Ella wrapped her legs around the cold metal of the folding chair, held her résumé, headshot, and sheet music tightly, and clenched her teeth. She didn’t want the moms sitting in the back and the kids around her to see the uncontrollable nervous twitches she was having. This usually didn’t happen at normal auditions, but this was her last chance for a whole year.
When she had told her parents she wanted to be an actress, they had shaken their heads sadly.
“We thought you would make better decisions, honey,” her mom had said. They were both doctors. Her mom was a brain surgeon; her dad devoted his time to finding a cure for cancer. Both geniuses in their fields, and everyone expected their only daughter to be one too. Ella looked like her parents; she had the dirty-blond hair of her father and the piercing green eyes of her mother, but that was as far as the similarities went. While both of her parents were immaculate, her room was commonly known as “The Pig Sty.” She was the only one of the Parks who could sing to save her life, and, worst of all, she almost threw up every time she saw a drop of blood. Her parents loved her, and Ella loved her parents, but sometimes she felt trapped in a dark cage of expectations.
She had wanted to be an actress ever since her parents were given tickets to see a Broadway show when she was seven. The singing and dancing had thrilled her, and the acting made her believe that the story was real. When they got home, she had asked her parents to enroll her in dance lessons, and she printed out the sheet music to learn.
Now, five years later, she had finally told her parents she did not want to be a doctor. They were very disappointed in her, but, trying to be fair, they had agreed to a one-year trial run.
Ella had said that if they took her to all of the auditions she heard of and let her enroll in more dance classes for one year and she didn’t get into a show, then she would not go to any auditions the following year and take the young doctors program. Her parents believed that Ella should start young to ensure that she would be one of the most promising medical students by college graduation.
To others, this might not sound like a high gamble. She would be allowed to go to more auditions after the doctor year, so what was the big problem? However, one year is a much longer time to kids who have only lived ten, eleven, or twelve of those. It would seem even longer, almost like an eternity, if you could not do the thing you love at all.
Dr. Parks and Dr. Brigham (her mother went by her maiden name in order to be less confusing) both thought this was fair and had agreed. They really did want the best for Ella, but they were sure that being a doctor was the best.
So anyway, here she was. Her parents had dutifully carried out their part of the deal and had taken her to auditions from January all the way through to December. She had not gotten into any shows. Each time, something had happened to mess her up. Once, she tripped and fell during her routine, another time she didn’t smile once, and yet another time she brought the wrong sheet music. She lost her voice during one, skipped a paragraph during a cold reading in another, and held her music in front of her face so no one could hear her in another. It got to the point where it seemed that there was nothing more to go wrong. Before she walked in, she would pray to get through just one audition without messing up, but she never did. Everyone else seemed so experienced, so knowledgeable. This was the last audition for a whole year, and Ella was a nervous wreck. “Stop shaking!” she angrily commanded herself, but she couldn’t. She had learned the music and dance routine flawlessly, but what if something happened like all of the other times?
Suddenly, a voice broke through the layers of worries. “Ella Parks, up next. Slate, please.”
She stood up shakily and told herself, “Act like this is your audition. Like you already got the part. You can do anything you want to do. You have waited long enough for this opportunity, and here it is. As your grandfather often says, ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.’ So seize the day, Ella!”
With that, she felt her wobbly smile turn into a winning one. She stood up straight and tall, and confidently walked to the center of the room. “Hello!” she said in a loud, clear voice. “My name is Ella Parks, and I will be singing ‘Popular’ from Wicked.” She walked, no, floated is a better word, over to the accompanist and handed him her music. She closed her eyes as the music washed over her, and began to sing.
* * *
ONE WEEK LATER
This letter arrived in Ella’s mailbox, one week after the audition, on Christmas Eve.
Dear Miss Parks,
We would like to congratulate you on your acquisition of the role of Annie in our production of Annie. We are thrilled to have you as part of our cast in this show and hope you will audition for many more in this theater. The rehearsal schedule is included. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and we will see you for the first rehearsal in January.
Trish Cassella, Director
Stephan Fitzsimmons, Music Director
Tony Lenti, Choreographer
When Ella read this, she screamed and jumped with joy and excitement. But her parents were not smiling at all.
“We had agreed to one year of acting. This show will be going well into the year we had said would have been for the young doctors program.”
“But Mom, Dad!” Ella wailed. “This is my trial session! I am in a show! I thought that once I was in a show, I would never have to try to be a doctor again!” Her parents exchanged a look.
“We never agreed to that, darling,” they said. Ella began to cry. This had gone from the best day ever to the worst. Here she was, thinking the battle was over and won, but in reality she had not gone anywhere. Would this be what her life was like? Always a dead standstill between what she loved and what she hated? However, her mother, noticing she was crying, looked unsure. She whispered something in Dr. Parks’s ear. The look on his face visibly softened.
“Excuse us for a moment,” he said, and both of Ella’s parents went into the kitchen. Ella barely noticed. Her face was buried in her lap and she was sobbing. Five, ten, fifteen minutes went by with no sign of her parents. Ella had stopped crying and was staring dismally into the fire. When her parents finally walked in, Ella didn’t even bother turning her tear-streaked face towards them. But when she heard her father’s gentle voice, she turned.
“Ella,” he said, “did I ever tell you about how I became a doctor?”
“No, and I don’t want to hear it,” Ella replied. She had gone from desolate to raging mad. How dare they stop her from doing what she loved! Maybe she should run away… Her father continued anyway.
“My whole family was stockbrokers. They tried to make me be one too. But I hated it. All I wanted to do was study medicine. When I told them that, they refused to believe or let me. At the time I thought they were the cruelest parents on earth, and I swore never to be like them if I ever had children. And I realize that for the past few years, I have broken that promise. But now I see, that just like my parents, the reason I have held you back is because I am worried about you. Medicine is all I have ever known, and now you want to go into something that is completely foreign to me. I am scared that you will not make it, and that maybe it will hurt my baby girl, but I see that this is the thing you love. Because of that, your mother and I have decided that we will never try to push you into something that you do not want to do ever again.”
“Really?” Ella asked, her expression showing how excited but scared she was as well, is if she thought it wasn’t true.
“Truly,” her father answered, beaming down on her.
I guess it wasn’t the one last chance after all.