In fairness, Zoe’s first audition happened 5 years ago, when she came home from school one day saying she was trying out for the school play, Alice in Wonderland. In case you don’t want to read the post, here’s the short version: she was 5 years old, had never been in a stage production and decided she wanted to not just be in it, but to be ALICE.
While she didn’t get selected for Alice, she did memorize those lines, and she ended up on stage in the queen’s court with very little to say (though she looked quite cute). Flash forward to 2021. She’s been on several stages now, during summer camp and after school programs, though never in anything that required an audition. And now, as she heads towards 6th grade next year, she got an opportunity to audition for a Performing Arts Academy track at a local public middle school.
In fact, this audition might determine whether or not she gets into a good middle school. No pressure. I’m writing to document how the whole experience really went down because who knows how she’ll remember it (or if I’ll remember it). Here we go!
We applied to the school months ago, along with a few others at local schools. Then on February 19, we received notification that she was eligible for the Performing Arts Academy program, which required an audition:
Each slot will run approximately 10 minutes. Auditions will be conducted via a Zoom video call. Each student will perform a one-minute monologue from a published source, a one-minute segment of a musical theater song, and a one-minute dance.
One minute seems like nothing, right? I assure you that depends on what you’re doing. But back to the audition. We tried instantly to sign up for a slot and found one on March 9, and our adventure began. We had talked to another parent before applying to the school whose daughter was in the Performing Arts program; she raved about it and had engaged a coach to prepare her for the audition. I reached out to her immediately to get that coach, since I knew Bart and I would be completely useless…
My first call with the coach was terrific, and she immediately had ideas (without having met Zoe). She had an intro call to get to know her and clearly had coached LOTS of kids. She asked Zoe if she could do a Southern accent. Zoe said, “What’s a Southern accent?” Yes, I have failed as a parent. Not at all concerned, the coach gave her a monologue (best performed with an accent) and a song to practice. The monologue was from “Quilters” called Sunbonnet Sue…
After several run-throughs on our own (even without the accent), Zoe was struggling. One line literally said “chopping off the head of a chicken“… She loved that line but just wasn’t relating to the rest of the text, though she was committed to trying. I looked up the link above to show her pace and tone of the monologue as it was intended to be performed (with the accent). No luck. Knowing we had very few days to get this right, I reached out to the coach.
When I told her I’d given Zoe the video she said, “I wish you hadn’t done that.” Now, I’m new at this and have never wanted to be a stage mom–what do I know? But you can guess my reaction to that: “I wish YOU had.” She assured me she had other monologue options and sent a few over. One of them, about a young girl getting her ears pierced called Beauty is Pain, Pain is Painful, Zoe loved. When she met with the coach to perform both, surprise surprise, the Quilters one was dropped.
For the song, she gave her My Grand Plan from The Lightning Thief. The beginning is so fun, and Zoe started there (before her first coach meeting) and practiced it for the call. During that call, the coach listened, then skipped to 1 minute 42 seconds (the most difficult part of the song) and asked her to start there instead. Zoe has a fabulous voice, but I was concerned. It was a challenging piece.
Let me be clear. This coach has years of experience and coaches kids around Zoe’s age every single day. I’m sure her instincts are right. But I know my kid. I realize the coach wanted to WOW the audience in that audition with shockingly tough pieces to show what Zoe could do, but we had days to get good at it (and no experience auditioning or really even performing).
You’re probably wondering about the dance portion. HA! This coach did not handle dance auditions, so we were left to our own devices to figure that out. Not to worry, Zoe decided to pick a song and make up her own dance. The first one was to some Sam Smith song (I truly can’t remember it) and involved almost no movement at all… In contrast, the coach’s only advice had been to use her gymnastic skills, end with the SPLITS!
