By Mara Zepeda
The theater at Bay Ridge Preparatory School doubles as a basketball court. A dozen students congregate in the cavernous room. Some girls-black knee socks askew-dangle their legs off the edge of the stage. Boys loosen their neckties and slouch in folding chairs arranged in a semicircle. Other students are splayed on the wood floor mumbling lyrics under their breath. It’s fall auditions for Carpe Diem!, the high school thespian and music club.
The music director beckons a girl to sing. A friend drags her by the wrist to the center of the circle. The performer wears brown Ugg boots, a gray cardigan, a furry elastic ponytail holder, a charm necklace and pink lip gloss. It is the same outfit that Britney Spears wore in her music video “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The girl begins to sing without accompaniment. Her voice is quiet. It quivers.
“Sorry,” she says, and starts over. At times more air than sound escapes her lips. She falters off key and all of her classmates’ eyes dart to the floor. Her face reddens.
The friend, overcome by the performance, wheezes with laughter. She sputters, covers her mouth with both hands and squeals, “Oh my God!” then flees the auditorium and melts into hysterics in the hallway. The singer hurries back her seat. “You’re a soprano!” the music director announces, and calls the next student to come forward.
Another girl rises and takes out her cell phone and thumbs at the keys. She half sings and half talks a contemporary pop rock song. She is reading the lyrics off of the small screen, and pauses each time she has to scroll through the text. The director scribbles in her notebook.
“What does soprano mean?” a voice calls out.
A boy jumps up, fumbles to knot his tie and whispers in his teacher’s ear. He says he is nervous. He agrees to audition but only if he is joined by the other young men in the auditorium, and only if he can sing the R & B hit “Soul Man.” He divides his iPod’s earbuds. One sticks out of his ear, the other is in the ear of a boy about a foot taller, who stoops and pushes up his glasses. A group of five boys haphazardly start in on the song at different times. “Good loving, I got a truck load,” they sing. The others’ voices recede and the boy is left to sing alone. He closes his eyes, shimmies his hips and belts out the chorus with gravelly flourishes. He’s met with high fives all around.
Up next is a sturdy girl with a red satin ribbon planted on one side of her head. What appears to be a black and red feather caresses her cheek. She has chosen “Con te partirò,” an aria made famous by Andrea Bocelli. “My Italian is for donkey lips,” she says.
She injects her performance with operatic embellishments, aiming to hit and hold the high notes and making an exaggerated, large oval with her mouth. “She’s really good,” one girl whispers. At the conclusion of her audition, despite the resounding applause, the singer doubts the quality of her performance and, with a furrowed brow, asks to repeat it with the music director in private.
An unassuming classmate in a white polo embroidered with the letters BRP takes her turn. She performs “Home” from the Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Is this home? Is this where I should learn to be happy” she sings while gripping her gray pleated skirt. Her voice rings out like a clear, strong bell. She sounds like a child singing a lullaby. No word is held too long.
“Try to find something good in this tragic place, just in case I should stay here forever.” There is a pause, and then the students shower the girl with pats on the back and clapping that echoes to the net at the other end of the court.