COMMERCIAL APPEAL FEATURE

I’m Angela Groeschen, No. 621

Angela Groeschen (Ingersoll) doesn't want to talk. It's just before 9 on a Monday morning and she's in the first group about to go onstage. It is the third and last day of the auditions and she's pacing around the scene shop, oblivious to everyone else. And then, even in the din of performers practicing lines and lyrics, she suddenly stands out. Angela emits this piercing, unearthly yelp that rises and falls in a fashion at odds with this tiny (5-foot),young (26) actress in a vivacious raspberry dress.

What is that racket? Later she explains: "A siren. It's a good way to go through breaks in your vocal range." The siren helped her through the pre-audition jitters, which, she said, were enhanced from lack of sleep.

But the main thing, right now, minutes before going on, is to focus. Focus. Make the most of time, of opportunity and get through this. When she was a neophyte, she was acutely aware of everyone else in the warmup room. Urgently competitive actors like to intimidate by showing off great range or ability. It psyched her out then. "Now I just stay in a corner and ignore everybody. Everybody wishes they had a private space. I got up early and took a shower -- you go through the scales in the shower."

Nothing fazes her now. And then it's time.

Angela strides to center stage. "I'm Angela Groeschen, number six twenty one." She has been on this exact square-foot of real estate many times. She was here the night before performing the lead role in The Philadelphia Story. In the past year, she's been a wide-eyed Wendy in Peter Pan, a lunatic Lady Macbeth, a slutty Shelley in Bat Boy and a swinging Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime.

It helps to have a familiarity with the stage, although, as it is with any performance, there's never anything quite like what you're doing at this very moment. She jumps into the monologue. The volunteer in the front row starts the timer. The auditorium full of theater reps watch, listen and scribble. After the monologue, she segues into a tune. From the balcony, it all looks and sounds like it's going well. She finishes before her 90 seconds expire. "Thank you. I'm Angela Groeschen, number six twenty one."

There are a dozen or so actors associated with Playhouse on the Square in this morning's group. In a way, they're lucky to be getting this part of it over with early in the day. By 10 a.m., they'll have been on and off the stage. But if they've done well at all in their 90 seconds, it's far from over, because now they ache to get call-backs. And if they get any, there are more interviews and auditions. It's going to be a long day for Angela.

One part of her audition was risky, the bit of a bad actress acting badly. "If they didn't laugh, I'd fall flat on my face. But they did." She was pleased enough, but she wasn't really that worried. Angela has put in long hours on stage in a variety of roles and knows what works. "You want, in 90 seconds, to fulfill their expectations about you. You can show versatility later."

After the make-or-break flash audition, the next stomach-wrenching moment comes in the King Cotton Gayoso room -- better known this weekend as the call-back room -- at the French Quarter Suites. Neatly printed signs for all 84 theater reps are posted high on the walls. Under those signs are the call-back sheets with names and audition numbers of actors who have caught the interest of the company. That interest may be in a call-back, a dance call-back or simply noting that the resume is being kept. If it's just "resume kept," there is nothing for that actor at the moment, but the company is impressed enough to keep the info on file. If it's a dance call-back, the actor can go to the TheatreWorks building in the evening to learn and perform some choreographic routines. And if the "call-back" box is checked, the actor can sign up for an interview later that day, typically a 10-minute or so audition where he or she might do more prepared material or be asked to read from scripts. It could be anything. You just have to be ready.

Angela is No. 621. Michael A. Ingersoll is No. 622. Both are in the resident company at Playhouse. They have performed together in Macbeth, Peter Pan, Bat Boy and The Philadelphia Story. She'll be Dorothy and he the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz in March.

They met at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and came to Playhouse together. A company rep is chatting with them in a hallway of the French Quarter Suites. He looks at their resumes and asks, puzzled: "You've been in several shows together?" As one, in a moment that is beyond cute, they reply: "We're engaged." Ah, that explains it.

They read each other well. Not only do they share professional achievements, they are similar in abilities, goals and outlook. And both get plenty of call-backs. They go together around the room from posting to posting, looking up the details of various companies that have expressed interest and initialing call-back forms. "I've done really well today -- resume-keeps and call-backs by a lot of people I wanted," she says.