I gently encouraged Zoe to actually move her body, no matter what dance she did. They were looking to see if she had rhythm, flexibility, grace, etc. She changed her song to “This is Me” from the Greatest Showman movie and added a few more moves. No splits but better. (For the record, she can do the splits.) Then, on February 23, we received this from the school:
If your child is already trained in dance, and has been working on a dance already, please feel free to perform that dance. If not, you can have your child learn this simple, fun combination from “The Lion King,” Copy and paste the following link to go to the YouTube tutorial: Lion King Dance Tutorial.
Zoe’s interpretation: “I already have a dance.” My interpretation: “If your kid has taken actual dance classes, great. If not, let’s see if they can learn a dance so we’re not stuck with kids who have no rhythm and feet of lead.” We in fact argued over this point, as she was convinced her dance was fabulous (it was not but it DID have her heart in it). I insisted she learn the other dance, as a backup, for the moment when they learned she was NOT trained in dance… This will become important later.
She practiced that monologue, song and dance every single day (often at my insistence, sometimes not) and met with the coach twice more. I kept reminding her how little time we had, and that, while she didn’t need to be perfect, she needed to absolutely put the effort in and do her best if she wanted in that program. And she definitely wanted it.
I maintain that my advice (on that) was 100% accurate, but my delivery at times was, shall we say, annoying.
Let’s just get to the good stuff. The day of the audition (March 9), we had to show up on Zoom at 3 pm, not knowing exactly what time she would start other than some time before 5 pm… We got the tech ready (iPad, external speaker, laptop with Zoom teed up and camera set to the right angle), straightened up her room and sat together waiting. At 3:48 pm a message popped up in the Zoom waiting room that said, “If Zoe Johnson, [another name] and [another name] are in the waiting room, please let us know what name you’re under.“
My heart sank. I totally forgot that we were in my Zoom under Susie Hall (not even Johnson). Oops? If you’re curious, there’s no way to respond to a chat the host puts into the waiting room… I frantically went to our email and sent messages to every name I had from the original audition scheduling information. Then, absolutely terrified, I dropped out of the Zoom waiting room, renamed my account to Zoe Johnson and re-entered. All I could think was “I’ve been pressuring this kid for over 2 weeks to do everything right, and here we are losing her audition spot because I didn’t think to rename my own account.“
Sometimes, parenting sucks. Thankfully, they received my email and within 5 minutes the room loaded with six instructors ready to meet sweet Zoe. I apologized for the name snafu and left the room. But I didn’t go far.
From right outside the door, I heard them welcome her kindly, and then my sweet, sweet child was warmly, confidently answering their questions. Then, just after letting them know what her dance was, she said, “So I just want to tell you that I know I’m supposed to be a professional dancer to do my own dance, my mom told me that, but I’m not. So I’m prepared to show you the Lion King one as well.” GASP. They reassured her that she didn’t have to be a “professional” (FYI, I never said that) and moved on.
As you can guess, Zoe NAILED her audition. She had a hiccup on her song (the music was too loud, and they asked her to sing a bit more at a lower volume to hear her voice, which she did without flinching). I heard them giggling during her monologue. Score! And they literally said, “That was lovely” at the end of her makeshift dance. She said one of them was wiping their eye (tears, she assumed) as she finished. They told her she was “Wonderful“. Then I was the one with misty eyes.
I felt every second of that audition and could not have been prouder of our strong, self-assured daughter who held her own. She was over the moon, jumping up and down and little girl shrieking with delight (so was I). We were all ecstatic. We ordered celebratory sushi at her request. I took my first deep breath since February 19th.
What did I learn from this? Have a little faith. Our daughter is amazing and is even more capable than we think she is. Breathe. She needs love and support more than advice, especially when neither of us know what to do. Plus, I’ll need that deep breath when I’m the one who screws up…
Oh and did I mention parenting sucks sometimes?! You want nothing but the best for your children, and it’s nearly impossible to know the “right” thing to do (even more difficult to do it).
So. We have no idea if she got in, but I know for sure that she poured her heart into that audition, and along with her talent, they’ll be the ones to miss out if she didn’t. SO PROUD OF YOU, ZOE!