I spent most of Saturday not getting into the Yale School of Drama MFA acting program. In one sense, this isn’t unusual: I’ve spent every Saturday these past few decades not getting into the Yale School of Drama MFA acting program. This past Saturday, however, I actually went and tried to get in, which puts a whole different light on things.
There was nothing overwrought in the day; no stand-in for The Donald shouted “You’re Fired!” and no Simon Cowell slapped his balky forehead. I did my Henry V and Lakeboat pieces in an undramatic chalky downstairs room with a comforting lack of acoustic character, peered out afterward, had a handshake, and went upstairs. Out of the dozen of us that hour (two others didn’t show) they asked to see only one fellow again, and the rest of us crept out into a splendid sunny New Haven day to wrestle with our new and slightly bleaker visions of the future, and to lay hands on the inevitable bruises in the heart.
It was a beautiful day. I got on campus an hour early and sat in the sun outside the Fence Club, chatting with a massage therapy trainee named Laura who was working the check-in desk. Layer by layer I relinquished the expectation of winter, watching the tiny slice of Ivy drift past in unseasonable spring. My brother went to Yale, but from my stations in Cambridge and Somerville, London, Dallas, and points else I only made it down to visit him once while he was in school.
Unlike Harvard, which is such an inextricable part of Cambridge that you just about need a student ID to get off the Red Line anywhere past Kendall Square, Yale is a sternly fortress of a place, and to the unfamiliar eye it forces a recalibration of scale. York Street is packed with small stony buildings, like the crook of a model-community historical installation, all arches and eaves and munchkin towers. If a Las Vegas casino were to build a Ye Olde Ivy League theme park, it would look like this, right down to the toyland scale-model shrink-America feel that Vegas has down to such a science.
One of the teachers in my high school was famous for rumbling “Place your furs and rucksacks in the closet” at the start of class, and my bag is feeling ruckish today: I’ve got my no-brain train book (which I’ve just discovered is Volume I of a two-book series, and Volume II hasn’t been written yet — grrr), my just-in-case Yogi Tea teabags (Throat Comfort and Breathe Deep), my superfluous second-layer sweater, my directions to the place (as if I couldn’t recite the entire email from memory, in my sleep, with both hands on the wheel of a speedboat dream), my need-’em-later hat and scarf.
Soon enough we’re in two groups, one randomly for upstairs and one, by chance, for down. Our warm-up room is dominated by a huge round conference table which takes up three quarters of the space, so I lie down on top of it to stretch, much to the consternation of my compadres. “Go on, try it,” I urge. They do. It’s fun. Mostly you don’t get to lie down on top of tables without someone yelling at you. The girls are pretty, the guys are trim, and they’re all a good 15 years younger than I, which might be what this round was all about in the end.
One girl dimples in with Mom in her wake. “I’m totally sorry,” she announces. “But I’m pretty nervous, and when I’m nervous my nipples get hard.” And so they do.
I never have much memory of stage time, or auditions either; I think on stage, fast and hard, but it’s a practical, animal kind of thought, all concerned with trajectory and lights, lines and pace, call and response. Walton Wilson is friendly and shakes my hand and then waits politely for the show to start, which it does. (Program head Ron Van Lieu has the Upstairs.) The Shakespeare slips past uneventfully; I drop a line from the Mamet, right where I had to cut a bit for length last weekend, but it’s a tiny step and I move past it and on to the rest without confusion. I get a laugh where I hoped for a laugh, which is great, and my mouth is dry by the end, which is not. But the words get said, there’s soft and loud and high and low, I use my hands where I mean to and don’t flap them where I don’t, I generally hold my ground with ease, and there we are.
Oh well. Maybe next year.