Inside Miami's Hamilton Auditions, Diverse Performers Lined Up for Their Shot

“What time is it? Showtime,” I whisper to myself as I begin my audition for Hamilton: A Musical at the Florida International University School of Music.

“But I just might rewind.”

A woman throws her head back and squeezes a honey-bear bottle until a dollop drops into her mouth. I ask what she’s doing. “To coat your throat,” say several people in the audition line. I plead ignorance. “It’s my first time auditioning for a musical,” I say shyly.

Hundreds of people have lined up behind me at the school. I’m near the front, anxiously awaiting to receive my audition number. The seven people ahead of me in line break into song, harmonizing, admittedly off-key: “And I realize/Three fundamental truths at the exact same time.”

My truths: I don’t have a background in musical theater. I have never auditioned for a hit Broadway musical, or any musical for that matter. And I have a case of acute stage fright. But I’m not throwing away my shot, I repeat to myself, not only because I need to maintain morale, but also because it’s my audition song.
I arrive at 9 a.m. Sign-in begins at 10:30. There are one or two people outside. I’m too early, I think. Then I open the doors, and the halls are clustered with performers sitting on the floor throughout the winding hallways where the rehearsal rooms and classrooms are stationed. Singers vocalize, pianists play. People chat animatedly, bragging underhandedly about their theater experiences. I join a clique of five people and watch as two women hold up their resumés side-by-side, comparing, competing.

“I barely have any theater experience,” says Bella, a red-headed student in the FIU theater department. She has performed in Once Upon a Mattress and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in the past year alone. Her theater resumé is printed in a tiny font yet barely fits on one page.

I need some air, so I go outside and sit with three guys, who are all native Miamians but have done stints in New York City. “Are you guys going for anything specifically?” asks Micaah, a Miami-based rapper. We all say no. “You?” I ask. “Anything. I’m a rapper. I’m poppin’ in the area locally, but I’m trying to get bigger, get out there more,” he reveals. Micaah plans to perform Bruno Mars’ “24 K Magic” for his audition. He shows us his YouTube channel. He asks what number I’m doing. “My Shot,” I answer. He nods. “Respect.”
A member of the casting crew announces we should form a single-file line in front of the building that houses the stage and audition rooms. Everyone scrambles for a good spot, leaving water bottles, bags, and papers everywhere. Two women chat noisily as they snag a spot in line: “Do you think I’m more of an Angelica or an Eliza?”

A man in green shorts passes out a "Hamilton Open Call F.A.Q." sheet. Under “What are you looking for today?” it reads, “Today we are auditioning for principal roles in Hamilton, excluding the role of King George. We are actively looking to cast future replacements in the currently running Broadway and Chicago productions, as well as upcoming West Coast production.” Hamilton will begin its West Coast tour in 2017, starting with San Francisco in March and then Los Angeles in August. The Los Angeles Times has reported that tickets are almost impossible to obtain, no surprise after New York’s run.

Gabby, who traveled from Boynton Beach to audition, jumps excitedly while singing and blowing bubbles into the air as we wait in line. We’re the first ten in a line that extends seemingly infinitely. She has auditioned a lot before, she says. Gabby thought about lining up at FIU last night but decided to arrive at 9 a.m. today instead, like I did. She holds a ruffled Chloe blouse that she intends to change into when it’s time to audition. “At Disney, they line you up and typecast you. Everyone else goes home,” she says. She thinks the same will happen here. She’s Brazilian and is afraid she doesn’t look the part enough.

Her friend J.C., a short woman with blond hair and mismatched converse sneakers, says, “I’m just here for fun. I’m not really right for any of the roles. I’m a little white girl.”

Telsey + Company’s casting call specifies, “Seeking men and women, ages 20s to 30s, for the non-white characters as written and conceived for the currently running and upcoming productions of Hamilton.” The "non-white" specificity in casting has caused Hamilton trouble in the past. CBS New York reported that the Broadway union Actors Equity found the casting call for nonwhites problematic. In fact, the call was rewritten after the controversy to add “Performers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds will be considered” as a disclaimer. The New York Times reported that though the language was amended to make it clear that performers of all backgrounds can audition, the show would not resign from its commitment to hire a diverse cast. And Miami is as diverse as it gets.
The line begins to move, and ten people at a time are shuttled into the auditorium, where three casting staff in black Hamilton shirts take our head shots and resumés and ask us to fill out a form. “Bring the pen back,” they ask politely. I begin to feel nervous. I wonder if they’ll make us audition here, on this gigantic stage, in front of everyone. I shudder, and my heart rate quickens. I feel short of breath.

The casting director addresses us. “We’re going to take you in, according to your casting number, to our audition room. We have an accompanist, so bring your sheet music.”

I’m number 8, in the first cohort. We walk through the theater aisle and into the corridor, lining up in order against the white-painted cinderblock wall. Number 1 goes into the room. "I’m not throwing away my shot," I mumble to myself.

I visualize myself as Lin-Manuel Miranda playing Hamilton. I’ve been Method-acting all week, listening to the Hamilton recording incessantly, reading musical theater tips on blogs, and rehearsing in front of the mirror and on camera. I am ready. I think.

Number 6, Gabby, emerges from the rehearsal room. Her ebullience has transformed into a dejected crawl. She shakes her head. She looks like she’s about to cry. J.C. pats her on the back.

Number 7 walks into the room. She’s singing "Jar of Hearts," and she’s singing it pretty well. We’re not allowed to bring bags in, so I tuck my phone away in my tote and inhale deeply. She breezes out of the room. Casey, the casting associate, nods at me to go in.

What time is it? Showtime.

“Hi,” I say. I hand my sheet music to the pianist. One young skinny guy sits at a solitary table. I expected a panel. “I’m singing ‘My Shot,’” I say. Suddenly, I feel the hoarseness in my voice after a week of rehearsal. The pianist begins the introduction. My legs feel wobbly. If I held out my hand, it would shake. But I go for it. I project my voice. Then I’m spitting verses, making rhymes, and doing it in time, for about a minute. And then the casting director says, “Thank you.” The music stops. I nod. He nods. And I leave the room. “Break a leg,” I whisper to Number 9 as I exit.

I walk out of the building to see people still lined up to get their shot at being a Hamilton star. I feel relieved. I did not throw away my shot. I don’t expect a callback, but it was an experience to get out from behind the laptop and face the casting director for a Tony Award-winning production. I’m proud to say this writer auditioned for the hit Broadway production Hamilton and lived to tell the story. But after a week of repetition, anxiety, and vocal strain, I think I’ll stick to my day job.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth

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