board and keep working. Maybe it’s a combination of both those things. I tried to remind myself of the infamous article written by the casting director “101 reasons you didn’t get the role” and how none of those reasons had anything to do with the actual actor. None of it worked. I was still down and couldn’t get out for a while. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and not good enough. This was supposed to be my shot. This was supposed to be my show. My hello to the world. My legacy. The kid from the projects of Cleveland who made it all the way out and on to Broadway. Without the name, without the BFA, BA, or MFA, without the credits, without all the things that have plagued me as insecurities, but at the same time were driving me throughout my entire journey. If not now when? If not this show, which one? What should I do? Should I give it up? Should I just go get a regular job and kiss the stage goodbye? As sad as it may sound, I sunk that low.

I really sank that low, and not even my best friend in the entire world could pick me up. But he knew this was something I had to do and get out of myself. He didn’t show any sympathy and left me to it. He got up, left me, and went to work the next day like nothing happen. But all along he knew that’s what I needed. I had accomplishment so much, but at the same time so little. I had never been here about any audition ever. It was my time in the pit, and just like Joseph I had to stay there for some time.

I woke up and said to myself, you can’t pray, fast, meditate, cry, or beg your way out of God’s plan for your life. I went for it. I didn’t get it. It must not have been his plan. At this time.

I had a plan. I was going to post about my call-back, have you guys send positive energy my way and tell me how proud of me you were. I was going to finally have public validation in the highest order. Since that didn’t happen, I just decided to act like it didn’t happen. I wasn’t going to mention it, or tell anyone other than my closes friends who already knew. There wasn’t anything to tell in my opinion. I didn’t get it. Nothing happen. It didn’t matter

I want you guys to be around for my entire journey. If that’s going to be the case, I need to let you in. I need to allow you to see this side of me. This experience made me address my insecurities. My inner most thoughts. The secrets of my heart. The hidden things that I didn’t even know was there. And if the purpose of me doing this blog through my journey is correct, you need to know about this, because you to will be in this place.

After it all, I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for every step I’ve taken this year to push beyond where I’ve been. I’m proud of the courage I had to go for it with no guarantees. Not even a guarantee to be seen. But I went for it. Yes me. I flew all the way across the country, stood in line for 5 hours for about 30 seconds at my shot. I didn’t book it. But I did it. I went for it. And in the words of my brother Kyle, I lost nothing. The role wasn’t mine. I never had it to lose it. I never fail. I never lose. Either I win, or I learn. I did it. I went for it, and I learned. And I’m going back. It’s not over for me. It was just one audition. No matter how bad it feels, it was just one audition. There will be millions more, and I’ll keep going for it.

My name is Johnathon L. Jackson and there’s a million things I haven’t done…….. But just you wait!