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The Callback
by Gary Beck

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City. (details below)

          I was really nervous. I knew I only had about 20 to 30 seconds to sing before he cut me off. If I didn’t come across big, the casting director would say those fateful words: ‘Thank you for coming’. At least that’s what the polite ones said. I couldn’t tell if he was gay or not. Most men in theater are. This was a self-contained guy, so I didn’t try to look sexy for him. I put over the song and he didn’t blow me off. I went through a few dance routine combinations, modern and chorus girl standard. He didn’t say anything when I finished, but didn’t say goodbye. So I stood there poised and waiting hopefully, while he looked at my headshot and resume again.

I took a casual pose and forced myself to look completely calm. I flashed back to what Mrs. Embry, my second year drama professor at Gotham U., told us regularly: ‘you have two opportunities to shine. At auditions and in performance. If you don’t shine brightly enough in audition, you’ll never get to perform’. After six years in the business I still knew she was right. The only exception might be if you’re networked and someone calls someone and tells them you’re good and reliable. No one ever made a call for me.

I was luckier than most, though. I had some good regional theater credits and toured in two different Broadway shows. But they didn’t lead to anything bigger. That’s why this audition was so important. It was for a musical revival that would workshop, then go to a legitimate Off Broadway House. If it did well enough, and that’s what the producers must be banking on, it would move to Broadway. At the moment, I desperately needed the Off Broadway job, where I’d earn at least $440 a week, probably more, since it was a big musical. That would mean I could cut back on waitressing.

I had been working at ‘The Joint’, a carefully contrived grunge deco restaurant on and off for two years. It attracted the well-to-do Lower East Side yuppies, giving them a taste of the East Village, at steep prices. It wasn’t a bad place to work, if I had to work at a non-theater job. My boss, Benny, dressed like a rough and tough biker to impress the customers, but was a happily married family man living on the upper West Side, like me, and didn’t try to sleep with me. As long as I gave him advance notice, I could take off whenever I wanted for auditions, shows and out of town tours. He liked me because my regular customers loved me.

This arrangement had worked pretty well so far, but there was a time problem. Unlike some of my fellow actors, who were bartenders first and made big bucks, they only went to auditions, but didn’t want to perform. That’s all I wanted to do. We belonged to a union whose members almost never worked, and only a few made a good living. I wanted to be among those few. It was no satisfaction that I wielded a wicked tray and customers loved my cheerful energy. I wanted that energy to shine onstage.

I don’t know how long I hovered in front of the casting director, caught between feelings of elation or despair as he looked me over. I couldn’t help shifting my pose a little to display my assets. Maybe he wasn’t gay. What a profession! Here I was, young, shapely, men thought I was hot, and I was willing to sleep with someone to get a good part, but almost all of them were gay. I idly wondered how Becky Sharpe would have handled it.

After almost forever, but less then two minutes, he said those magic words:

“See the stage manager to arrange the second callback.”

“Thank you,” I said fervently. “Is there anything you want me to prepare?”

“You look prepared to me,” and he looked at my resume, “Ms. Radwell.” He looked me up and down thoroughly, then waved me away.

Hmm. Maybe he wasn’t gay. I rushed to the stage manager, who definitely was gay. She dressed so butch she made it an art form. Her wife was probably a costume designer. But she didn’t come on to me and gave me an appointment in two days. I left walking on air. I knew the odds weren’t great, but I had a real chance to strut my stuff and it was up to me. The only thing an actor can ask for better than that, was when they said: “You’re hired’.

Gary has 11 published chapbooks and 3 more accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions (Winter Goose Publishing). Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings and The Remission of Order will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press) and Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing). Call to Valor (Gnome on Pigs Productions) and Acts of Defiance will be published by Dreaming Big Publications. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway.

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