Harare, March 20th 2016 | Kudzai Sevenzo
When I received the Almasi’s cultural exchange artist grant I was thrilled. I also knew very well that I was embarking on one of the most challenging chapters of my life. Despite that, I had made up my mind: it was time for me to take this giant leap and apply for grad school. Almasi workshops had awoken in me a deep desire to be fully immersed in an acting program. Having no idea what to expect, I knew the best thing I could possibly do for myself was to pick the right monologue: something that truly resonated with me. As I prepared myself emotionally and mentally for the journey ahead, I was constantly aware of the fact that whatever I did I had to show my own uniqueness — not just as an individual, but as an African woman who had come all the way from Zimbabwe.
So mid-January, I embarked on the audition trek leaving the heat wave of Harare to be welcomed by a huge blizzard in New York City! Shortly afterwards I met in person with Susan, my acting coach (she had given me a few virtual acting lessons in preparation for my auditions while I was still in Zimbabwe). We went through my audition monologues, established what I needed to work on, and the best way to get ready for the following week when auditions would start.
My first audition was on a snowy Wednesday morning. As I was new to the big city, I knew it would probably be safer to locate the school a day before my audition date (you don’t want to get lost and be the foreigner who was late for her audition!). Audition day came, and as we all waited in the reception area for our turn, I took a deep breath and had to trust that I was ready. Later on, I would recognize many of these faces in the waiting areas of several other institutions as most of us were all part of the annual audition trek: the journey that takes determination and thick skin to handle the highs and lows of getting call backs or not; having a successful audition or not; getting acceptance letters or not!
After my first couple of auditions, I performed my monologues for Danai and received her input. She pointed out that my monologue choices were okay, but didn’t quite show my full range. I had to have an audition that would not just be a good audition, but be an unforgettable audition. I realised then that the stakes were much higher than I had anticipated and that I desperately needed to up my game! I had to throw things out and start anew! I had to change my mind-set and be ready for anything. I had to get rid of all inhibition and comfort zones! Danai showed me a delightful yet tragic monologue from “Venus” by Suzi Lori Parks. As I learnt this new monologue, I realised what she meant when she had said to me: “They need to see that you can play a character,” because for the first time I was perspiring in my monologue performance. I had been playing it safe, and now I understood how absolutely physical acting is. Choosing this final monologue changed everything. I took this energy to every audition room, and none of my auditions were ever the same again.
Perhaps it’s because I come from a place where everybody looks like me, but during my audition and call back processes I was aware that I was probably one of the only three black people in a room of about 30 people auditioning. I found this quite interesting. I met some amazing and talented actors during my auditions who, as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, couldn’t help but ask where I was from. I learnt the delicate balance between embracing my uniqueness as a Zimbabwean with a different sounding accent and having an openness of mind and willingness to learn my new environment, its culture and the language that comes with it (the standard American accent).
After the auditions, the waiting period began. It was a long and awful wait! Finally, I started hearing news from the various universities that wanted to see my work again. Throughout the call backs, the offer letters, the programs I got into and the ones that I didn’t, I came out stronger. I was more aware of who I was and more determined than I had ever been before. I realised that with every audition I was presenting my work and with each audition, the quality of my work improved immensely as my confidence grew. For me, school started on my audition trek!