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On the Matt Barkley Audition & the Importance of His Callback

| November 28th, 2016

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For those of you new to DBB, I do most of my “work” in the theatre as a playwright and musical theatre lyricist/librettist. In the last ten years I have been in countless audition rooms, sitting on one side of a long table as a stream of young actors parade in, sing a song, listen to our tepid “thank yous” and walk out. There’s a little secret in the theatre most actors don’t know: we hate the process as much as they do. But since Actor’s Equity requires we do it, we do.

Matt Barkley walked into the room.

Our expectations were he’d get his three and a half minutes and then we’d move on to the next one. He handed his sheet music over the pianist – the boring choice of “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. It takes a brilliant performance for somebody to stand out with that tune and we don’t expect Barkley to be the one to do it. (Here’s Raul Esparza singing the track. I don’t want to embed the video here.)

          Somebody hold me too close…

          Somebody hurt me too deep…

No emotion. No intensity. Off-key.

          Somebody sit in my chair, and ruin my sleep...

I’ve starting drawing cubes on the back of Barkley’s resume. Three-quarters of the song are over and I’ve not only stopped evaluating the performance, I’ve stopped listening altogether.

Then something happens that occurs in the rarest of auditions. A moment makes your ears perk up. You find yourself suddenly transfixed by the performer. It’s usually the result of the actor’s deep connection to the material and their ability to project that connection across the table. If you’ve never been in the room, you’ll never understand how powerful a moment this can be.

          Somebody crowd me with love…

          Somebody force me to care…

          Somebody let me come through, I’ll always be there…

          As frightened as you, to help us survive…

          Being alive…

          Being alive…

          Being alive!

By the end of Barkley’s song, we’re in tears.

Barkley leaves the room. We look at each other on the other side of the table, perplexed. I turn to the composer and director and ask, “what the fuck just happened?” Nobody has an answer. But one thing is certain.

We’re inviting Barkley back into the room to see if it happens again. Because if it does, a star is born.

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