There's Bearcreek Farms Country Resort in her home state. She likes it, except for one thing: "Good pay but just resort shows." Angela's flair for Shakespeare won't get much workout in rural Indiana. Of course they want to find a place that will have both of them. "Would you do an international tour with me?" she teases Mike. He would.

Angela grew up in Indianapolis, knowing since age 5 what she wanted to do and supported by her blue-collar family. She attended performing arts junior and senior high schools and went to Ithaca College in New York, majoring in theater. And then straight out of college to the Big Apple. "It was a hard-knocks lesson. I was not having fun at all. I was not a good business person. If you're an actor, you have to sell yourself all the time. Do all the schmoozing."

It was not all dismal. In November 2000, critic David Mackler in oobr: the off-off-broadway review, wrote of a production of Othello: "Groeschen was a revelation as Desdemona -- her actions and speech were clear and direct, and every emotion showed. She was beautifully watchable."

But regional theater beckoned and Angela went to Cincinnati for a while. And then she came to Memphis for the UPTAs and almost missed an interview with Playhouse on the Square. Luck favored the lady that night and she and Michael ended up in the resident company at POTS. They'll be here for another year if they want. But in this business, it's always about opportunities and networking, so they've not missed participating in the UPTAs. Still, they're not really ready to leave their sweet deal in Memphis. "We've been learning the business of theater," Angela says. "So I'm leaning toward staying."

Angela's first call-back is fairly early, around noon. She meets Steve Bishop, an associate producer for Maryland-based Phoenix Productions. "Do you want me to do what I did this morning?" she asks. "Do your best 16 and then we'll go from there," says Bishop from his seat behind an electronic keyboard. "Great shoes." "Thank you."

"I'll give you a couple of bars going in ..."Angela belts one out: "If someone like you loved me, loved me ..." "Let's take it one more time," Bishop says, "and when we get to the high stuff, go to the middle of your voice." After giving it a second shot, they give her a script to study. She goes back in the hallway and reads, mouths some of the words and scrunches her face, trying different expressions.

She is up for this. Enthusiastic and focused. Still a bit nervous. Talks a mile a minute.

"They set the tone," Angela says of the reps. "It'll be different in different (call-back) rooms. These guys are simple and efficient. They have an exact picture in their head of what they want. You have to fit in the formula. I feel like I did do that successfully then."

Dance call-backs are at TheatreWorks, a huge, stark shoebox, black and gray and unforgivingly lit from above by 16 long fluorescent tubes. "I do not consider myself a good dancer," Angela says. "I am a good mover, like in Gypsy where I can strut and sing."

Choreographer Kiersten Mays is giving the actors a crash course. Some are doing the mover's routine, some are doing tap and the more confident actors essay the ballet/jazz combination. They learn the routines as well as they can in such a compressed time and then, in groups of six or seven, perform them twice for the reps. Angela decides to go for the mover's routine, a sassy number to the tune "Rockin' Robin" that lets her strut and sell herself and put that extra bit of indefinable presence out there during the "tweet-tweet-tweets." Just the way she planned. Mays calls out: "5-6-5-6-7-and ..." many, many times. Wave after wave of dancers come on, identify themselves by their numbers and then shuffle or chasse while working to keep smiling. The reps, meanwhile, make marks in their notebooks.

Twelve hours after the day's crop of actors gathered for the morning pre-audition briefing, a large number of them -- Angela and Michael included -- are swarming all over the French Quarter Inn. Their day is far from over.

Call-backs have been going on since late morning, but the crunch is now. Angela got 22 call-backs, Michael 25. Some reps see them together, and it is as much about conversation as it is about reading dialog and singing a few bars. The are asked about their Playhouse deal and if they'll consider separate offers. "We prioritize," Angela says diplomatically. And the two actors grill the reps about what kind of plays are offered, working conditions, salaries.

By day's end, actors and reps will be going over dozens of impressions in their heads. The bar at the French Quarter Inn, which gets busier as the evening goes on, will be host to some morose actors as well as happy ones. The company reps will pack up videotapes and resumes and 8-by-10 glossy publicity photos they'll take home and review, hoping to find the best fit for their new seasons.

Angela and Michael will have the luxury of writing notes to some theater companies declining their invitation for a call-back.

The UPTAs are over for another year. And that's show biz.

Cover Photo: Angela Ingersoll