By Danna Friedberg, 15, Hamilton HS (Los Angeles)
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Danna Friedberg aspires to be an actress.

The tension is running high as I try to wow my audience. With microphone in hand I wait with anticipation for my song to begin. When the music comes on I dance and sing like there’s no tomorrow. Once the song ends I wait for the applause.

The polar bear, cow, duck, a moose named Marvin and Buzz Lightyear in the audience just stare blankly back at me with their beady, stuffed animal eyes. I thank them into my microphone (which is really a hairbrush) and turn the music off to get ready for bed.

For the past five years this has been my routine. (I swear I even put "dancing and singing around my room" for my hobbies on a high school application.) My shows featured me performing songs from Neil Diamond to Madonna and even songs from Broadway musicals like Rent (one of my favorites).

I fantasized that a talent scout would discover me. Yet realistically I knew I had a better chance of getting struck by lightning than launching my acting career while shopping for argyle socks at the Gap.

Fate turned two months ago when I got a shot at the big time. On a non-eventful Monday afternoon my musical theater teacher announced that he would be taking us on a field trip… to an open casting call for Rent. I was obviously excited.

For the audition we needed a headshot (picture of yourself), resume (list of your theatrical/entertainment experiences) and 16 bars of a rock/pop song to be sung a capella (without any musical accompaniment). I decided to sing "If I Can’t Have You" from Saturday Night Fever.

I spent the day before the audition preparing for the five minutes or less I would have to impress the casting director. I even gave a call to my mom’s friend in New York who just happens to be a casting director. He suggested to have two songs prepared, one from Rent and one from another show. He told me to dress casually (not all black or in costume), something hip, urban and bohemian like the characters in the show, which is a raw and unique rock opera about seven people struggling to make a go of it in New York City.

The big audition was scary

On the bus everyone had headphones on, and we were all practicing our songs. When we got there the place was packed with mostly 20-something, hip actors waiting in line with their Starbucks coffee in one hand and headshots in the other. In the sea of sheet music, thick black-framed glasses and vintage T-shirts was a woman who looked over 60 practicing her pitch. The show calls for actors between 16-30 so her presence was a mystery.

Some auditioners supported us, but one particularly perturbed young woman complained "Why are these 5-year-olds cutting us in line?" as the production people let us go to the front. There were about 10 other people ahead of us, so we all were a bit relieved to see we weren’t first.

I decided to go second to last so I would have more time to practice. Everyone looked like they were going to throw up. As the first girl walked in we all tried to be quiet, so we could hear her sing.

During one friend’s audition, she had impressed the casting guy and he wanted her to sing for the director. I felt my heart drop and shatter into a million pieces. I pretended to be happy but I was dying inside.

Finally it was my turn. I felt a bit nervous but not to the point that I was going to wet my pants or anything. I walked in and boldly said my name and the song I was singing. After I sang my song the casting director was unexpectedly friendly. Here I thought he would be a mean jerky Simon Cowell from American Idol.

Josh the casting director: What do you want to be when you grow up? An actor?

Me: Yeah, I just want to be famous.

Casting director: (Laughs) Me too! Most adults won’t admit that. Well, let me give you some advice.

Me: OK.

Casting director: Do you have headshots?

Me: I’m working on it.

Casting director: Do you have an agent?

Me: I’m working on that, too.

Casting director: OK, well, you need to get headshots and an agent. And, how old are you, 15 going on 20?

Me: 15.

Casting director: Well you need to start young like Leonardo DiCaprio.

Me: Like in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Casting director: Exactly! That was such a good movie.

Me: Ehh, it was OK.

Casting director: He should have won the Academy Award for that but he lost to Tommy Lee Jones.

Me: What movie was it for?

Casting director: I don’t remember. But you too can be the next Leo, you just need proper head shots. This picture (points to my sad excuse for a headshot which was really my school picture from last year) it’s OK, but it’s not really you. You have the right look. It’s sorta, uhhh …

Me: Stripey? (referring to my striped shirt)

Casting director: Yes, but I was thinking more hippy chick. So like I said you have the right look so, that’s what you gotta do.

Me: OK, I’ll get right on that. Thank you.

I walked out of the room on cloud nine. I felt like I had had the best audition of my life. I could not believe that I was discussing movies with the casting director for Rent. This was just too much! I kept thinking "leave it to me to strike up a conversation about movies on an audition."

I wanted to share my excitement with all of my classmates, but I was crushed when I could not find them. Since I did not know where my fellow classmates were, I waited for my friend who was last to audition. She came out in shock. She had been asked to stop singing because "she was too good for a 14-year-old." Instead she received a little slip of paper that read "CALLBACK for Maureen."

I couldn’t believe it. Not only had she received a callback but it was also for one of the female leads and my favorite part in Rent. My happiness felt like nothing compared to hers. I felt like I deserved a callback too just because I wanted one.

Stars at Mickey D’s

After we had auditioned we went to McDonald’s for lunch. My teacher, who was sitting in the room watching our auditions, said we all did well but there were a few auditions that stood out. My happiness returned when he asked me and six other people to get up and sing for everyone. As I sang, I noticed that not just my peers but the employees and other McDonald’s customers had stopped what they were doing to listen.

The background music was turned off. At that moment I felt like the whole world was mine. I may not have gotten a call back or role in the show but I learned that there are people out there who will stop and give a 15-year-old five minutes to show off. As cheesy as it sounds, I feel more like a star than I ever did. And even though I’m not going to be on Broadway, I did get the opportunity to audition for one of my favorite musicals and not that many people can say that.