The email sounded promising enough. “You have been selected to audition for the Roots and Branches theater company.” Key word: Selected. You see, being selected, as opposed to being asked or invited, automatically makes me superior to all the other actors in this city, as if they pulled my headshot from the massive stack of mail and said,“Her! She’s the one! She’s got talent! Pizzaz! A real dynamo this one!”
Yes, this may sound like a scene from a Shirley Temple movie. And?
I continued reading the email.
“Roots and Branches is an inter-generational community of artists, interested in exploring past and present situations to combine individual moments of personal growth into a collaborative creative presentation.”
Whatever. Just give me a job. Please. I can’t feed my two kittens. I say kittens because even though I don’t have kittens, you can believe that I do. I thought about saying children but really, the idea of me having a child at this point in my life is just ridiculous. And I need you to believe that I have some sort of desperation to go to an audition that will ultimately take me nowhere. Cause why else would I keep putting myself through these useless and often humiliating auditions? Why?! WHYYYYY????
Because I have hungry kittens, damn it!
I arrived at the location provided by the theater company. From the outside, it looked like one of those recreational facilities where you play basketball or indoor soccer. But when I entered, I didn’t hear the usual squeaks of sneakers on wood or grunts of defensive play. There was only silence. A stillness to the building. I took a look and saw no one around. I stood in the empty lobby, alone with my thoughts about how I was alone. However, instead of being creeped out by this Unsolved Mystery waiting to happen, I had an odd sense of familiarity, a feeling like I was home.
I was at a retirement complex.
Growing up in Central Florida, I am no stranger to the elderly lifestyle. Living in conjunction to the second largest retirement community in the United States, The Villages (spreads over three counties!), old people silence is something you learn to live with. Occasionally, a golf cart hums by at 3 miles an hour. Or a house will blast Maury and Montel at full volume. After seven P.M. the silence fills your ears and starts to eat away at your brain. Soon you’re talking to yourself to fill the emptiness in your head and phrases like, “Baby needs Mr. Q to bake something. Banana. Banana.” or “Mr. Q ate my tulips. Baby wants her red ones.” start to make complete sense.
Lauren, head elder of the Roots and Branches, came out of an elevator and greeted me in her wheelchair. I volunteered to push her to where ever we were going and she directed me to the back of the complex, to a large rehearsal room she called their “jam space”. A group of elderly men and women sat in a circle and applauded as I rolled her in. I noticed there was only one other actor there to audition. His eyes kept darting from the group to the door. I sat down next to him, away from the elders. He nodded his head at me.
“Hey, I’m David.”
“Looks like we’re the only ones here to audition.”
“Good.” The fewer the better in my opinion.
One of the elderly men rose and a hush fell over the group. He groaned the entire way.
“Boy, them knees don’t work like they used to!” Knowing laughter filled the room. “Well let’s get started here. Kids, this isn’t going to be your typical audition. We’re going to do a little improv, story-telling to see what we come up with. Sort of like we’re workshopping you. That’s what we do. We workshop and tell stories and then we write a play. We’ve got Dina here on guitar, so if you want to start singing, she’ll start a melody and go along with what you do. Dina, why don’t you stand up. Where’s Dina? Dina!?”
A woman with a shaved head stood up behind him. Stickers about saving Mother Earth adorned her guitar case. “Hey guys. Who’s ready to jam?”
“Sarah, why don’t you go first?” The elder pointed at me with his cane. Seriously?
“O-okay.” What was he going to make me do?!
“Sarah, take this cane.” He handed me his long knotted walking cane, maple oak in color. “Take this cane and tell it something you want it to know. Anything. Just something you feel it needs to know. I’ll speak if I feel the cane wants to know more.”
I held the cane tenderly and began to tell it a story. Sadly, this story is true.
“So, um, I was doing my laundry the other day. Um, and, uh, I had a sort of bad week. And I hate doing laundry. I mean, I HATE it. And I was really tired and stuff and I went to put in the quarters into the dryer and I hit the wrong button and refilled someone else’s dryer with the quarters. MY quarters. And, um as I said, I had a really bad week and when I did that I started to cry. In the middle of the laundromat.”
“How did that make you feel?” asked the elder, or should I say, asked the cane since, while it is capable of creating thought, it is unable to vocalize its concern for me.
“It made you feel what?”
“STUPID!” I shouted this line to make my story sound more meaningful.
“What do you want the cane to know about that sad story?”
“Um. That people are good. Cause this man, he didn’t even speak any English, he came up and put four quarters into my machine. Of course, that only made me cry more. But it was still nice.”
“Sarah, do you sing?”
“Do you dance?”
“Yeah.” Crap. “I mean, I used to.”
“Would you do a little dance with this cane?”
‘Yeah, I’ll give you a beat!” shouted Dina as she began to strum a cheerful melody. I figured my dignity was shot with that laundromat story, so I began to dance a beautiful dance with my partner, the cane.
We twirled in circles together. We tangoed. We did the twist. I lifted the cane high over my head and pandered to the elders, tapping my feet vaudeville style. I could tell they were enjoying my performance even though what I was doing couldn’t really be considered dancing. What I was doing looked more like what a four-year thinks dancing is; an uncooordinated mix of hip thrusts, arm poses and funny faces.
“Now say something to the cane,” the elderly man commanded.
I looked at the cane and, in a rather inspired moment, said, “You’ve been so good to me, baby.”
Laughter and applause filled the room. I had pleased them. I sat down and a female elder leaned over and whispered, “That’s how I always feel.”
After I watched the other auditions (two more actors came late), I felt pretty confident that I was going to be jamming with the Roots and Branches full-time. While the other actors may have had better stories, I beat them all with my dance.
They never called me back.
And somewhere, in New York City, a cane sits alone, wanting just one more dance.