I remember the first audition I came out as pregnant. I had been auditioning for months in flowy tops. My personal aesthetic of yoga pants and hippy tops lent itself beautifully to the physical transition. For a while, there was not much to conceal anyway. I accepted auditions by keeping in mind performance dates that wouldn’t conflict with the upcoming birth. Five months in, I let out the big news with caution to a surprisingly enthusiastic and supportive agent who proceeded to shout it with joy to the rest of the office. I blushed. I assumed “practical artist mom” strategy and encouraged him to only tell artistic staff in auditions on a “need to know” basis – for me it was to maintain control of my personal narrative. I had visions of the pregnancy news dominating any mention of my name, obliterating the potential for referring to me in a strictly professional context. I didn’t trust the artistic community not to overwhelm my public identity with the small detail of procreation. Besides. This was mine. My business. And that’s ok. I liked it that way. He complied, albeit a bit confused, and about a week later I embarked out to my next audition, assuming they had been told…
I marched confidently into the room, my top less flowy, boxy, perfect for the pants role. I moved athletically, let my body bend and ebb, and after nailing the first scene, I glanced over to the table of wide-eyed director, NY casting director, and local casting director:
“Rachel, that was great. Yeah. But. Uhm. Can I ask. Are you. Pregnant?”
The words sputtered out from the NY casting director. Her words held less judgment, more shock. “Surprise!” my body beamed back, “Brought my own GUEST-STAR…Hope that’s OK.” My stomach continued to shout through my shirt while my brain and mouth made a clicking sound or two. Scene forgotten.
I knew it. Distraction.
My fears were beginning to materialize. I needed to get the room back on track. I knew how to focus with another body growing inside me, but I didn’t know how to get everyone else to do it. It was my business. I was ok with that. No one talks about the loneliness of pregnancy. I had been a creature fueled by it. I had loved every moment of the intimacy, the privacy. Once it’s shared – you can get…protective.
While I’ve never felt more physically myself than when I carried around another literal human around in my torso,
I didn’t trust other people to see my new form as acceptable right away.
I stood my ground, ready to stand alone. My business. My happiness, in spite of it all, couldn’t be squashed. I never regretted letting my own personal victory and joy determine the course of a room before, and today was no exception. I felt a proud smile slip onto my face and a warm pulse run over my belly skin, “Yeah. Thought my agent may have told you!”
Ready to take on the next scene (or get kicked out of the room – you never know – it was my first time), I saw the NY casting director, a woman, burst into a huge smile:
“CONGRATULATIONS!!! No!!! He didn’t tell me! How exciting!”
The local casting director joined her,”You look amazing! How far along??”
Before I could gleefully hop on my float in this feminist pride parade that erupted before my eyes, a gravelly voice ripped through the conversation.
“Yeah, but could you do it?”
We women celebrating in the room felt a pause as pregnant as I was stomp on our exchange with an elephant-like defiance. Slowly, our heads turned to the end of the table. There, arms-crossed, the aged director furrowed his eyebrows like shut curtains shading his confusion.
I had to ask, “Do….what?”
“The show. But could you do the show?”
A beat. I blinked three times to clear my mind and reset. I made a mental check list of things that typically happen to you after you have a baby; decapitation, illiteracy, and vocal distress didn’t jump out at me right away. Those couldn’t be it. I did quick math. Two months. “I’d have two months to recover,” I found myself saying. (In case I was wrong about the decapitation part).
“Yeah,” he drawled, “But will you want to.”
Now on pace with his line of questioning, I readied myself again to stand alone, defend myself alone, remembering, My. Business.
“I believe I would–” – and just as I had resigned to chalking up the initial support in the room to premature luck, I was joined by other voices again:
“Of COURSE she would! She’ll be fine! PLEASE. I cast [actress] in Ragtime two weeks after she had her baby, and she was incredible.” The NY casting director couldn’t throw her hands up fast enough. She turned to face me and assign to me the leading pronoun, “SHE’ll be fine.” The vote of confidence was punctuated by genuine pride, and the local casting director erupted in unflinching agreement:”Yes!” End of discussion. The director tried to mutter “You don’t know until you know,” but I think he sounded foolish to himself even at that point, so allowed his voice to trail off and went back to what he knew:
I was asked to do the next scene.
Justice is sweet. I began the text, and the narrative of a girl with a secret in disguise trying convincing her partner not to judge her by appearances – and that was just the text. The parallel sifted through each heart in the room. After doing the second scene, even the director was won over by the story, and he engaged with me on the character, my thoughts, and small adjustments to the piece. It was a beautiful, regular, electric audition. I was an actress again, just one who happened to be growing another person in her belly. It took a woman behind the table to help make clear to everyone in the room that that’s all actresses are anyway. So what are we so worried about?
Actors are just people who grow other people in their bellies.
On that day, I received confirmation that the conflict I feared was not between my body and my art, as the cultural pressure would have me believe. It was between my internal understanding of “capable” and the lack of understanding I felt from the other side. People talk a numbers game when discussing female statistics and absence of women in superior roles, but from a personal standpoint I cannot emphasize enough that I’ve never felt more supported than when I was ready to stand on my own but found support instead from a woman behind the table who was able to see a different form and – instead of being afraid – label it “capable.”
I cling to this memory and its principles because I want it to haunt me when the artist in me is challenged by other evolving forms – age, disability, distress, distance, or grief. It motivates me, no matter my circumstance, no matter my condition, not only to dig my heels in deeper when stepping into the room, but to make it My Business to find my own tables to get behind.
Don’t let changing your form in any way, including something as preciously normal as giving birth, make you doubt that you are capable. The problem isn’t you. So much of that belief or doubt has to do with who we have behind the table.
How much can our art change if we let our own physical forms evolve too?
Epilogue: Largely pregnant, I very late to term came across a director whose exchange with me was “How far along? Oh, great! I did my first play back when my twins were three months old. It went great. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. How about we try the first scene?” Done and done.
Let’s add that to the notes, shall we? “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”