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The Token Interview

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

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By Andrea Lynn Cianflone

My father and I had awesome conversations along the journey of my childhood. We had an openness wherein we could discuss pretty much anything! My father often recounted stories to me of his own childhood, like growing up in Italy and later emigrating to the United States. I sat and listened with a sorrowful heart as he shared a discrimination story about his high school counselor affirming the notion that my father would never attend college. Stories like this were many! Seated at the dinner table one evening, I began to eat my ravioli as my father served up another story about an administrator job interview. My father was a highly respected, phenomenally talented teacher in his school district, the only teacher credentialed with a PhD, and highest paid may I add…perhaps the latter status had something to do with his final dismissal. I digress. My father continued with his detailed story, how he prepared for the interview, drove to the school, waiting patiently in the secretary’s office room for the interview. From my recollection of our story time, my father knew the interviewer, so a history and knowledge of each person’s philosophy on education was known. He sat down in the chair directly across from the interviewer and niceties were exchanged. Then in less time than I could sing a Happy Birthday tune, the interviewer affirmed the differences of my father’s position on a particular educational ideology and the interview was over. I am convinced now that my father shared a lot of these stories to prepare me for life. It would not be too long until I felt the same weight of that token in my hand.

One of my first token interviews was a ‘pitch meeting’ that lasted a whopping thirty seconds in New York City. Yes, I repeat. Thirty seconds. I travelled one hour to hear that my proposal wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for the company right now. Fair enough…I can handle ‘wasn’t a good fit,’ but couldn’t you have called and told me?

This was one of many token interviews I experienced, and after having it happen so many times, I decided I would no longer allow that to happen again because token interviews are good lessons. Don’t waste my time.

…and I didn’t waste time.

I once showed up to an audition on a Friday night, thirty minutes before closing time. The monitor (the person hired to ensure a smooth audition process for the casting team) told me that I would not be seen. I found the response quite odd given the thirty minutes of time left on the clock and my having witnessed another auditionee sign up with no problem just moments before.

I reminded myself, I will not be a token interview. I travelled an hour AGAIN and now I don’t even get face time in front of the casting personnel? I challenged the monitor kindly, noting the timeframe the producers had posted on the audition. My plea meant nothing to her. The monitor, for whatever reason, clearly refused to grant me the opportunity to be seen or be heard. I was beyond frustrated.

Plan B. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I will not be a token interview. Like a detective, I peered my eyes around the corner to see if the monitor left her post at the 6 o’clock hour. Nobody came through the holding room door. I glanced down at my watch and upon seeing the shadow leave the room, I maneuvered my position to get a glance of the “crime scene." The monitor left. Like a cheesy scene from a movie, investigator Andrea began her advance on the room. The audition door was still shut so I knew the producers were still in the room. Then suddenly, the audition door swung open wide with three producers standing tall. I dashed toward their direction with a big smile on my face. Introducing myself to them, I exclaimed, “I’m ready to sing.”

Sometimes you must go to the top.

Recounting my story, one of the producers told me to show up the next day, Saturday. Like so many auditions from earlier in my career, I had to skip my Saturday work commitment to accommodate for the audition. I jumped off the subway, hair, and make-up ready now finding myself in a line with a bunch of…dancers? Was I at the right audition? I was hearing the words in my head. I will not be a token interview.

I met the casting director in the hallway and pleaded with him as I retold a situation that happened on Friday. He allowed me to jump in line with the dancers and said, “Sing only fourteen measures.” So there I stood, the last person in line…the only singer in line. I entered the room, smiled before the three producers behind the table and began to sing. Fourteen measures had surely gone by, but the pianist kept playing, and so I took that as a directive to keep singing! Then I got the “sign” from the casting director to stop. The executive producer shouted towards me, “That was awesome!” Never in my experience auditioning had a producer vocally expressed an emphatic audition sentiment in the room.

I left the room elated until I was met by an abrupt sharp voice behind me, “What was that about? I said only 14 measures.” The casting director walked away fuming. I could feel my posture collapse as I slowly walked away from the audition hall and into the elevator, not so elated. I pressed the ground level button and gazed at the falling floor numbers as they fell in rhythm to my tears.

When I got back to my apartment, I did what a young singer might do…start to worry: is this casting director going to blacklist me, I am not going to get the part, what did I do wrong, I was following the pianist’s lead. I drafted a short email apologizing to the casting director for possibly overstepping his directive despite my feelings that audition protocols could have been better communicated with the audition pianist and the monitor from the day before.

After a couple deep breaths, I stopped and smiled. I was not a token interview!


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