Happy Sunday! Hope everyone had a lovely week and that you’re enjoying your weekend off. I’ve been feeling a little reflective lately. It’s nice to think about the past sometimes.
The most asked question when I go on Instagram live is “What was your audition process like for Miss Saigon?” It’s been almost a year since the show closed, but I still catch myself thinking about it quite often. I guess it’s true that you never really forget your first. When I walk by the theatre, I find my heart aching just the slightest. Waiting for a train at 59th station also makes me feel funny sometimes. The specific smell of the station reminds me of going home after a show. Since I had a theatre category, I thought I would make this my first post because the show & experience hold such a special place in my heart. I am debating to re-name the category to “Creative” or “Art” for all creative purposes (not just theatre), but I’ll sleep on that a little more. What do you all think about that?
Soooo… where to begin? I guess I’ll start at the very very beginning. Most actors get seen at ECCs and EPAs in the city. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms, ECC = Equity Chorus Calls and EPA = Equity Principal Auditions. Back when Miss Saigon had their first ECCs and EPAs, I was still a senior at college. So close to graduating. Back at school, I would try my best to make it out to the city to audition for shows that I felt were really right for me. This entailed an 8 hour bus ride (which I promised myself I would never do again in my lifetime…from now on I will only fly ง( ᐛ )ง). I remember very clearly that I took the Megabus with another friend of mine from school and we took the bus down together. The bus got in at around 5am, and at 6am, we arrived at Pearl studios and signed up on the unofficial Non-Equity list. At that time, we were both Non-Equity, so that means that we would only be seen if all Equity actors that day were seen. Still, our hopes were pretty high because it was like the 2nd or 3rd day of the ECC, which usually means that the audition is not as busy/crazy.
The boys were up first, and around an hour into the audition, they were told Non-Equity wasn’t going to be seen (this happens a lot). My friend left and I stayed there waiting until the girls’ call started, which was 2pm. I remember the audition holding room being pretty relaxed. It wasn’t crazy busy, so the monitor told us at around 2:30pm, that the chances of Non-Equity girls being seen were really high. Hearing this, I was elated. That 8 hour bus ride wasn’t for nothing! I started to fix my makeup because at this point… I’ve waited for 8 hours in the same studio. I guess I could’ve gone and explored the city a little bit, but I was nervous I would miss any important announcements and honestly, I was too tired.
At around 3pm, the monitor came back and said “I’m so sorry, it looks like they’re not seeing any Non-Equity today.” My heart sank. Tears started welling in my eyes. I was dramatic, yes. But I also was over-exhausted and I waited 9 hours for nothing. So I packed my bags solemnly and walked outside to the corridor of Pearl Studios and positioned myself on one of their benches. Out of anything, I was confused about it all. Thinking about it now, I’m still confused tbh. Simply because the audition was so light. They were done seeing everyone by 3:30pm (from what I remember), and auditions usually go till 5. So I stuck around (I was also an almost graduate of a competitive BFA Musical Theatre program. When you’re at that stage in your life, you definitely don’t take no for an answer). Merri Sugarman then came out of the audition room and went somewhere. I remember seeing her for the first time, finally putting a name to a face, because all I had at that point was researching on my laptop who the casting directors were (because… you should never go into an audition room not knowing who’s in there). Anyway, the brief 5 minutes she was gone, I was debating whether I should personally hand in my headshot and resume to her. The monitor was taking drop-offs, but something in my gut told me that I shouldn’t drop off my headshot and resume with the monitor (nothing against her or anything haha). So, the debate continued. I was so nervous. Merri went back into the audition room I froze when she passed me, I didn’t move a single muscle even though my headshot and resume was ready to go. I know how ridiculous this sounds now but it was just so nerve-wracking because I was so green. As I decide to just give up and leave to catch my bus ride back to Pittsburgh, the door to the audition room opens and Merri walks out again. I low-key sprint towards her and said something along the lines of “Hi Merri, you don’t know me but I’m Viveca and I couldn’t sing for you today because I’m Non-Equity, but I just wanted to leave my headshot and resume with you.” WORD VOMIT. That’s what I think I said. Who knows if it came out as a coherent sentence. She was so nice about it, gave me a smile and said thank you (I know Merri will probably never read this but I love you)! So this was how I booked Miss Saigon.
