I had made the bold choice of using a prop, one, juicy, red delicious apple. As I practiced in the weeks leading to the audition I discovered just the right break in the music where I could do my trick. I would toss the apple in the air and have it land in the directors hands, just like the Artful Dodger did to young Oliver. With such a daring stunt, there was no way I could be forgotten.
When the night of the audition came, I took the stage with butterflies in my stomach, and my red delicious in hand. The song started smoothly. I had lots of energy, and was even carrying the tune decently well. Soon it would be time for my big moment though. I flea hopped forward, the break in the music came, and I set the apple airborne.
Immediately, I experienced a brief moment of sheer panic. The director was not looking. His head was down, writing, note, completely oblivious to the fact that he was about to be Isaac Newtoned. Then, at the last moment possible, he lifted his head and caught, more like trapped, my fruit grenade against his chest. The theatre gods we smiling down on me after all. It had worked. He seemed pleased. I didn’t miss a beat. I kept singing. All was right with the world.
Then it wasn’t. Then he threw it back.
The red, gleaming bomb was in the air again. Only this time, it was headed for me. I hadn’t planned for this. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Was the director messing with me? What kind of sick guy messes with a nine year old when he’s performing a solo in front of hundreds of people? Before I could react to the falling fruit, the apple clunked off the side of my foot, rolled to my right, and settled at the feet of the accompanist playing the piano.
My ego was bruised, my apple was bruised, and my audition was slowly being ruined. I did the only thing my elementary school brain could think of. I stuck to my choreography while trying to get the apple back. What ended up happening was me doing an awkward step touch type dance to the right with my hand jutting out of my hip socket toward the piano. I looked like I was asking the accompanist to slip me a five spot. Only I didn’t want five dollars, I wanted my freaking apple back. By the time the song ended, I’d forgotten half the words and I still hadn’t retrieved my apple. I’m not sure I ever saw that brave fruit again. One this was for sure though, I thought as I made my sad way back to my seat. I certainly would be remembered by the director, but for all the wrong reasons.
We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re being creative when we decide to throw the apple. Deciding beforehand what we are going to do feels safe, but it’s not art, it’s deciding. It’s preparation, which is extremely important. But preparation is not art. The art happens when the apple gets thrown back. When all that you’ve prepared and decided gets thrown out the window and you’re forced to respond, react, and be vulnerable to what’s around you.
I don’t think I was very artful with the apple situation, believe me. But that’s only because I refused to let go of what I’d prepared. If I had taken the risk and opened myself up to the situation around me, I would have abandoned my planned choreography and created a solution to the problem. Isn’t that what art is, after all?
When we are thrown off balance, thrown a curveball (or an apple) those are the moments that are fertile soil for art to take shape. But we have to be willing to abandon our decisions and start making choices.
By the way, I made the show. I even became good friends with that director years later. I asked him one time of he remembered my botched apple audition. His response speaks volumes.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”