Covid, Auditions, & Race, Oh My!
Covid-19 has flipped the script for everyone in some capacity. My perspectives come from my activism in promoting racial justice within both the service industry and the live performance worlds. Crowds of people gather looking to have a good time at a concert hall or bar but, as we’ve come to learn, being in close proximity in large groups is dangerous during a global pandemic. Bartending is a passion but ultimately that’s the side hustle. Storytelling is my lifeblood. After graduating from the Musical Theatre program at UW-Milwaukee I have proudly added companies like Renaissance Theaterworks and The Florentine Opera to my resume. In the 2019-2020 season I had booked the holiday musical, Elf, with First Stage. In the spring, I was set to sing in the chorus of Monteverdi’s Macbeth with the Florentine. After that contract my plan was to audition nationally and see where the work was going to take me. After a brief Valentine’s Day visit to NYC I came back to Milwaukee with a score in my mailbox, ready to work. I caught Covid. My family caught Covid. The restaurant shut down. Macbeth was delayed, postponed, and ultimately canceled. I felt stuck.
The biggest issue with Covid-19 and live performances are these: crowds and the art. The crowd suffers because we’re not able to convene. Listening to a story or taking in a performance as a crowd forms a sense of comradery in the room regardless of what led you to be there. Then, the literal art of theatre is defined by it’s live aspect. The major difference between TV/film acting and live theatre is just that -- theatre is live. Actors have been forced to find ways to work through remote mediums. There’s also plenty to be said about all the costumers and set designers and stage hands that are out of many jobs. Actors and musicians have found ways to collaborate and use their storytelling instruments to give audiences access to anything with a performative aspect to it. Essentially -- if there’s a will, there’s a way. But what of the storytellers that just don’t identify with filming themselves alone in a room? I am one of those storytellers.
In the midst of the pandemic I was invited to sing for a virtual cabaret spearheaded by local favorite, Shawn Holmes. I was asked to sing the Seasons of Love solo from RENT along with a selection from the song cycle, Songs for a New World. The biggest challenge I faced while recording was the quality of performance I was giving. I would listen and then make a new choice. I would give it another try and it wouldn’t sit right. A fire truck would pass by and I would have to start over. And once I finally finished I had to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t know what the end product would be and if I would be satisfied with it. I found solace in the thought that I could not be the only person feeling this way, and I wasn’t. Now that vaccines are rolling out I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
After reflecting on how Covid had temporarily dimmed the marquees lights worldwide I was able to find comfort in the potential positive consequences that the pandemic has brought us. An optimistic question came to mind: what benefits has remote performing brought us?
Pre-Covid, during audition season one can always find time to record a little ditty and send it to any theatre company across the globe. But the preparations required for going into a live audition are insurmountable in comparison to sending a video in. One example of a local large scale audition is The Milwaukee General Auditions. The Generals are a cattle call style audition hosted by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where one can audition for over 30 local theatre companies at once. The audition volume has always been chaotic. The one year I got to audition for the Generals I had to show up at 6am to get a slot for an audition a month in advance. When I got there, there were people already lined up around the block. Some people had managed to find a way into the building and got ahead of the line. Saying it was disorganized and disheartening would be an understatement. The sheer amount of auditioners alone means that your chances of being seen, let alone cast, are slim to none -- even more so if you are a Queer Latinx man. In 2015, Marti Gobel and Dennis Johnson created the Diversity Generals in order to offer aid in combating MKE’s racial climate which can unfortunately be reflected in the audition room. MKE has been consistently ranked in the Nations top 5 most segregated cities for the last 2 decades. But Covid-19 changed that. No more live auditions, period. Remote auditioning has not only evened the playing field for everyone but it has also eliminated the logistical tediousness that auditioning requires. Sad to say, the traditional audition process also lends itself towards being racially biased. Video auditions have stripped away the unintentional racial biases that Musical Theatre has been steeped in since its inception. Remote auditions are a way of amplifying diversity efforts including gender inclusivity. Personally, I see remote auditioning and performing as a potential catalyst for good and positive change.
About the author:
Indalecio De Jesus Valentin is a Milwaukee native who hails from the south side. An alumni of the UW-Milwaukee PSOA Musical Theatre program, he has worked for local companies such as Skylight Music Theatre, the Florentine Opera, Renaissance Theaterworks, and many more. Valentin has also maintained a career in the food and drink industry in MKE.
You can follow his endeavors on Instagram and any social media platform @idjvalentin