Cattle Call by Carol Nissenson

Friday, December 27, 2013
Allison, wannabe Broadway star, shows up to yet another chorus call, hoping to finally make her dream come true; by Carol Nissenson.
Godspell 2 seeks female performers between the ages of 20 and 50, all types. Must be able to sing and dance. Belt voices only.
11 am Tuesday, January 16th Schubert Theatre
Allison finished her Lean Cuisine macaroni and cheese as she watched the roaches travel north and south on the two lane highway that started somewhere behind the stove. Thirty is definitely between twenty and fifty, she could belt, and do something resembling dancing. If she didn't fit into 'all types,' who would?

Last cattle call she got shut out because she didn't sign up early enough. That couldn't happen again. Since Matt left her for the gorgeous, Amazonian, redheaded, Devora Prince (aka Debbie Pickles), she'd been stuck paying $2200 a month rent, when she could barely afford $1100. A Broadway Chorus contract paid $1500. Anything with the word 'Godspell' in it would run at least six years. Her only dilemma would be choosing whether to stay with the show, or accept a role in Godspell 3 Revenge of the Samaritans. No more standing in Foodtown passing out samples of kielbasa for $10 an hour.

She walked into the bedroom, set her alarm for 6am, and started looking through her tiny wardrobe in her tiny closet for something that looked Godspellish, fanciful, not too sexy. We're talking God here. Bright yellow jumper with pink blouse? A little Wizard of Oz, but close enough. She was going to be the cutest, spunkiest thirty-year-old who ever walked across the Schubert Theatre stage.

It was only 11pm, but she was too old to look adorable with five hours of sleep.

A car alarm went off at 1am, and didn't stop making the BIEU BIEU BIEU OOWOOP OOWOOP sound until 1:30. Someone from the Dominican social club next door probably shot it.

"Shit, shit, shit. Now I'm wide awake." She went into the kitchen, made some chamomile tea, and ate five Oreos. Kind of cancelled out the Lean Cuisine, but was very calming. By 2 she was back in bed, asleep.

At 4am a mother/daughter bag lady team started throwing garbage cans at each other on the sidewalk in front of Allison's building. Ah, the joy of a 'garden' apartment, which translated 'there is a small tree outside that blocks whatever light the thick iron bars might have let in.

When she went to the kitchen this time she discovered she was out of Oreos, so she ate six Ritz Crackers with peanut butter, and washed them down with a Diet Sprite. It was not quite as effective a sleep aid as the tea and cookies. Pre-audition anxiety was setting in. "Day By Day, Day By Day," What the hell are the three things I'm supposed to pray? Her eyes didn't close again until 5:15.

As she brushed her teeth, less than an hour later, she looked in the mirror, and thought that it was a good thing 'forty' was also between twenty and fifty. There was a crease on her forehead, and a ring around her neck that she was absolutely sure hadn't been there six months ago. The five pounds she had gained on the 'All Pasta Diet,' seemed to have landed directly on her cheekbones. It's just because it's 6am, and I'm not wearing makeup. I'll look great by 11. Anyway, character actors get much more work than ingenues.

At 7 she arrived triumphantly at the Schubert theatre to discover she was #326. Even if they had everybody line up and race across the stage (fastest fifty times got a callback), she'd be lucky to be seen before 3pm. For this she gave up half a day of passing out samples of Florida grapefruit juice in Flushing? If she skipped her dance class, and picked up an eight-hour shift the next day she could make up the difference. Subtracting the cost of the class from the $80 she'd earn, she'd clear a mind blowing $60.

Allison stood at the stage door for a minute, staring at the signup sheet. Devora Prince was #322. Of course she was. She probably got Matt to put on a wig, take her Equity card, and sign up for her. Allison went over to the newsstand, picked up the Times, and walked into the 6 Brothers coffee shop. Why wasn't there a 6 Sisters coffee shop, or, at least a 6 Siblings coffee shop? That had always bothered her.

