BASTA: The overt and the subliminal

“And I can tell you on the record that nothing, absolutely nothing, you’ve heard about me or my private affairs is true.”

As if the corner of Broadway and 53rd weren’t already busy enough, Evan Ingersoll couldn’t believe the line leading into the Mariachi Playhouse for BASTA tryouts.

“For the love of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson,” he thought, inspecting the boisterous crowd of supernumerary hopefuls. “This is insane.”

Honestly there must’ve been at least half a hundred people there. Police officers, school teachers, asshats in suits, auditioners appearing either homeless or like they’d just stumbled out of their homes. All roughly the same weight class and height but differently muscled. Some wore cowboy duds. At one point Evan may have glimpsed a guy in chaps?

His friend Jesus Halévy had offered to come along should the process prove unduly lengthy or intimidating. Evan had of course politely declined the offer. It was evening and he knew Jesus had people to see. The experience seemed to him worth braving alone.

The provisions concerning audition attire were so extensive he hadn’t known quite what to wear. He remembered reading somewhere that a tryout should send messages both overt and subliminal to casting agents: in what you wear and without being too obvious, try bringing the desired part to mind. So he opted for jeans and a red OBEY tee shirt that clung suggestively to his torso with a pair of ancient cowboy boots on loan from Jesus.

“First time?” asked the young-looking guy in front of Evan, sizing him up.


“Pretty awful, right? But don’t worry, the line moves fast. This is just first cut. Callbacks are later tonight and they’re more intense. They take forever…” The guy smiled knowingly, and Evan saw that his front tooth was gold. “I’m Gus. Gus Rippon.”

“Evan Ingersoll. Nice to meet you Gus.”

“Pleasure man. Dig the boots.”

“Thanks,” Evan spluttered. “You know, to be honest, I have no idea what’s about to happen. What do we do?”

“Oh, pretty straightforward. You get a number, you get onstage with a bunch of us, they decide if you look right. At callbacks, though, they make you do body rolls, jump around a little, lift things, and play games.”

“Things? Games?” Evan looked concerned.

“Yah man,” Gus laughed. “Don’t worry! You’ll do fine, it’s an easy lift. Usually just chairs, toddlers, small animals. Games are trust falls and improv stuff, but everyone’s kinda bad at it.”

“So how do they choose in the end?”

“Fuck if I knew… I’ve tried for super three times now. Never made it past callbacks. I figure fourth time’s a charm, right? And you know I’ve got me one of them perfect cowboy faces.” Gus mugged theatrically. No question.

By now, the two had reached the lobby of the Mariachi, where a guy in a zebra blazer was handing out numbered sheets and safety pins. Affixing numbers to respective backsides, Evan (36) and Gus (37) helped each other out and waited their turn to enter the auditorium.

“Look at this place!” exclaimed Gus, in awe. Evan craned his neck and saw a fresco of the muses Thalia, Melpomene, and Terpsichore—styled to evoke Mexican poblanas—painted on the anterior wall. The stunning red carpet of the Mariachi was dotted with emerald cactuses. Evan was more nervous than he cared to admit.

The doors opened and a female voice called for numbers 30 through 45.

Ingersoll is that you? Evan wondered as he strode down the dimly lit aisle to the stage with the other men. Steps had been set up to help applicants reach the platform, and once Evan got up there, he couldn’t believe how emancipated he felt, and how breathless.

Gazing over the empty seats, he thought of what Leontyne Price once said about everything feeling right once you get onstage. “Right” is indeed what he felt. I’ve found my tribe.

Blinded by stage lights, Evan couldn’t quite make out who was evaluating, just six dark silhouettes in the middle of the auditorium. (Was that Paul Upczuk, second from left?) But no more than five minutes had passed before six numbers were announced.

Mirabile dictu: 36 and 37 had made it to callbacks!

That same evening, Jerold Offerman was waiting in his wheelchair in his Gramercy penthouse for a ghastly call from the Metro Times. His publicist Susan Koch had coached him through a useful sequence of equivocations, and the Maestro was determined to stay mum.

Ring ring.


“Hi there, Jerry?”

“Yes, Sam.”

Jerold sounded brusque and guarded already. Off the bat, Metro arts writer Samuel Schmidt knew that only jujitsu would land him the quotes he needed.

“Sam, first, thanks for your time. But I think we both know what I’m calling about, so I’ll try to make it quick and easy. So I got off the phone with—”

“Okay, Sam. Let me help you out here? You got off the phone with Carlos and he told you the Algonquin is considering suspending me. Well, they won’t. And I can tell you on the record that nothing, absolutely nothing, you’ve heard about me or my private affairs is true. So I think we can end the discussion right there.”

“Actually, Jerry, that’s not what Carlos told me. The Algonquin Opera is suspending you from Lucia, effective next week.”

Sam heard nothing but heavy breathing on the other end for a good ten seconds. For a moment, he felt something close to guilt.

“Listen, Jerry. I know this is uncomfortable. But the Algonquin is taking those allegations about the boys and Hungry Hippos at the Fruits de Mer very seriously, and frankly, I think you should, too.”

A grandfather clock chimed in the background.

“Sam. I don’t know what Carlos is telling you, but this Lucia is my baby, it was my idea to bring in Katya Nippelnaya, I’ve fought for the whole thing. I don’t know that I’m ready to leave. Nothing happened with those boys. This is fucking absurd.”

“It’s absurd but we have to cover it. So I’d like you to tell me what you know…”

“Well, clearly I don’t know anything, right?” Jerold Offerman’s voice started to falter. “I mean, I need reporters to dish me the latest on my job.”

“So what will you do during your time off?”

“On the record, no comment. Off the record? Probably throw myself into the Hudson, I don’t know. Who gives a shit.”

“Can you tell me anything about the Fruits de Mer in 2011?”

“Lies, lies, lies.”

“The boys’ lies? Or yours?”

“Oh Sam,” Jerold croaked. “Anything else before we end this call?”

“Yes, actually. There is one more thing I wanted to run by you.”

Pacing into his kitchen, Sam glanced at the bottom of his notepad and saw the words he’d circled in blue.

“What can you tell me about Carlos Alberti and that conga line video he made for Peacock-Suds Studios last year?”

“Ha,” replied the Algonquin Opera’s newly ousted music director. “About that, I can tell you everything.”

Illustration by Ben A. Cohen