It was 9:30 a.m. when I walked into the casting call for Jedi Trials of the Temple in the Garment District of midtown Manhattan, roughly thirty minutes after the doors opened and well before the tryouts started in earnest. The room was crowded, but not with nerds as such. I could only find two: one, cross-legged in a purple tunic and gloves, the serenity of a Jedi monk glazed on his face; the other, in a draped orange shirt and Tatooine-friendly boots, pacing and muttering lines. I loved them and respected the complete lack of interest they showed in their preening, theater-y competition.
As part of the continuation of the Star Wars-ification of Disneyland and Disney World, Jedi Trials of the Temple is a performance where novice Knights — kids aged four to 12 — learn to wield lightsabers and say no to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a story-based performance, meaning that the lead actors, nay, Jedi, mix in a bit of narrative along with the training session. In the later part of the show, the kids get to fight either “Star Wars Rebels” villain the Seventh Sister or the big guy himself, Darth Vader. The fate of the Rebel Alliance aside, it’s pretty forcing cute.
When I tried to hand over my headshot and acting resume, the man in charge scolded me. They were supposed to be back-to-back, so that your face is on one side and your experience is on the other. Presumably it’s preferable if one’s experience includes more than a college performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” but that was apparently not the key issue.
In the rooms next to Jedi Trials of the Temple were, what seemed to be, auditions for An American in Paris and The Lion King. As I contemplated whether to get peanut-butter Ritz crackers or Doritos from the vending machine, traditional dietary options for a Jedi Knight, one woman (An American in Paris I assumed) asked me to help her with the paper trimmer in the lobby. She had the paper going the wrong direction. She was destined for Broadway, but I understood office supplies. I felt a surge of confidence.
I went back into the holding room — one of those light-colored wood floored rooms, with one wall of mirrors and looked through the window and could see into the building across the avenue. There were about twenty women, hands placed on their hips, arching into a choreographed twirl. I texted my friend about it.
“You are very Glee right now,” she said.
“I am very Glee,” I replied.
About an hour into the experience, I settled my nerves and started memorizing my sides — some of which were taken from the actual show. One couple sitting on the floor canoodled while doing the same; they would continue to do that for the next three hours.
But not all was calm. A force awoke in the form of gossip. A rumor went around that if the folks in charge liked you, they’d ask you to do some stage combat. Everyone started to pair their memorizing muttering with little wrist twirls, flipping an invisible lightsaber. One girl had an actual lightsaber toy and she flicked it on. People rolled their eyes.
I think the most noticeable thing about the auditions was this: Everyone looked different. It was like a portion of the New York sidewalk had just been fissured into Pearl Studios — an equal mix of men and woman, ethnicities, and ages (so long as they were at least 18). Coiled braids and long man-hair mixed with coiffed blow-outs and dreadlocks. There were two gray-haired men, distinguished in the way of Ben Kenobi. It was noticeable in part because in the holding rooms of the other shows, everyone had the same look — their roles called for singularity of appearance. At Trials of the Temple it seemed that anyone had the potential to be a Jedi.
Hours passed. My respect for my actor friends grew — how they can keep the focus necessary for a good audition and not succumb to the monotony of waiting is beyond me. A random R2—D2 noise came from someone’s phone, a fleeting call of encouragement. A young woman, after her audition, came back and grabbed her backpack.
“Alright everyone, may the force be with you,” she said, throwing up the peace sign.
“I like her style,” said a man to no one in particular. I nodded in agreement.
Eventually, it was my turn — number 94 out of maybe 120. I walked in and chatted with the very nice casting director. He asked me where I lived and we chatted about how nice Brooklyn is. We both knew I wasn’t going to be moving to Orlando. While the “eager yet apprehensive” attitude came freely, my lightsaber skills left much to be desired.
I later spoke with my friend Joshua Carranza-Vick, who is actually a performer in the Trials of the Temple at Disneyland, about the diversity I saw in the audition room.
The casting director’s face transitioned to blank politeness as he rapidly realized I did not have “the right stuff,” but I proceeded with the script anyway. “All together now, ready, position!” I called out. Kids are going to eat this up, I thought , I am Rey. But I was lying to myself. I nervously swung around my hand stuck in a claw-like lightsaber-clutch then chirped at the nonplussed audience, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME.” Slightly dazed, I failed to wish anyone good luck or force with-ness on my way out.
“You make an interesting point about where the possibility that anyone can be a Jedi is concerned — in my experience it is a wider range than what I’ve seen as a performer outside of Disneyland,” says Carranza-Vick. “I think that The Force Awakens is only going to continue that momentum. We see so many younglings of all ethnicities; they are growing up in a world where all three leads in their first Star Wars movies are minorities. That’s a wonderful thing and I think our show tries to reflect that.”
Carranza-Vick is proud of the show and thinks it does a good job at reflecting what fans may consider the underlying elements of what it means to be a Jedi.
“Being a Jedi means trying to set aside your selfish, earthly desires — greed, attachment, lust; those have no place in the life of a Jedi — and dedicate yourself to a higher calling,” he says. “Trials of the Temple very much tries to emphasize this. The Trials are all about realizing that fighting isn’t the only way to face your demons, that a calm head is better than giving into anger, and that tackling your problems with the help of your friends will always be stronger than trying to face things alone.”
The competition to be in one of these shows is steep — while mine had a little over a hundred people attending, it was far from the only audition for the two roles Disney World wants to fill. Carranza-Vick says that while, when it comes down to it, the performers in the show tend to focus more on watching the kids rather than paying heed to the “higher ideals of the Order”, it makes sense why so many people want the role.
“As a fan, the opportunity to work with everyone to create an experience like this is a literal dream come true,” says Carranza-Vick. “The care and attention to detail is by and large one of my favorite things about the whole thing. Working along the remnants of the Jedi Order and getting to see their charges confront Darth Vader and his Inquisitor. . .It’s hard to believe that this is a job.”