Just kidding. I WISH.
After that experience, I didn’t go in for Saigon again until the end of July. Before that, I graduated and signed with an agent. During that time, I was doing some summerstock shows Upstate. Summerstock, as you know is pure madness. It’s like 123325 shows back to back, rehearsing 2 other shows on top of the current show you’re performing. So that was the situation I was in. It was so rewarding and so fun, but it would scream impossible if you had an audition in the city and tried to take a day off or something. I was in Chicago at the time, rehearsing for Into the Woods and leading a children’s show as the Princess when I got an email from my agent saying “INVITED DANCE CALL: MISS SAIGON.” Ummm. Ok. I thought to myself. Damn. I can’t make it. So I email him back telling him that my schedule is too busy, I can’t get out of anything. He asks me if there’s no way around it, or if I can call out of the show. My immediate response was still no. I think I was so against it because it was a dance call and dancing is my weakness. I was stubborn and I didn’t want to show my dance skills first, you know? At the time, I thought that put me at a disadvantage because I’ve never auditioned for them before, so if I mess up royally, I had nothing to redeem myself. By the 3rd email exchange, he simply told me to ask before I told him no. And that’s what I did. After trying to work around everything, we came to the conclusion that I was allowed to skip the rehearsal for Into the Woods that day but I still had to perform in the children’s show at 10am in the morning as well as make it back for an 8pm curtain of Chicago.
Great! This felt like a good start. I start looking at train times. 11:30am. 12:40pm. Hmmm. I start calculating times. The children’s show is around 1 hour and 15, I would end at 11:15am, but wouldn’t be able to catch the 11:30am train because the train station is 40 minutes away driving time. So that leaves 12:40pm, which I can make. Awesome. But… wait… that would get me into NYC at around 3pm and my audition was at 2:30pm. Welp. Sh*t. I tried, I guess. That was close, but unlucky. As I was typing my final email to my agent telling him there’s no way to work around it, an insane idea popped into my head… “What if someone was willing to drive me down to NYC?”
I start asking around, and as I’m typing this, I still can’t believe that Vicky Benkoski, my literal angel and guardian, who played my mother in South Pacific said yes. She didn’t even hesitate and said sure. The drive was around 3 hours. And she said yes. To just driving me and then driving straight back because she had somewhere to be. I am so grateful to her. Like, if this wasn’t a miracle, I’m not really sure what is. And just like that, this was all set. We drove down right after my children’s show and I arrived to Pearl Studios with time to spare.
I start warming up and I danced. It was a very small group of girls. I think there were less than 10. We did a very simple combo which I picked up quickly (thank god) and we were all asked to stay and sing. I was shocked because I didn’t get cut from a dance call haha! So as my luck would have it, I was the last to sing because my name begins with a ‘V.’ I waited for around 45 minutes outside the room. I could have asked to go in earlier because I had to drive back to make my show, but another voice in my head told me to be patient and stay grounded and just wait. So I did.
I finally walk into the room and go to the pianist and present my tempo for my first song. It was a song from Great Comet. I kid you not, I had a verbal stroke when saying what show I was singing from. I’m not sure if anyone behind the table noticed, but I said something like “My first song is from Natasha, The Great Comet and Pierre of… You know that show.” Obviously, under those settings your mistakes amplify in your head and then you think to yourself, I said the show name wrong, and that’s why I’m not going to get the job today. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I then walk to my ‘starting spot’ and start my song. I literally sing 2 measures of the song, and Jim, the music director of Saigon waves his hand and says “okay stop!” GUYS I WAS HORRIFIED. I was like oh god, what did I do wrong?? Was I that bad?? How can you tell from 2 measures???? He then said “We know you can sing, so lets just dig into your sides.” PHEW. So we dug into my assigned sides. At that time, I sang for Kim (lololol). I’m laughing because there was a time in my life where I was so desperate to be Kim, even though I knew I could never play her. I know I’m not a Kim, and that’s okay. I think she’s a spectacular role and challenging AF. But it’s just not my role and I’m not afraid to admit it! Like, it’s truly okay to be a young Asian female actress in the industry and know that you’ll probably not be able to play her. I used to be so heartbroken about this, but there are so many other roles that I can do! Kim just belts crazy high and I do not have that crazy high belt. If I tried to sing her material in the way it’s supposed to be sung, I will probably get a vocal polyp. My vocal cords are not wired that way. And that’s okay. But, hey… I guess I sounded good enough in my first audition to get a callback for Kim again! My audition finishes and another friend of mine in the cast at that time who wasn’t in Into The Woods drove down to the city to audition for Book of Mormon (crazy how things worked out). So we drove back together and arrive at the theatre at 7:50pm in time for our 8pm show (this is not professional guys. Don’t learn from me). I did my pincurls in the car.
