This is the second night in a row that I am wide awake in the middle of the night for an extended period of time. Coincidentally, yesterday was the second day in a row that Tracey and I conducted auditions for LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO.

Though the audition process isn’t about the two of us—naturally it’s about the stories that are presented to us in hopes of snagging one of a very (very!) limited number of spots—it affects me deeply enough that it warrants some release here on my personal blog.

My inner circle knows exactly how agonizing auditions are for me. They’re exciting, of course, but agonizing all the same. The difference between auditioning for just about any other show out there and auditioning for LTYM is that each person is reading her (or sometimes his) own words, her own story, rather than a few lines that have been provided for them. Most of the time, these stories are extremely personal in nature. Some are confessions, some are recaps of life’s most intimately personal moments, and some have never, ever been told to another living soul. Ever.

The weight of these stories is heavy on my psyche. For every hilarious account of the joys of motherhood that we hear, there are two or three heartbreakers. Many of the saddest ones stay with me for a very long time, and some of them will be with me forever, especially if we have physically hugged the reader (after asking permission, of course) after their audition to try and provide a little comfort.

The agonizing part comes when we have to make cuts, of course. The truth is, last year we could have cast two shows and this year we could cast three. Each year that goes by brings more and more interest in the show (which is great!) but the number of cast members we can have does not increase. It’s hard to tell someone that their story didn’t make it into the show without making them feel like they aren’t good enough or that there was something terribly wrong with their essay. We don’t want anyone to feel “less than” and the knowledge that many people are hurt each year by our casting decisions is a difficult burden to bear. What comforts me is that I think most people know that Tracey and I cast with integrity and that every decision we make is for the good of the show. Our work speaks for itself and of that I am so proud. But still, the cuts. Ugh.

The great news is that, although Tracey and I worked together like a dream from the very beginning, this year we find ourselves more in sync than ever before, and I didn’t think that was possible. As we filled out the evaluation forms for each audition, we discovered that not only do we have a really good handle on recognizing what kinds of essays will work, but we were in agreement on just about all of them no matter how they were sorted. We always say that the stories choose themselves every year and it’s our job to piece them together like a quilt to make a cohesive show, and as it’s unfolding I can say that this year is no different as far as the organic way it’s all coming together.

With the show being in its third year, we have repeat auditionees. We have friends who audition. We have auditionees who have watched both of our shows on YouTube and follow our local LTYM blog and want to be in the show so badly they can taste it. We have former audience members who sat there thinking to themselves, “I want to get up on stage and read MY story.” We have friends and relatives of LTYM producers in other cities who want to be a part of it all. Tracey and I set all of that aside and judge each story on its own merit in that moment of auditions, regardless of how many times we’ve met that person and heard their words, how much they want to be in the show, who they know, or whether they only heard about the show a week before the submission period began.

In the end, even though the cuts we have to make are usually very painful, I can say that Tracey and I cast our shows with thoughtfulness and caring and no regrets and even love. Even though I’m not sleeping tonight, I know that once we announce our 2014 cast in a few days my agony will turn to pure joy and I will sleep like a baby knowing that we made the right decisions for this year.