She had promised herself she wasn't going to eat out anymore, as if the six bucks a week she spent on scrambled eggs was the reason she couldn't pay her bills.

She ordered coffee, a Belgian waffle, two fried eggs, and a side of bacon, opened the Times, and tried to figure out why there wasn't any front page. Her heavy eyelids had turned her eyes into tiny peepholes. Forty minutes and three cups of coffee later she was only able to make it through Section A.

It was almost 8, and hundreds of real people were walking past the window. In commercial lingo, 'real' means 'not an actor.'

"The women trying out 'Mustache-Be-Gone' are real people, not actors."

Hey! Actors get facial hair. Not that Allison knew from personal experience, thank god, but she'd be willing to smear Rogaine on her face, if it got her a commercial. Her neighbor, Alex, had been pitching eyeglass cleaner in Kmart when he got cast as a trucker in a beef jerky commercial. $100,000 buyout. 100,000! For five seconds of chewing and two words, 'That's good.'

"You just need a better agent, Allison," he reassured her. A better agent? She didn't have any agent. She'd only gotten in to see one in the last three years. His office was on the fourth floor of a graffiti covered building just off Times Square. The elevator was broken and so was the air conditioning. By the time she got to his office she had sweat stains on the back of her practically new blouse.

The agent looked at her, then at her picture and back at her. "You just don't have a commercial look, Sweetie, but thanks for coming in."

And there you have it. Allison wasn't real enough, or commercial enough for commercials.

When she got back to the apartment after the breakfast she couldn't afford, she collapsed onto the bed, and shifted at least twelve times before she realized she was way too pissed off to sleep. What, exactly, was she supposed to do? She'd already asked her parents for money. They said 'no,' and she still had to listen to the 'You got 1500 on your SATs. Why are you wasting your time in New York?' lecture.

Meanwhile, Matt was living rent free in Devora's 'Doorman, state-of-the-art gym, and many other amenities' apartment building on East 74th.

Allison spent the next ninety minutes organizing: spices in alphabetical order, silverware by type, and sweaters and pants by color. She divided her sheet music into three piles: Legit, Belt, and humorous, which she subdivided into 'Belt' and 'Legit.'

Just to play it safe, and because she knew she couldn't fall back to sleep, and there was absolutely nothing left in the apartment to organize, Allison went back to the Schubert at 1. They were at #110. Numbers 111-250 were in the basement of the theatre. As usual, there was one obnoxious woman who insisted on vocalizing, "MEE MAY MA MO MOO... ME MAY MA MO MOO."

Allison was depressed by the number of people she already knew. It was a clear sign she'd been at way too many chorus calls. There was Linda, who always brought her cat. They wore matching outfits. Andrea, with the voice of Ethel Merman, and the body of Jabba the Hutt. She'd played Sister Bernice in two bus and trucks of Sound of Music. It would probably be the only role she ever played. Habits hide a lot.

The clique of chorus all stars stood in the corner talking loudly about the latest Broadway show or national tour they'd just finished. The conversation was intentionally loud, so the 'one season of summer stock, and a two-week tour of Fiddler' female singer/dancers would be intimidated.

A few minutes after Allison got there, a ludicrously cheerful young girl was yelling at her. "Hey, Allison. Wow I didn't think you'd be here. I'm Charmian. You remember. We did that elf thing at Macy's last Christmas. I'll bet you didn't recognize me without the ears."

At that moment one of the all stars turned around, and pretended not to look at Allison. It was Devora, dressed totally inappropriately in red hot pants, and one of those 'leaves nothing to the imagination, because I'm braless, which I can get away with, thanks to the excellent work of Dr. William Wesson' shirts. Allison knew it was her from the waist-long fakey auburn hair, and the 'under five' she did on Law and Order.

"Yeah, I know who you mean. He comes in here every day."

They'd never actually met before. Devora probably didn't know who she was until Charmian came in. Was that look on Devora's face contempt? Pity? Guilt? No, definitely not guilt. Maybe it was disbelief. "That's Allison? Seriously?"