So callbacks roll around. I find out around a couple days after my initial audition. They send me more Kim material. By this time, I’ve taken on another contract at a different theatre which had a comparatively more relaxed schedule. The artistic directors & directors were really understanding about letting me go to my callback. They even drove me to the train station and picked me up when I came back (literally the sweetest humans ever). So I went to my callback, at Pearl Studios again. I was so nervous because all I could think about was whether I was going to butcher I’d Give My Life For You (the big song at the end of Act 1). They also gave me more ensemble sides too to prepare. I walk in and the panel had around like 8 people on it. Mortifying. I never know where to look in those situations! So I just kind of looked at Laurence (the director), and quickly scanned everyone else in the room as well, to not be rude. I sing I’d Give My Life For You and I felt so good about my acting. Vocal wise though? Definitely cracked like 3 times. I told you guys so! Not my role. After I sang that song, they asked me to sing the high soprano line of The Wedding. I don’t think I even looked at the sides because I was so busy prepping for my Kim sides. I should’ve looked at the faux Vietnamese (at the time) for sure. But well, it was too late; there was nothing I could do now. I did fine. No mistakes but I sang it very hesitantly the first time and was asked to sing it again but at a softer volume. So I did it again and that was the end of my second audition. I walked out feeling okay. It wasn’t an amazing audition but if my road to Saigon at this point in time were to end right there, I would’ve been okay with it. I felt proud of myself for even getting a callback to a Broadway show 2 months out of college. That’s an achievement!
A few days later, I get another email from my agent saying “FINAL CALLBACK: DANCE AUDITION.” …. Lol whut. Are you kidding? I was high on life, and also extremely nervous for another dance call. This time, I had to prepare more ensemble sides as well as the Gigi side. No more Kim sides (they figured it out HAHA)! So I went back the following week to this final callback.
I walk into the basement of Alvin Ailey with a bunch of other girls there. Man was I intimidated. We all go in to dance American Dream (the show girl dance at the end of the show) first, and then we were all asked to stay and sing. Everything seemed like a blur when I sang; all I remembered was everyone whispering to each other behind the table. Who knew what that meant. After everyone was done singing, they made a small cut. Few of the girls were released, including myself, and they told us that “This was all they needed to see from us today.” Ah. The dreaded sentence. We got cut. A handful of girls stayed behind to learn another dance as well as sing more harmonies. So I knew it was safe to say that was the end right there, for now. Hey, I made it to the final callback. You can’t be too greedy all the time, you know?
Exactly 4 days later, I get a call from my agent. He catches me off guard on purpose because he alluded me to thinking that he was calling about my friend who was also in his talent roster. I was skyping Matthew at the time when he called. I pick up his call and we talk about my friend for a hot second, and then he goes “So… I just got an email from Merri telling me that they would like to offer you…” NO NO NO NO NO NO << was all that was going through my head. So I said “NO!” He continues, “…offer you to Swing the show on Broadway.” I still said “no” lots of times and then a lot of “shut up’s” and a lot of “oh my god’s.” I also screamed at one point too and let out a gutteral yell and tears start POURING down my cheeks.
Looking back, everything just felt right. Even when things felt like they couldn’t be worked out, they still worked out by itself. There were signs everywhere showing that this was what was meant to happen in my life. I guess that’s what they all mean when they say you are always at the right place at the right time.
And there you have it, this was my very detailed journey of how I booked my first Broadway show.26 I Love This! ♡