Last night I was at an audition for a play. It was actually a callback - that's when an actor goes through the first round of auditions, and the creative team wants to bring back the people they're interested in to read again. I was excited to be there. I liked the script, I enjoyed immersing myself in the role, and the director and the playwright seemed really nice.
The night before I had befriended another actor in the hallway before the first audition. She and I were chatting about funny mundane stuff: New Yorkers who don't know how to walk on the street, neighborhoods we'd lived in, other auditions we were headed to after that one, etc. We auditioned, wished each other to break legs, and that was it.
So I was excited to see that she, too, had gotten called back last night. We immediately started exchanging pleasantries when a man walked up to us.
"Excuse me," he said, "Do you know where the coffee social is?"
Now, to be clear, we were in a very well known acting studio. Broadways shows hold auditions and rehearsals there. They don't host "coffee socials", and even if someone wanted to, I'm pretty sure the "no drinks except for water in the room" rule would apply. (Pianos in the rooms, people). We politely informed him that he was in the wrong location, and to ask the security guard downstairs. But he kept wandering the hallways.
I should add something - as this is an audition/rehearsal/acting studio, there are often very scantily clad men and women roaming the halls. It's just what happens when a company like Victoria's Secret is holding an open call for background for an event (true story), or a cruise line is seeking dancers. So when performers enter a space like this, it's understood that it's a safe space where people can focus, get into character, and feel comfortable stripping down to a thong and jazz shoes without anyone flinching, let alone staring.
But there was Mr. Wanderer. I assumed he must really be lost but was just taking in the vibe of the studio. It is fascinating to an outsider, to be honest. Then he finally left to attend what, I assumed, was said coffee mixer. (I don't even know what that is but it sounds like a good time I guess.)
My new actor friend was in the first group to go into the callback. I wished her the best, and she went into the room. After about 5 minutes I was called in to join the scene, as the schedule had dictated. I felt prepared, confident, and ready. The scene went great. Then they asked me to step out for one more scene so they could finish with the other girl, and I was informed after she left I should be prepared to do the bigger scene that focused on my character.
I go back into the hallway to, you know, focus and go over my lines, when I see Mr. Wanderer again. He walked right up to me (um, no), touched my arm (biiig no), and says, "Where did that really pretty girl with the hair go?"
Let's unpack that for a second. First of all, this is a hallway of a studio where people are, I don't know, acting, auditioning and doing something that is their JOB. On the off-change there might be a lost wanderer looking for a coffee social, there are signs in the hall that quite literally say: "This is a quiet space. Artists are working. Please let everyone focus." It's kind of like if I walked into this guy's office at JP Morgan while he was on a call, closed the door and put my face in his to ask where the snack chips are. Inappropriate. Second, "The really pretty girl with the hair" isn't the best way to describe someone you don't know, ever, to someone you don't know at all. Third, this woman he is speaking about is in a room, working. Soon she would be exiting said room to perhaps wait in the hallway again and prepare yet another scene if the director so wished. She didn't need to be distracted by a stranger who was at this point making his intentions clear. (Looks like the coffee social, if it did exist, was cancelled so he had the sads.) And I most certainly didn't have the time or energy to play wing-woman. I, too, was preparing for the audition.
So I had two choices. Brush him off and be concerned for my new friend when she left the audition room, or tell him to leave us alone. Either way I was nervous and getting riled up and I just had to do something. So I said, "Actually that 'woman with the hair' is in a room auditioning for a play. This is an acting space and we are at a callback. Unless you know her, you shouldn't be here because this is not an appropriate place to meet women. We're working right now."
I'd like to report that he listened to me respectfully and left. But I'm sure you all know that the exact opposite happened. He got very gruff with me, as if he was put-off that I simply stated a boundary. He got up close to me, sneered, then sat down on the couch, legs spread, arms out. "Well, what if I were to tell YOU that I'm an AGENT and I have an AUDITION opportunity for her?"
Oh. Hell. No.
Because of rules (thanks to unions), oh, and basic understanding of social structure, no agent would ever do this, or be allowed to do this. Let's just say I'm pretty sure he was lying. But what pissed me off the most is this: The idea that performers are just objects to look at, and so desperate for any job, that this guy can walk around and start exerting some sort of "power" that he doesn't have, simply because I informed him that this woman in the other room was basically looking for a job. Fuck. That.
The problem was, I knew I had to go in the room in one minute, and now I was flustered, and angry, and honestly worried. This guy wasn't right. I couldn't argue with him, but I had to do something to make sure the woman in the other room was going to be safe. It was late and the building was shutting down. My mind always goes to the worst case scenario on a daily basis about 20 times a day anyway, but here was a situation that had a pretty high chance of escalating. I mean, it already had.
The door of the audition room opened. I gave up any chance of looking at the scene at that point. Before anyone walked out, I sped in and closed the door.
"I'm... I'm sorry..." I said to the room as I turned towards the girl, "But remember that coffee social guy?"
"Oh God, the weird one???" she responded.
"Yes, well, he's outside, waiting for you. He says he's an agent or some bullshit..."
"Oh hell no."
Clearly that woman had been around the block as much as I. So much so that that's all that needed to be said.
"Listen, if you want an escort out of here," I turned to the men behind the casting table, about to ask them if I could have 5 minutes to walk her out of the building and alert security. But before another word came out, something wonderful happened.
Everyone got up. They got it immediately. The director told us to stay in the room. "I'm going to take care of this. You shouldn't have to deal with this." Then the male actor followed him. Two other guys in the hallway stepped up as well. I don't know how, but they took care of it and made sure the woman was safely walked out of the building. Then they came back in, apologized on behalf of the man, and we all took a moment to compose ourselves. They understood I was shaken up, and I didn't even need to say a word. After some time, the audition resumed.
There has been a lot of talk about what is known as "Rape Culture" these days which, by the way, is a thing. I don't want to take up too much time explaining it because many phenomenal pieces exist at your fingertips. (Google!) I've seen many men get sensitive over the idea that women rarely feel safe, you know, anywhere. "But I'M not going to rape you! Why do you assume I'm that guy?" Here's the thing: Most men aren't. In fact, most men are amazing! What happened last night with that one creepy guy happens all the time, and when men and women stand up against it, it's wonderful. Guys, there are so many good ones of you. Last night was a perfect example. Sure, there are a few bad ones but they don't need to give men a bad name. What gives men a bad name is when the nice ones, for some strange and inexplicable reason, don't want to get involved and say things like "Rape Culture isn't real because I'm nice." No, it is, and you ARE nice! And women know that.
So, thanks again for the wonderful men and women at the audition who knew EXACTLY what to do, and why. Gross people may do bad things, which is why it's important for us awesome people to recognize the reality of this, and do something about it.