Charmian was still gurgling away. "I saw you at the callbacks for Phantom. I don't know why they didn't cast you. I thought you sang great. I didn't get it either, but it was kind of good, because I got this national commercial for Hershey Bars. It's still running. Have you seen it?"

Allison eased away. "Got to study my music."

Devora was still looking at her. The bitch actually giggled when Charmian said 'Hershey Bars.'

Two hours later the stone-faced stage manager came downstairs with a clipboard and announced, "Numbers 321-330, please follow me." Allison grabbed her headshot and music, and slung her purse over her shoulder.

The ten women walked single file up the iron stairs. Allison congratulated herself for wearing flats. It was entirely possible that Devora would catch her four-inch heels in the space between the stairs, and tear a tendon or break an ankle. She didn't hope that would happen, of course, because that would be wrong.

A disembodied voice from somewhere in the darkened theatre said "Everyone line up across the stage." Nobody collected anyone's photo. There was no pianist.

Allison stood there, center stage, trying not to look too desperate.

"OK, girl in the red hot pants, please stay. The rest of you, thank you."

So Mary Magdalene Barbie was called back, and nine other girls who made the mistake of thinking that disembodied voice was interested in whether they could sing, dance or act, clunked down the iron stairs, promising themselves, as they always did, they would NEVER go to another cattle call.

When Allison finally got home after a brutal subway ride squished in the middle of three 'real people' with giant briefcases, she grabbed a yellow legal pad and made two lists.

Actual Theatre Jobs I've Had Since I Got To New York
'Cinderella' in the Cobblestone Children's Theatre Non-Equity production of Cinderella
She scratched out the second 'Cinderella.' Redundant.
Chorus Hello Dolly Redbank Dinner Theatre
Horrible show, horrible cast, avoid the scungilli at all costs.
Meg Brigadoon Beechwood summer theatre
OK, that was a good one. A real white contract and a dresser. Brief affair with actor playing Tommy. Very cute. Dumb as dirt.
Created role of 'Cranky Old Lady' in 'What's the Point?'
Equity workshop (nonpaying).
Chorus six month tour Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Cities played included Butler, PA, North Tonawanda, NY, and Fort Wayne, IN.

Subsistence Jobs
Giving out samples of:

1. Sausage (attacked by militant vegans)

2. Ice cream (attacked by elderly women with shopping bags)

3. Cigarettes (attacked by pretty much everyone)

Phone sales for a company that sold farm equipment. Six hang ups, then "I wouldn't buy your crappy tractors if you paid me," or, the very special, "You must have a wrong number. I sell lingerie." For the rest of the day imagined cross-dressing farmers, using a variety of equipment (no pun intended). Totally lost voice. Couldn't audition for a week.
Subject in a cosmetics study. Who knew that there were blushers that can cause severe skin rashes? Good money. Couldn't audition for two weeks.

Final Score: Kielbasa 5 Show Biz 1.

Allison threw the list away, put on her coat, and went out to see if the store down the street had the new issue of Backstage yet.


  1. i like this a lot. funny but also serious, what else can Allison do?

  2. How true at points in life we compile lists of minimalism, even if what we have eaten, to prove some value to ourselves. A part of life we rarely wish to admit, but all too common. Well captured.

  3. that first comment is from me!

    Michael McCarthy

  4. Thank you both for your kind words. Theatre stories pretty much write least they do for me. As Jimmy Durante used to say, "I gotta million of 'em."

  5. Talent in every cell. "Takes Time for discovery" so very proud of you. Dolores & Christopher

  6. I dig it! Did that coked up twit that does the Progressive commercials have to go through these hard knocks? I hope Allison hits the big ticket even if its a gig for denture glue, some feminine hygene product, or toilet paper. And Devora, that bitch, Just maybe her casting couch acrobatics weren't enough to secure the spot. We can hope. Nicely done, Carol